Harpoon Notes for August 29, 2018

President Greg rang the Rotary bell, opening the luncheon meeting. Shelley MacMillan came to the podium and delivered a moving Inspiration replete with quotes from Noam Chomsky, Jimmy Dean, and Lemony Snickett. Jim Irwin then bounded up to lead us (first) in a spirited “Hail to the Victors” which, no doubt, conferred the appropriate oblations telepathically to our brave Wolverines. Next, in commemoration of Saturday’s night game against Notre Dame, Jim sang his own adaptation of Lloyd Webber’s “The Music of the Night.” Titled “Victory of the Night,” Jim’s stirring mock-tenor painted a mental picture of glorious gridiron battle — akin to the Agincourt scene in Welles’ “Chimes at Midnight” — fought in South Bend under azure twilit skies: “Slow-ly, gent-ly eve-ning falls a-round you/Grasp it, keep it, don’t let it con-found you/Let your dream begin, that the Wol-ver-ines will win/And the Cham-pions of the West will be all right/Cel-e-brate our victory of the NIGHT!” Copious wows, hurrahs, and bellissimos resounded through the room.

“Thank you Jim…I think,” Greg remarked at the aria’s stunning conclusion. After taking Jim’s blood pressure, they let him sit down and resume his lunch.

Greg also made the announcement that Bob Dascola “will be doing the Bridge Walk.” Members saluted Bob with a hearty ovation, while out-of-state guests pondered whether the man was about to erupt into a retro dance. Bob took it all graciously, unfurling a broad smile. [Hmmm, the Bridge Walk…. And your reporter was feeling saintly by having just decided to acquire a badminton set.] Of course, Greg had to quip — “I guess we should find out if you make it.”

Switching gears, Greg became serious. “I regret to inform you that Dolly Millard has passed away. Her husband, Dr. Millard, served as a Past President of our club [1986-7].” Dolly’s son Tom, a distinguished member of RCAA, was, of course, not present. Hearts certainly went out to Tom and his family from all their Rotary friends.

Cassie Dawes Rein addressed the assembly next. Her topic: the Golf and Tennis Outing on September 10th. “It’s coming up quickly. John [Simpkins] will take registrations after the meeting today. Please, we need more volunteers [though not for the tennis matches]. Auction items will go online this week. The GTO’s our largest fund raising event; it enables us to make donations to the community and for international projects. Thank you.”

“Actually, it’s our only fund raiser,” Greg added, underscoring the importance of the event — not to mention the fun to be had. “Now, Lauren Heinonen will give us the results of the recent online member survey. Lauren –”

“Thank you, President Greg [and] thanks to the 69 of you who have done the survey. We might send out another reminder soon.”

Next, much discussion ensued about the projected costs of retaining an administrative services firm, which would provide a professional administrator to RCAA. “The consensus of the Committee is that we go with an administrative services company,” Greg began. “We’re trying to combine John White’s and Dave Keosaian’s roles. The other option is to return to the volunteer model that predates my time in Rotary…Considering the number of members, and the number of community projects and global grants we’re involved with, this option is probably not viable.” Leo Sheddon asked a pertinent question: “What will the ‘face’ of the professional administrator look like?” Greg replied, “The person hired by the firm will be dedicated to our Club and attend our meetings.” Past President Norman Herbert asked: “What model have other clubs of our size adopted?” Greg: “They have more than one administrator. [Ours will be] a one-year contract. We’ll see how it goes. We’ll be making the proposal to the Board on September 15th.”

The issue wasn’t settled yet, and it was eating up meeting time. Past President Ingrid Sheldon’s question was likewise salient: “Who will be writing, and authorizing, checks?” Norm came in at this point to clarify: “Checks will be generated by the [administrative] company, but signed by the Club treasurer, president, and other authorized officers.” Greg broke off discussion at this juncture. There were speakers to introduce, after all.

Program Committee chair (and SafeHouse Executive Director) Barbara Niess-May then stepped up to introduce our speakers. [By the way, since we’re talking about administrators and contracts, how about a retainer for Barb? At this point she has to be approaching Bonds’ home run record with regard to speaker introductions!] “Actually, we’re going to have three speakers today who will speak about the millage and mental health [in Washtenaw County].”

“First, I wouldn’t be here if Michelle Deatrick hadn’t passed the mental health millage,” asserted Greg Dill, Washtenaw County Administrator. Eyes turned to Michelle’s table, grateful for her humanitarian work as well as her vigorous Michigan Senate campaign. He described a recent conference he attended at Harvard. “They were citing all the Presidents and Chief Justices that had attended Harvard. I was thinking ‘Boy, if they do this every day [of the conference], I don’t know what I’m going to do.'” When he had the chance to speak, he began his remarks with “Well, the University of Michigan is ranked the number 1 public university in the U.S.” His audience listened respectfully, quietly, eyes to the floor. “You could’ve heard a pin drop,” added Mr. Dill.

The body of Greg’s presentation, in fact, emphasized the dedication of the Administrator’s office to Washtenaw citizens. “We budget for 1 1/2 percent annual growth,” he noted, while at the same time observing that that margin is not always adequate. “We are good stewards of your resources…and align our resources with the needs of our county.”

Lisa Gentz, Washtenaw County Jail Services Program Administrator, then came to the podium with colleague Renee Wilson. “In 2014 the state dramatically cut mental health funding. As a result, 350 people with mental health issues were released.” Many of those people, Lisa stressed, have ended up in the County’s jails. She then provided a figure — “About 56% of jail inmates last year showed evidence of mental illness or substance abuse problems.” The good news, of a kind, was that this was down from 75% in previous years. Then a sobering fact, one that brought images of “Amadeus”-like incarcerations of the mentally ill — “Prisons and jails have been acting as mental hospitals, and they can’t handle it.” Also, “Once incarcerated, mental health inmates stay longer in jail” — as much a result of law enforcement providing shelter as the desire to keep the dangerous off the streets. The Washtenaw County Sheriff’s office, in particular, is shouldering an increasing burden. “We’re stepping up initiatives,” Renee noted. “Since the [passage of the] millage, we’ve expanded staff and educated law enforcement officers to deal with people with mental health problems.”

But for all the improvements the millage supposedly provides for, it did not escape the audience’s notice that the situation is held in a delicate balance. The millage will not be enough. We’ve essentially returned to the 1980s, when many of the nation’s mental hospitals were closed, plowed over and made into parks, their patients scattered to the winds. Where and how to humanely care for the growing population of the mentally ill? We must stay tuned to happenings in Lansing and at the county’s Community Mental Health Administration. And perhaps dust off our old copies of Beccaria’s On Crimes and Punishments — the first monograph to champion humane treatment of the incarcerated. That takes us back to 1770, for the first English edition.

President Greg warmly thanked our speakers, then leaned into the mic to recite the wisdom of John Wayne: “‘Life is hard, but it’s harder if you’re stupid.’ The meeting is adjourned.”