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Berrien County Commissioners vote to take over road commission

BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich. -- A razor-thin majority of commissioners voted to dissolve the Berrien County Road Commission on Thursday and transfer its powers over to the county.

“I voted yes because I think that this is important and necessary,” Commissioner Mamie Yarbrough said.

She was one of six ‘yes’ votes on Thursday, beating out the five commissioners who voted against the takeover.

One county commissioner was not present to vote.

“I’ve been a commissioner for 13 years,” Yarbrough said. “And I was very familiar with the previous thing that happened when we almost took it over. And I think now is the time to do so.”

The decision comes after months of debate and several public forums.

A lot of the hesitation on commissioners’ parts was focused on Berrien County Administrator Bill Wolf’s choice to name former road commission manager Louis Csokasy as the interim head if the takeover were to happen.

“I’m not for that at all,” Commissioner Ezra Scott said Thursday during a meeting. “I’m for zero months for that particular person because I’ve received those same phone calls that you have. And I received them as late as last night at 10:30.”

“You make a decision,” Wolf told the board on Thursday. “I am the one that, whether it works or doesn’t work, it’s going to be up to me.”

Thursday’s 6-5 vote means the Berrien County Road Commission is now the Berrien County Road Department.

It will now be run by the county board of commissioners.

But current road commission employees will keep their jobs through the transition, though Wolf can make personnel changes to improve efficiencies.

The role of the road commission managing director is now the road department director.

Wolf is immediately starting a search for a permanent road director.

The board hopes to approve that hiring by December 31, 2017.

But in the meantime, Wolf can appoint an interim director. But that person can only hold that position for three months, unless the board votes to extend it.

“Give this a chance,” Yarbrough said, when asked what her message is to county residents who are against the idea. “Give it a chance to work.”

A source tells ABC57’s Taylor Popielarz that Csokasy was seen at the road department building Thursday afternoon, shortly after the vote.

That same source said there are going to be retirements because of this decision.

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