Eight years later, some of the names have changed but the basic plot and even some of the dialogue has remained the same. With a little outrage from a public more interested in clean water than local politics, the result will be the same as it was then — the show will close before it even opens.
In 2004, a few months after longtime county drain commissioner Maureen Templeton decided not to seek re-election, Grand Traverse County commissioners — at the urging of local developers — saw a chance to bring soil erosion duties in house, making them subject to local politics.
The idea, laid out with a straight face, was to leave soil erosion decisions with the new drain commissioner (to be elected that fall), but only if the board was convinced the new drain commissioner was actually qualified for the job (in case those poor befuddled voters got it wrong, of course).
The board would then name a county employee to take over — an employee who reported to the county administrator, who reported to the county board.
For context, it must be remembered that all this was happening in the wake of a consent judgment between developer Bill Clous, the county and the state Department of Environmental Quality over allegations he had illegally bulldozed wetlands on 360 acres in East Bay Township. The DEQ called it one of the "most egregious" cases of its kind.
Templeton had pushed hard for then-prosecutor Dennis LaBelle to bring charges, even in the face of pro-Clous pushback from then-state Sen. Michelle McManus, whose politically powerful family was friends with Clous. McManus lobbied hard to get Templeton, LaBelle and the DEQ to back off, but her efforts largely failed.
Clous eventually got a relative slap on the wrist — he paid out about $75,000 and did some in-kind work for the county — in an agreement with LaBelle.
And in the face of intense voter opposition, the county board voted unanimously to leave the drain commissioner in charge of soil erosion decisions.
Now, however, the board is back at it, threatening — again at the urging of local developers who don't care for drain commissioner Kevin McElyea — to strip McElyea of enforcement duties and turn the job over to county building inspectors. No kidding, building inspectors.
It's 2004 all over again, right down to Clous joining the chorus against McElyea. Once again, they want county employees, not an independent elected official, to do the work.
Why they think building inspectors should or can do the job is a mystery; in 2004, when McElyea was elected, the candidates were two civil engineers and a licensed landscape architect.
But the building inspectors would be county employees and be subject to county board influence.
Commissioner Ross Richardson offered a bizarre defense: "My personal opinion is that it will be enforced; whether or not it is enforced properly is a whole other decision that will have to be made at a different time." Before or after a building site is washed away?
He has since reversed himself and said he'll vote to keep the job intact.
County board Chairman Larry Inman, who opposed the move in 2004, has been consistent.
"Since day one it's worked out well ..." he said. "The primary focus should be accountability to the public as an elected official."
Commissioners Christine Maxbauer and Herb Lemcool voted against the change.
Interim County Administrator Dean Bott thinks building inspection and soil erosion duties would somehow "complement one another."
McElyea's part-time soil erosion inspectors include a civil engineer and a person with a master's degree in natural resources.
All the posturing is phony, of course; this is all about politics, period. The county board wants to be in a position to help out local builders and developers, and if that jeopardizes soil erosion and clean water decisions, so be it.
They need to hear, loud and clear and soon, that that's not acceptable.