Newbie chairs Government Affairs

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A former Ann Arbor City Councilman and Washtenaw County Commissioner, Mark Ouimet began his state legislative career in January.
LEGAL NEWS PHOTO BY ROBERT CHASE

by Tom Kirvan
Legal News

Word travels fast in Lansing, much faster than it took Mark Ouimet to make the short walk from the State Capitol to his legislative office across the street from the historic jewel that sparkles downtown.

Just days into his job as State Representative for the 52nd District, Ouimet was about to come face-to-face with legislative reality. Seemingly it was just minutes after he had been appointed chair of the powerful Local, Intergovernmental, and Regional Affairs Committee of the State House, a particularly plum position for a first time legislator.

The ink, as they say, was “barely dry” on his appointment when the former Washtenaw County Commissioner walked into his ninth floor office and “immediately knew that this would not be an ordinary day at work.”

Far from it, in fact.

Waiting for the new committee chair were members of Detroit City Council, including President Charles Pugh and President Pro Tem Gary Brown, both intent on lobbying Ouimet about the importance of maintaining local control of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

No sooner had the city lobbyists made their point, when it was time for the other side to be heard, as officials from Detroit suburban communities pled their case for greater transparency and accountability in the operation of the giant utility that has been a lightning rod for criticism over higher rates.
Then, of course, there were reporters from various TV and radio outlets, all waiting for a sound bite or two from the recently-appointed chair of the 15-member committee.

His legislative views have become just as newsworthy on other subjects that have come before the state committee, particularly proposed legislation to expand the powers of emergency financial managers for distressed school districts and municipalities.

According to Ouimet, the series of bills would give emergency financial managers the power to restructure local government, exclude elected officials from meetings, and sell, lease or otherwise use local government assets to pay off debt. The proposed legislation also would make it easier for the state treasurer to appoint an emergency financial manager, as well as provide safeguards to ensure that local units do not go into receivership in the first place.

The state’s dire fiscal situation, which over the last few years has been marked by record high jobless rates and a meltdown in the housing market, prompted Ouimet to seek state office last year, an election battle he won over Democratic challenger Christine Green.

“I grew up, started my professional career, and raised my family . . . in Washtenaw County. Unfortunately, today, most of our young adults . . . our talent . . . are being forced to look elsewhere for those opportunities,” Ouimet said. “And the only answers proposed in Lansing seem to be to raise taxes on families and place more regulations on job providers. As a businessman, I know first-hand that those tactics quickly bring economic development to a screeching halt.”

If the message sounds a lot like a certain Republican governor, there are good reasons for that, according to Ouimet, who professes to be a “linear type” of thinker.

“Rick Snyder and I have been friends for a long time and I’m a strong believer in his plan to create jobs by bringing fiscal responsibility back to Michigan,” Ouimet said. “He is the kind of dynamic leader that this state needs to get us back on our feet. We are at an economic crossroad and his budget plan can help reverse the job losses that we’ve experienced over the past decade. Until we start creating jobs, this state is going to be stuck in a vicious cycle of budget troubles that will threaten the very stability of our governmental institutions.”

A native of Ann Arbor, Ouimet graduated from the former University High School.

Like his father Larry, an Ann Arbor businessman who died in 1967, Ouimet would serve on Ann Arbor City Council. Similarly, both chaired the board of the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce, while also serving in leadership capacities with the Washtenaw County Chapter of the American Red Cross.
Ouimet has always been committed to community and charitable work, serving with Mott Children’s Hospital,  United Way, Ann Arbor SPARK, and others.

“Working on behalf of good causes has been in my blood,” Ouimet said. “The rewards of service are far greater than the energy I have expended over the years. There is nothing better than seeing people pull together for the public good.”

It’s a commitment he shares with his wife, Donna Hrozencik, an obstetrician/gynecologist. The couple met on a blind date in 1988 while she was a resident at University of Michigan Hospital and have been married for 17 years.

Ouimet, who served three terms on the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, has two children and two grandchildren. While his family will always be at the center of his life, Ouimet said he is similarly devoted to helping usher Michigan into “a new era of growth and prosperity” over the decade ahead.

“I am looking forward to working hand and glove with Governor Snyder in his efforts to make Michigan an economic force again,” said Ouimet, one of just three freshman legislators appointed to a committee chairmanship. “Some people would look at the task ahead and see nothing but challenges, while Governor Snyder prefers to see them in terms of ‘opportunities.’ That’s the kind of thinking that I prefer as well.”