By Jon King /

The former Livingston County Commissioner whose reappointment to a regional parks board was denied earlier this week is firing back against what he calls “unfounded, false attacks” on his record and of the organization.

Steve Williams was a Livingston County Commissioner for 12 years before he was appointed in 2016 to serve as the county’s representative on the Huron Clinton Metroparks Authority Board. When he sought a routine reappointment to serve another term on the authority board, Livingston County Board Chairman Wes Nakagiri floated the name of an alternate candidate, Tami Carlone, a CPA with no parks and recreation experience, who until only recently was a Novi resident but says she has since moved to Cohoctah Township.

Nakagiri’s opposition centered on his claim that Williams had supported the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion efforts of the Metroparks board, specifically targeting a partnership announced last November with the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy that would provide $6 million over seven years to advance a “shared commitment to equity and diversity in recreation.” Nakagiri has claimed that DEI programs are “anti-white” and that Carlone would be “more in tune with the values of our county.” He encouraged residents who agreed with that assessment to let their feelings be known when Williams’ appointment came up for a formal vote at Monday’s meeting of the full county board, which they did, stretching the initial Call to the Public to an hour and a half, as the vast majority of speakers praised Nakagiri and offered their opinions against Williams specifically and DEI generally. In the end, the board voted down Williams’ reappointment 5-3.

However, it was noted that Carlone’s application for the position had likely been received after the April 30th deadline. After Carlone said she couldn’t remember when she had applied, Commissioner Kate Lawrence said that it was past practice not to accept applications past deadlines. Livingston County Administrator Nathan Burd said it appears that “Carlone’s materials were submitted after April 30” but that they were “working to confirm that with our web vendor.”

In a letter to the board, Williams included a copy of his application letter that was dated April 22nd along with a confirmation email from the county dated April 28th confirming it had been received. He then added that “Despite being subjected to unfounded, false attacks before and during Monday's” meeting of the board; he was still willing to continue serving “Livingston County by being reappointed as our HCMA Commissioner.”

He then pushed back against comments by Nakagiri and several people who spoke at the call to the public stating that the Huron Clinton Metroparks are experiencing "unfavorable financial trends.” Williams said “Nothing is further from the truth” and included links and documents he said show the Metroparks are in excellent financial shape. Among them was a 2019 independent audit from Plante & Moran which confirmed the Metroparks financial position

Williams also disputed the impression made some of the public at Monday’s meeting that Livingston County had contributed $2 million toward the $6 million partnership with the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. “Actually $2M is the entire annual property tax millage collected from Livingston County or just 6% of total tax revenues collected from the five counties. With two Metroparks within our borders and another four just a few miles away, Livingston County receives a very outsized benefit from the Metroparks. We are the only one of the five counties without a Parks Department, which saves Livingston County taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. Livingston County contains just 4% of the population in the five Metroparks counties, yet because the HCMA Commissioners seats are not weighted by population as they are for Michigan legislators, county commissioners, SEMCOG Executive Committee members, etc. we receive a full 1/7 vote on the HCMA Board,” adding “To imply that the Livingston County HCMA Commissioner somehow has the right or ability to dictate terms to the entire HCMA Board and the other four counties is ludicrous.”

As to the DEI programming at the Metroparks, Williams noted that it is directed to adult employees only and at his request was “fully vetted by the HCMA legal counsel" to ensure that it abides by state and national non-discrimination laws. He also said that despite the contention of many who spoke out on Monday, it does not include anything to do with Critical Race Theory and, further, until Nakagiri began his campaign to derail his appointment, had not resulted in any complaints from Metroparks customers throughout the five-county region.

Williams then connected the comments made by Nakagiri and the residents he called forth to speak at Monday’s meeting to what he called, “The very negative image many Michiganders and other Americans have of Livingston County and Howell in particular,” which he said, “should be taken into account by all public officials who are interested in correcting the false narrative.” He added that while he didn’t agree with that portrayal, “Perhaps a transplant doesn't understand that perception, but it exists and ignoring that reality is a disservice to our residents.” He then reiterated that he was the lone member of the HCMA Board to vote against any portion of the DEI programming, saying he felt that the cost for a proposed Speaker Series was excessive. “If you appoint a Livingston County HCMA Commissioner who continuously attacks and votes against one small part of Metroparks programming, it will only reinforce negative stereotypes about our county including the claim that we are intolerant and not open to hearing other points of view.”