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Berrien County Board of Commissioners still torn on fate of road commission

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. -- A regular board meeting on Thursday turned into a lengthy debate about whether or not the county should go through with taking over the county road commission.

It’s a story ABC57 has been following for weeks.

Most recently, the board drafted a resolution that outlined what a potential takeover of the road commission would look like.

The road commission has struggled with leadership problems throughout the last year.

But at Thursday’s meeting – even though the road commission was not listed on the agenda – the topic was brought up by several residents.

Some of the commenters focused on the potential re-hiring of Louis Csokasy – the former road commission manager who stepped down last spring.

Berrien County Administrator Bill Wolf is leaning toward asking Csokasy to oversee the transition of a takeover, if the board votes in favor of it.

“Louis’s part of the problem,” said one resident. “You want to put him back in.”

“You guys are paid by public tax dollars,” another resident said, addressing the board. “You guys are voted in by the public. I think there’s going to be a big backlash on this whole thing.”

Within minutes, the road commission became the focus of the meeting.

And soon after that, it became clear the commissioners seemed quite confused about what options they had on the table.

“If we dissolve the road commission, do we then, in essence, become the acting road commission, by title?” asked commissioner Teri Freehling. “And apply all of the acts related to road commission activity to the board of commissioners? And I don’t feel like I have a solid answer on that.”

“The urgency to define the ‘how’ comes immediately with the ‘what,’” said commissioner Bill Chickering.

“Something needs to be done immediately,” said commissioner Ezra Scott. “And I don’t know how to do that.”

“We’ve never really hand-selected a department head, in my experience, and I wouldn’t want to start doing that now,” said commissioner R. McKinley Elliott.

Wolf has said Csokasy is the only man for the job right now, mainly because he’s held similar positions before and Wolf thinks he can be trusted to oversee a smooth transition.

“I don’t know right now if that individual will even take the job with the environment that has been created,” Wolf said. “I don’t know. But I will tell you that if he doesn’t, we have a real problem because there is no plan B. There is no other scenario.”

But some commissioners questioned whether Wolf is overstepping his boundaries as county administrator.

There were several tense exchanges about that topic during Thursday’s meeting.

Where it gets confusing is this: Wolf, as county administrator, has the right to appoint an interim head of the road commission if the county decides to take it over.

But a lot of the commissioners don’t like the idea of Csokasy coming back because they say their constituents weren’t happy with him the first time.

Nothing was voted on Thursday, but the commissioners did agree to let Wolf draft a revised resolution that they’ll look at next Thursday.

If this revised draft gets passed, Wolf would then have up to one year to search for a permanent manager of what would become the Berrien County Road Department.

The county commissioners would then vote to approve that new hire.

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