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Commissioners restrict advertising of community events following Pride Month celebrations

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The Livingston County Board of Commissioners voted to adopt a resolution that effectively grants the board ultimate authority in determining what local organizations can and cannot advertise.

The resolution itself effectively prohibits any committee appointed by the Board of Commissioners from promoting any events or activities that are “not clearly within the scope of the mission of the appointed entity.” As proposed by Commissioner Wes Nakagiri, the resolution was brought forth in response to two advertisements in the Human Services Collaborative Body’s summer newsletter.

HCSB Summer 2023

Nakagiri asserts that the advertisements from the Livingston Diversity Council and the Pride Alliance of Livingston did not serve to coordinate health and human services, and were therefore beyond the scope of the HSCB’s mission. He staunchly insisted that this was not an act of discrimination, but rather a casual policy change.

However, as Commissioner Martin Smith pointed out, the timing of Nakagiri’s proposed resolution was far from random or coincidental.  Smith was adamant that Nakagiri’s resolution was not intended to deliberately attack any particular demographic, but admitted that he found Nakagiri’s intentions to be “questionable.”

“Going through like this isn’t good governance,” Smith added. 

Despite his apparent suspicion over Nakagiri’s motives, Smith ultimately voted to implement the proposed resolution.

The Board’s decision did not align with the perspectives of the public as an overwhelming number of speakers spoke in vehement opposition to the resolution.

Yvonne Mackle of Hartland pointed out that the Board of Commissioners is intended to serve the entire population of Livingston County, and called this resolution a “petty abuse of power.”

Todd May said that he didn’t come to the meeting with the intent to address the board, but was motivated to do so after hearing others’ perspectives. He approached the matter from a business standpoint, explaining that he’s “been in management for 35 years, and in order to be successful in management, you have to be inclusive.”

Connie Conklin, the director of Community Mental Health and a member of the HSCB, said she was disappointed in the resolution.

“Our collaborative structure is the model for the state and has been recognized nationally,” Conklin elaborated, “as human services agencies, we must pivot to meet the needs of all people in our community.”

Conklin also addressed the topic in terms of the workforce crisis, explaining that as a resident of this county, she is “in a position to advocate that this is a great place to work and live, but resolutions like this make it harder to recruit and maintain staff.”

Nakagiri sought to rationalize and justify his perspective, approaching the matter from a policymaking standpoint. He continued to assert that the Livingston Diversity Council and Pride Alliance of Livingston are “private entities,” despite the fact that both organizations are specifically designed to support and educate the public. 

The June 10th Pride Parade— which included games, crafts, activities,  resources, and information booths– was attended by hundreds.

Nakagiri explained that “if they want to promote their events, they are welcome to. But they are not welcome to do so under the banner of Livingston County.”

“I didn’t think it would be appropriate for the county to promote Pride events,” he continued, “just like I wouldn’t be supportive of the county promoting NRA events, or the county promoting or supporting the Proud Boys’ events.”

This analogy only drew further outrage, and several speakers were quick to address Nakagiri’s flawed comparison in the second call to the public.

“As a member of the public, I’m insulted by the claim that this has nothing to do with anything other than vague policy, ” added Anna Wysocki of Howell. She also explained that Nakagiri’s comparison between the Proud Boys– a neo-fascist group that promotes political violence– to the LGBTQ+ community is inherently flawed: as Wysocki elaborated, the LGBTQ+ community is “a historically and currently oppressed group, and the Proud Boys is an outwardly oppressive group.”

David Christensen simply noted that “queer people are not a political organization.”

There was substantial debate over the mission, goals, and scope of the Human Services Collaborative Body, which ultimately resulted in misinformation and misconceptions. Commissioner Jay Gross, who serves as the Board’s liaison to the HSCB, admitted that he was completely unaware that the organization even published quarterly newsletters.

Mark Hymes, chair of the HSCB, addressed these misconceptions, explaining that the Human Services Collaborative Body seeks to “ensure a system of support for members of our community.”  As the title implies, the organization is based on a culture of collaboration: The HSCB strives to foster partnerships with various agencies, organizations, and local government departments to create an environment of “shared stewardship of community resources for the common good of Livingston County.” The HSCB promotes an expansive list of community resources, including mental health resources, information for parents and foster parents, senior services, disability services, and resources for those experiencing food insecurity.

Hymes noted that the HSCB was not consulted prior to this proposed resolution.

“Whatever this resolution means for us, we are willing to work with whatever happens,” Hymes said later, adding that he was hopeful that this could lead to fostering better relations between the Board of Commissioners and the HSCB.

There are approximately 39 committees overseen by the Board of Commissioners, and the passing of this resolution implies that all of them will presumably be subject to a new level of scrutiny. However, the Board of Commissioners has not yet outlined any specific criteria for determining what is and what is not permissible for advertising under this resolution.

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