By Mike Kruzman & Jon King /

The Livingston County Board of Commissioners is split on who should be the county’s representative on the Huron-Clinton Metroparks board.

Discussion and public comment waned deep into the evening, Monday, before the all-Republican county board ended without the needed votes to reappoint incumbent Metroparks commissioner Steve Williams to another term. Williams has served on the Metroparks board since 2016. A former county commissioner of 12 years, the lifelong Republican was nominated last week by the Personnel Committee, but only after a discussion in which a new name, Tami Carlone, was championed by Commissioner Mitchell Zajac and Board Chair Wes Nakagiri, who is not on that committee.

Carlone is a CPA and process improvement expert who said she recently moved to Cohoctah Township from Novi. She told the Board she goes to new organizations to help make them more efficient, effective and fiscally sound. She called Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) a racist policy that will backfire in the Metroparks and fail “as it has everywhere it has been pushed.”

Nakagiri spoke against Williams’ reappointment largely due to the Metroparks Authority’s approval of a $6-million partnership with the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. That partnership has been hailed as a shared commitment to equity and diversity in recreation. Nakagiri put out a call to action for local Republicans to support Carlone, and many showed up in public comment accusing Williams of pushing DEI programming on kids, while also praising Nakagiri personally, with several referring to him as "the watchdog" of Livingston County.

Williams wasn’t without support in public comment, including from several elected Republican officials. Most notable among them was Drain Commissioner Brian Jonckheere, who said Republicans “decry cancel culture” and here they are doing it themselves with Williams. Also speaking on William's behalf was Dan Wholihan, the former Chair of the Livingston County GOP. Ironically, he was joined by Livingston County Democratic Party Chair Judy Daubenmier, who claimed Nakagiri’s choice wasn’t “about who is best qualified,” but about “stirring up the GOP base so the chairman can appoint a buddy.” She said this move was all about Nakagiri, and asked commissioners to not be led around by the nose by him. Also speaking against Nakagiri was Hamburg Township Trustee Cindy Michniewicz, who noted his frequent “shock-worthy” statements, while Brighton resident Caitlyn Perry Dial asked the Board of Commissioners to rein him in from making “these fake partisan wars and fanning these flames of fear.”

Williams defended his record, stating many of those who spoke were mistaken and said the DEI curriculum was just for Metroparks’ employees, not children. He claimed to speak original concerns over the cost of the partnership with the Conservancy, but also said that it isn’t about race, it’s about service and partnering with a non-profit to help with staff and programming. He pointed to other county partnerships with Ann Arbor SPARK, Meals on Wheels, Catholic Charities and Love, INC, asking if commissioners did not see a contradiction here. Though the Conservancy is getting $6-million over 7 years from the Metroparks, Williams said Livingston County's entire contribution to the Metroparks budget is $2-million per year, which is about 6% of the total tax revenues collected from the five counties. Williams also pointed out that he is the only member of the seven-member board to vote against anything DEI-related when he voted against a guest speaker for a speaking series.

However, officials with the Metroparks system have pushed back against the narrative that DEI is a divisive political ideology. Amy McMillan, Huron-Clinton Metroparks Director, said their plan is, "steeped in honest reflection, research and best practices, and built collaboratively with wide-ranging input," adding that they believe it "is a wise, critical investment that will pay dividends for all residents throughout Livingston, Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties." She encouraged residents to "get accurate information at”

When it came time for board members to speak, Commissioner Doug Helzerman supported Williams and his conservative values, saying he believes he understands the "divisiveness of DEI" and has his full confidence. He called Williams “straight as an arrow” knowing few people who can get more to the right of Williams on conservative issues.

Commissioner Carol Sue Reader said politics doesn’t have a place in public service and she feels they are trying to micromanage this too much. She said they are there to “do governance, not politics,” and that she supports Williams, what he stands for, and his performance.

Commissioner Kate Lawrence also supported Williams, and said sometimes they have to “think outside of Livingston County” at the whole of what the Metroparks encompass. She quizzed Carlone what possessed her to apply for the seat, and asked if she had ever been to a Metroparks meeting. Carlone said she was approached by Nakagiri, who did a “bunch of research” and was not happy with Williams. She said he spoke his concerns and she said she knew then “why he called me.” Carlone said she had never been to a Metroparks meeting but she feels she has the skills to represent the taxpayers of Livingston County well there.

Lawrence also asked Carlone when she applied for the seat, curious of whether it was in front of the April 30th deadline, but Carlone couldn’t remember. Lawrence said they have a precedent of not allowing people who come in after a deadline to apply. At some point, County Administrator Nathan Burd said it looked like it came in between May 4th and May 6th. Commissioner Jay Gross said of the 5 resumes received, 3 were not dated, which includes both Williams and Carlone in that group of 3. WHMI has a letter from Williams to the Board of Commissioners dated April 22nd expressing his interest.

Following a call to question from Commissioner Zajac, the Board voted against reappointing Williams 5-3. Helzerman, Lawrence, and Reader voted for him; Nakagiri, Zajac, Gross, Jay Drick, and Brenda Plank voted against. Carol Griffith was absent. Plank's vote against Williams followed her comments earlier in the meeting in his favor, while neither Drick nor Gross made any comments before casting their no votes.

With the vote failing, Lawrence requested every candidate’s application date when the matter comes back to the Board. Without an appointee, it is believed that Williams, as the incumbent, will continue to serve on the Metroparks Board until one is named.

Meanwhile, a planned discussion on a resolution to alter the process for making appointments was postponed due to the late hour and will be taken up at a future work session. Commissioner Zajac said it sought to make a uniform process for making appointments to county boards, commissions, and committees. Critics of the proposal feel it gives too much power to the Board Chair and was too long in general.