Michigan’s optional unified form of county government: Part two

The optional unified form is another alternative method for Michigan counties to structure their administrative role.

We learned about the optional form and the executive powers it offers in part one of this series. As with many state laws, there is a specific process to go through to implement the optional unified form of county government in Michigan. While there are many similarities between a county executive and an appointed manager, veto power is a key differentiating feature of the two types of manager a county can choose. Ken VerBurg, MSU Professor Emeritus describes both in this passage from the 2007 edition of his book, Guide to Michigan County Government.

“Adopting a unified form

As with most permissive statutes, the law allows both the county board and citizens to implement the act if they want. A county board can do so by passing a resolution to organize the county under one form or the other. Or citizens can file petition signatures equal to 10 percent of the vote cast for governor in the last election and thus initiate the process. The question would go on the ballot at the next countywide primary election.

Ordinarily, the form of government to be selected by the voters or the board goes on the ballot. But the act permits putting both forms on the ballot, thus giving the voters a choice. For citizens to put an alternate choice on the ballot they must again file petitions; for this action, 5 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election is required.

At the election, voters make two decisions. Do they want the county to reorganize under the act? Which of the two forms (if both are on the ballot) do they prefer? If the first question passes, the form receiving the highest number of votes is adopted. The reorganized form takes effect in the January following the election.

An elected county executive’s term runs concurrently with that of the clerk and other county officers. In the first instance, candidates for county executive can be nominated at the same election in which the voters are deciding to reorganize. The county board may also schedule special elections to nominate and elect a county executive.”

Veto power

As stated above, veto power is a key differentiating factor between the two forms. Professor VerBurg elaborates. “For the most part, the statutory duties and powers of an elected executive or appointed county manager are very similar. One major difference, though, is the power to reject a resolution or ordinance passed by the board of commissioners⎯the veto power. The elected executive has this power under the act; the appointed manager does not. An elected executive has 10 days in which to veto a board resolution or ordinance. If the executive neither signs nor vetoes an action, it takes effect when the 10-day limit expires. The board may override an executive veto by a two-thirds vote. The board must act by its second meeting after receiving the veto message.”

Watch for future Michigan State University Extension articles with more information about county government. Professor VerBurg’s book, Guide to Michigan County Government, Fourth Edition, is available in electronic form online on a CD or a USB drive with nearly 500 pages of detailed information about county government, and extensive footnotes to constitutional and statutory information. The book, an MSU publication, is being updated so information and statutory notations are current. The Fifth Edition is expected during winter 2017.

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