County government as conveners

Local government strategies for collaboration.

A new election cycle was completed in November of 2018 across the country and here in Michigan. Many new people took oaths of office and began their partisan and non-partisan duties serving the citizens in the state and local communities. One elected official group, county commissioners, were provided a two day training experience by Michigan State University Extension (MSUE) and the Michigan Association of Counties (MAC). This training marked the 50th year that MSUE and MAC partnered to provide this training for approximately 200 county commissioners.

This training supports new and veteran commissioners as they learn how to succeed in their roles by studying how to hold effective meetings and managing county budgets and finances. When an educational program of this nature is provided many other issues, questions and concerns are brought up by participants. The intent of this article is to describe a specific discussion regarding the County’s potential role in becoming a convener of other local governments and entities in their area. County government is modeled after state government in terms of function and form, with obvious limitations, as provided by the Constitution of the State of Michigan. County government, however, is much closer to the citizens across the state and therefore can play more of a “day to day” role in the lives of citizens.

Because county government potentially impacts citizens’ lives, they can play a pivotal role addressing issues and opportunities at the local level. One way that can be done is by providing a “convening” role by bring other parties together to address issues that have a larger impact than just one city, village, township. One such example could be the coordination and collaboration of various technology services that are becoming more prevalent in government. No one local municipality typically would have the willingness or ability to provide a large data storage capacity for records of all types. Additionally, not every local municipality may have the same connectivity that allows for data transfer or storage. County government could convene a coalition of community partners, including local municipalities that, combined, could have the adequate resources to create:

  • Data management/storage system (repository)
  • Coordinate purchases of software licensure at a reduced cost used by municipalities
  • Provide professional development to upgrade skill sets of end users
  • Coordinate purchase of various technology mechanisms including computers and GIS mapping, web hosting, etc.

When giving consideration to being a convening, counties should consider other entities like public school districts, community mental health, road commissions, hospitals and private sector enterprises in development of community solutions.

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