The Year in Saginaw County Politics

Saginaw County Kicks Off the New Year With a Change in Leadership

    Additional Reporting by
    icon Jan 11, 2024
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By REVIEW Editorial Staff


The Saginaw County Board of Commissioners regular board meeting on June 20th started with little fanfare.  That was until the public comment portion of the meeting when the atmosphere quickly changed after a number of county employees voiced their displeasure with County Controller Robert Belleman


One Saginaw County employee called Belleman a "bully" and accused him of verbal harassment. Other officials – including department heads - said the controller failed to respond to sexual harassment allegations and that staff morale and hiring worsened under his tenure. More than once they cited a toxic work environment.


At that point, commissioners had heard enough. A motion was made and seconded to oust Belleman from his job. A two-thirds majority of the 11 commissioners was needed and it failed by a 7-4 margin. However, during a brief five-minute recess, commissioner Lisa Coney, a Democrat from District 10, asked if she could change her “no” vote. When she was told she could in fact change her vote once the meeting was resumed, she did just that – giving the board its deciding 8-3 margin to immediately fire Belleman

Belleman said the allegations came as a surprise. “I wasn't aware of any complaints or any toxic work environment,” he said. “I had the tough job of telling people 'no.'" "Especially elected officials."


He didn’t let grass grow under his feet for very long. On September 25th - a little over three months from being fired by the county – he began a new job as city manager for the city of East Lansing. In his job interview before the East Lansing City Council, Belleman said one of his former employees did not like him, acknowledging some relationships in the community were strained. But he said he wishes he got more feedback on what he did wrong. “I wasn't given any specifics other than what was shared publicly,"


Belleman said. "I always try to grow. And so, if I've made a mistake or offended somebody, I'd like to know what it was so that I can look at it and say, 'Okay, I see it. I don't want to do that again. Thanks for helping me.'"


Hannah Named County Administrator



At a special board meeting on December 12th, the board of commissioners voted 9-2 to hire Mary Catherine Hannah as county administrator; thus, replacing Belleman. Earlier in the month commissioners voted to change the leadership title from Controller to Administrator. The office of the County Controller was both the Chief Financial Officer and Chief Administrative Officer.



Since the county already has a very capable Finance Director in long-time employee Koren Thurston, the board chose to go with the Administrator title. The first person to hold that job will be Hannah. She is leaving her job as the Alpena County administrator and her ffirst day on the job will be January 22, 2024. Commissioners did their due diligence prior to hiring Hannah. Over the past six months they have conducted a thorough and comprehensive recruitment for the position and hired the search firm of Walsh Municipal Services of Okemos. After two rounds of interviews, and feedback from elected officials, community leaders and department heads, Hannah got the nod.




“I am so thrilled for the opportunity to work with the commissioners in Saginaw,” Hannah said. “I have learned so much about the great projects such as the Memorial Cup and Medical Diamond that are coming up. I am really looking forward to helping make them successful. Having had the chance to meet some of the leadership and other elected officials, I think we will have a wonderful and productive relationship. I am very excited to be stepping up to this role,” said Hannah.



Saginaw County Board Chairman Christopher S. Boyd added, “The board of commissioners is thrilled to have Mary Catherine join Saginaw. We believe she is the perfect fit for our county and will foster an environment conducive to teamwork across all county departments.”  Hannah has spent the last two years as the Alpena County administrator. She is a University of Michigan graduate, and has a law degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School. She grew up in Kalamazoo. 



Animal Care Opens New Facility


 The Saginaw County Animal Care and Control facility celebrated the opening of its new building with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and an open house on October 14th. The center, located at 5615 Bay Road in Kochville Township, is more than double the size of the old center on Gratiot Road. The new kennels in the 23,090-square foot building will allow animals 10 feet of room to roam. "It's very, very obvious that the animals are far better cared for in a facility designed specifically to be an animal care facility," said director Bonnie Kanicki


The $10.1 million state of the art facility has been ongoing since 2018 when a millage was approved by Saginaw County voters. Improvements include an on-site veterinary clinic, outdoor dog runs, and an innovative ventilation system to help maintain a sterile environment. The specially-designed features will enhance safety for staff as well as animals within the clinic. In early December, Kanicki announced her retirement after five years at the helm. Her final day is January 31, 2024, but has volunteered to stay on for the interview process. The full-time position has a starting annual salary of $79,038.78.


County & School District To Swap Lands


 For over a year, Saginaw County and the City of Saginaw School District have negotiated land parcels. The school district, is in the midst of constructing its new Saginaw United High School, a 212,000-square-foot, five-story-tall, multimillion building just west of the Genesee Avenue Bridge


The district was interested in the county’s Mosquito Abatement Commission building and parcels at 211 Congress Ave. to build the school’s sports fieldhouse. Saginaw County, in turn, would receive $500,000 and the former Buena Vista School District Administration building at 705 N. Towerline Road.


The building and land were absorbed by the Saginaw School District when the Buena Vista School District was dissolved. However, negotiations came to a screeching halt when the deed for the Buena Vista property could not be located. Saginaw Public Schools has possession of that property, but it didn’t have a recorded deed for that land. Since then, the deed was finally recorded and the county is looking to move forward on a portion of the Towerline property and a design-build with Saginaw Public Schools to purchase and renovate the building.


COA Celebrates 50th Anniversary

The Saginaw County Commission on Aging celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. It has been dedicated in its mission and vision to meet the needs of residents aged 60 and older. Since serving the first congregate meals and delivering the first home-delivered meals in 1973, the focus has been on providing essential nutrition, transportation, and other auxiliary services to empower older adults to live their best lives at every age.


ARPA Funds to Support Medical Diamond 


The Saginaw County Board of Commissioners approved $5 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to support Saginaw’ Medical Diamond project. “The county has worked closely with the City of Saginaw, Saginaw Future and the Saginaw County Chamber of Commerce to bring this vision to reality,” said Commission Chairman Christopher S. Boyd. “We are making great progress towards a healthier Saginaw.”


Saginaw has the highest infant mortality and obesity rates in Michigan. Life expectancy is more than five years less than the county and state of Michigan. Nearly 35% of people in the City of Saginaw live in poverty. The community’s vision is to support the collaboration of experts in medical education and healthcare services to improve access to healthcare and provide a learning environment for future medical professionals.  "We have been proud to be part of expanding healthcare access in this region.”


The Michigan legislature passed the fiscal year 2023/2024 budget which includes $30.3 million in funding for the Medical Diamond project. When signed by the Governor, the funds will be awarded to the City of Saginaw for infrastructure improvements to prepare a site on Washington Ave. for a transformational development project.


Thomas Township Nature Center and Preserve, 6660 Gratiot Road in Thomas Township, also was a recipient of ARPA funds. Thomas Township took on the venture of developing the 67-acre island preserve and the building. It is only the beginning, as trails will be woven through the planting areas, and a 1.3-mile trail along the berm with observation areas will allow visitors to observe the natural world. The proposed planting areas include a floodplain forest, a shore-bird area, a sunflower meadow, a floodplain prairie, a children’s interactive area, a pollinator garden, and a serenity garden.


County Upgrades Dow Event Center


At a regular meeting of the Board of Commissioners held on February 21, 2023, the following resolution was offered by Commissioner Dennis Krafft and supported by Commissioner Jack Tany: Saginaw County proposes to issue its tax-exempt bonds in one or more series to finance the cost of designing, purchasing, acquiring, constructing and installing capital improvement items, including, but not limited to, the design, acquisition and construction of improvements to the Dow Event Center.


At its September Executive Committee meeting, the county authorized an agreement with the Saginaw Spirit to fund an electronic LED advertisement ribbon located at the Dow Event Center’s Wendler Arena. The renovation would be set up as past partnership has, with a 60/40 split between Saginaw County and the Saginaw Spirit, wherein the Spirit would purchase and install, with repayment by the county. Total cost would be $1,000,000 – 60/40 split, with Saginaw County paying $600,000 ($60,000 per year for 10 years). The agreement between the Saginaw Spirit and the Dow management company, ASM Global, to share advertising revenue with Saginaw County.


The Parking Ramp at the intersection of Washington and Johnson Steets across from the Dow also went through extensive renovations.


New Insurance Carrier On Board


The Board of Commissioners approved to make the Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority (MMRMA) the provider of Property and Casualty Insurance for Saginaw County for the remainder of FY 2023 and FY 2024. The public entity risk pool has 200 cities, counties, townships, villages, and special districts along with other governmental entities such as libraries, medical care facilities, fire departments, 911/dispatch departments, courts, and transportation services. The benefits include blanket coverage over all buildings (including the Castle Museum), a $15 million liability protection per occurrence, and property appraisals and on-site loss control and risk management services at no additional cost.


$300,000 Goes to Henry Marsh Plaza


In June, Annette Rummel, President/CEO of the Saginaw County Convention & Visitors Bureau, requested an investment of up to $300,000 in the Henry Marsh Plaza Project, to transform the area under I-675 into an educational, well-lighted, universally accessible, cultural, entertainment, and recreational space.


The project will transform the area that is currently underutilized, unsafe, and blighted into a city center plaza to gather and enjoy. Safety will be improved and the likelihood of crime will be reduced by transforming this space into a well-lighted and maintained plaza. It will also improve the first impression of the City of Saginaw, re-unite Saginaw’s north and south sides divided by I-675, and create an inviting, safe, and enjoyable space for all people.  


Art and culture will be enriched by the addition of artwork and murals planned for this plaza. Success will be defined by (1) increase in traffic counts at the I-675 exit areas, (2) increase in the number and breadth of events within the City Center and those leveraging this area, and (3) increase in people visiting this area and using it for artistic appreciation, social gatherings, and recreational purposes. The Henry Marsh Plaza Project is a legacy project of the Memorial Cup hockey tournament that will be held at the end of May and beginning of June 2024. This site will provide fans with a location to purchase food items and a place to enjoy. The Board of Commissioners voted to go forward with the expenditure.


Parks and Rec Receives State Funds


More than $27.3 million in grant awards will enhance recreation across Michigan in 2024. The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund announced 53 grant winners. The projects include land acquisitions to add to or create recreational areas and developments at established recreational sites. The trust fund board recommended 13 land purchase grants for local governments for about $10.4 million; five state land purchase grants for about $7.1 million; and 35 project development grants for more than $9.8 million. Saginaw County received $300,000 for upgrades to the Saginaw Valley Rail Trail and $300,000 was awarded for the Cass River Trail in Bridgeport Charter Township.

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