Chairman Woronchak: Leadership in Wayne County
Officers of the Wayne County Commission take the oath of office after being elected to their leadership positions by their colleagues at the first regular Commission meeting of 2017. From left, Acting Clerk of the Commission Pamela Lane administers the oath to Vice Chair Alisha Bell, Chairman Gary Woronchak and Vice Chair Pro Tem Jewel Ware.
Gary Woronchak held positions of leadership throughout his years on the Wayne County Commission.
He was elected by his colleagues to serve as Chairman of the Commission in January 2011. The Chair oversees operations of the Commission, its staff and its budget, makes appointments to committees, sets the Commission schedule and agendas, and presides over all meetings of the full Commission.
That he maintained the confidence of his fellow Commissioners in his leadership role is clear by the fact that they re-elected him Chairman at the start of every term since then, until he left the Commission at the end of 2018.
Before becoming Chair of the Commission, Gary served two terms as chair of the Audit Committee, one of two committees mandated by the county charter. The Audit Committee provides financial and operational oversight through review and reports of the Wayne County Auditor General and of outside auditors and consultants. It also monitors compliance with audit findings, serving as an “internal watchdog” for Wayne County government.
Gary also showed leadership when the county’s budget suffered in the wake of the housing market crash, by taking a voluntary 10 percent pay cut along with other Commissioners in fall of 2009. The pay cut remained in effect through the rest of his service on the Commission.
Gary initiates policies to address county challenges
Ordinance stops secret deals for appointees
Gary introduced the county’s Benefits Ordinance in 2012, to keep county appointees from getting secret, big money deals. It had come to light that some top-level appointees had been granted special benefits by the previous County Executive, including written agreements for severance payments and secret arrangements for some appointees to get special incentives for retiring.
Gary’s Benefits Ordinance requires approval by the Wayne County Commission for any benefit not outlined in a published benefit plan or collective bargaining agreement, so they would be part of the public record. Since this law was passed, there have been no further special deals for favored individuals.
Severance payments prohibited
After a high-profile severance payment of $200,000 was made by the former County Executive to a high-ranking appointee who had resigned to take a job at Metro Airport, Gary appointed a Special Committee on Appointee Compensation to look into that and other abuses by the administration. It resulted in a Commission resolution, introduced by Gary, that prohibited severance payments to county employees.
Ethics ordinance sets standards, enforcement
Soon after being elected Chairman of the Commission, Gary directed an effort to create Wayne County’s first-ever ethics ordinance.
The ordinance established standards of conduct for county employees and created a system to hold them accountable by forming an Ethics Board to review complaints of ethical violations.
Gary explained: “The ordinance defines ethical behavior in several areas where the lack of such specific definition can result in individuals or companies having unfair advantages, getting preferential treatment, becoming unduly enriched or just not playing fair.”
Saving Meals on Wheels program for seniors
Thousands of homebound senior citizens in Wayne County depend on the Meals on Wheels program for a daily hot, nutritious meal. But when the county administration decided in 2011 to change to a different system and new food provider to save money, the results were awful and seniors were outraged.
Gary led the charge to get the administration to quickly change back to the preferred system, including bringing attention to the problem by speaking out on TV news with crusading reporter Charlie LeDuff. To make certain the quality had returned to form, Gary arranged for a sample of the food to be served to Commissioners at one of their meetings.
Funding for Meals on Wheels has been reduced or eliminated on several occasions in the County Executive’s recommended budget, but Gary and Commissioners have stood fast and restored the funding each time to keep the program going.
Addressing financial emergency
With county finances crippled, due mostly to a sharp drop in property values and tax revenue, the State of Michigan was asked to intervene in 2015 by new County Executive Warren Evans. A financial emergency was declared under the state’s emergency manager law, and a consent agreement was proposed between the county and the state.
Gary led the efforts to retain as much authority as possible for the Commission, which resulted in Commission approval of the consent agreement. The county was released from the agreement in a year or so, and has had three budget surpluses in a row since.
Gary personally made certain that, upon exiting the agreement, that full collective bargaining rights were restored to county unions in time for 2018 negotiations.
Wayne County Executive Warren Evans joined Gary and officials from ACCESS in a presentation of a resolution introduced by Chairman Woronchak supporting the Campaign to Take On Hate, a grassroots effort that challenges the growing discrimination and persistent misconception of Arab and Muslim Americans.
Gary's resolutions: Taking
a stand on important issues
The Wayne County Commission has taken the lead on issues of importance to residents by making its voice heard by adopting resolutions introduced by Gary Woronchak.
Reacting to growing numbers of resident complaints about the use of fireworks in neighborhoods, Commissioners adopted Gary's resolution in 2016 urging the State of Michigan to repeal the law that recently expanded the availability of commercial-grade fireworks that some have used irresponsibly around summer holidays.
After President Trump instituted his first immigration ban within a few weeks of taking office in 2017, the Commission adopted a resolution Gary introduced in opposition to the controversial presidential executive order. Wayne County was the first local government to take a formal stand against the so-called "Muslim ban."
Following the death of a counter-protestor at a white supremacist rally in Virginia in August 2017, the Commission adopted Gary's resolution condemning racism and all forms of bigotry promoted by neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan movements.