By Jon King /

A former Livingston County Commissioner’s nomination for a new term on the Huron Clinton Metroparks Authority board is being challenged by at least two current commissioners who wish to see a more socially conservative member represent the county.

At the Wednesday meeting of the Livingston County Board of Commissioner's Personnel Committee, what appeared to be a routine vote to reappoint former Commissioner Steve Williams to serve a new term on the Metroparks board came up for approval. However, it quickly became apparent that it would be anything but routine when Committee Chair Doug Helzerman began addressing why only Williams’ name was put forward, referencing dissension among commissioners. Helzerman said whatever disagreements they may have, Williams, who has served on the Authority board since 2016, was the best-qualified candidate. "Almost everybody on our board would agree 95% or more with Steve and his political position, his ability to work at Metroparks. I think that we are philosophically in agreement with Steve."

Commissioner Mitchell Zajack then motioned to add another name, Tami Carlone, to be considered alongside Williams. Carlone, who has no experience in parks and recreation, unsuccessfully ran for the State Board of Education last year. In a Detroit News profile, she was listed as being a Novi resident, who was a certified public account and self-described “education activist” who argued, “that children's rights are under attack during the COVID-19 pandemic” and advocated against remote learning in response to the pandemic. However, that motion failed after no one offered to support it.

Commissioner Carol Griffith then addressed what she saw as a process going off the track. "I know from personal experience that Steve takes this appointment very seriously and I know that there were some other mention back and forth in terms of how his vote was and he wanted to defend that, but I am really hoping that we aren't going to, without really opening this up for different candidates, it's really not a fair process if we're just going to talk about one candidate if we like them or we don't like them."

Following those comments, the real reason for the opposition to Williams became clear when County Board Chair Wes Nakagiri, who is not a member of the Personnel Committee, addressed the issue, saying that he was against Williams being reappointed primarily due to the Metroparks Authority board approving a $6 million expenditure to the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, a nonprofit group that supports the development of Detroit’s riverfront district and facilitates community access to that waterfront. In November, an agreement between the Metroparks and the Conservancy was announced to invest $6 million over the next seven years to focus on, “widening access to new programs and recreation for city and suburban families, and leverages the world-class parks, greenways and public spaces managed by the two organizations.”

In that announcement, Conservancy President & CEO, Mark Wallace, hailed the agreement as advancing both organizations’ “shared commitment to equity and diversity in recreation.” As he has been for the past several months, Nakagiri used that focus to continue his assault on the concept of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), especially as it pertains to the Metroparks Authority adopting a DEI plan last year. "I couldn't imagine us ever voting to supply six million dollars to a private entity, let alone an entity that is promoting what I'm going to call racial propaganda. Dividing America by race to me is an issue that is a litmus test for me."

Nakagiri’s opposition to DEI has been singularly focused on issues of race, although the concept embodies equal access based on a variety of factors, including physical ability and gender. In the end, Williams’ nomination passed the Personnel Committee, with Commissioners Helzerman and Griffith in favor and Commissioner Zajack opposed.

However, it was clear that a further fight is likely when the nomination comes before the full board next week, especially as Nakagiri has posted to social media a call for local Republicans to send letters of support for Carlone to the Board of Commissioners in advance of Monday’s meeting.

Top photo - Livingston County Board Chair Wes Nakagiri
Bootom Photo - Steve Williams