Blog: Bob Guenzel

Robert E. Guenzel has been the Administrator for Washtenaw County, Michigan, since 1994.  The signature aspect of his tenure has been the renewal of the County’s mission to be a provider of world class public service. 

Bob has a Bachelors of Business Administration from the University of Michigan School of Business Administration, and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Michigan Law School.

In his twenty-five years of practicing law, he served as a trial attorney for the National Labor Relations Board, Seventh Region, Detroit; as the Ann Arbor Assistant City Attorney, and as the first Washtenaw County Corporation Counsel.  Bob was also engaged in private practice as the managing partner for the law firm of Harris, Guenzel, Meier & Nichols.  

He has been active in the United Way, serving as Washtenaw County Campaign Chair and a past President of the United Way Board.  Bob has been a Co-Convener of the County Task Force on Homelessness and the community’s Blueprint to End Homelessness, including the development and construction of the Robert J. Delonis Center in Ann Arbor.

He also has served as the Chair of the Washtenaw Development Council (WDC) and as President of the Board of Directors of the Ark, a 501 (c)(3) Corporation.  He is a Board member of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance, Nonprofit Enterprise at Work (NEW), Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce, the Washtenaw Health Plan, the Criminal Justice Collaborative Council and the Success by Six initiative. 

Bob is Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors for Ann Arbor SPARK, the public-private partnership to advance innovation-based economic development in the greater Ann Arbor region.  He was the convener for the Wireless Washtenaw Initiative, Washtenaw Area Teens for Tomorrow (WATT) youth development enterprise and the Literacy Coalition of Washtenaw County.  He is a member of the Board of Directors for the Alliance for Innovation, based in Phoenix, Arizona.  Bob is a resident of Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Bob Guenzel - Most Recent Posts:

Post No. 4: Summer, Finally

It just seems that this year’s unofficial beginning of summer, the long Memorial Day weekend, came at exactly the right time. The time to take time: reading, sleeping in, laughing with friends, getting the garden back in shape - or beginning the outdoor exercise that helps us get into shape – that extra day can make such a difference. 

For me, this is a great time of year that reinforces my booster status for our community. We’ve got the Dexter-Ann Arbor run next weekend; Grillin’ one of my favorite fundraisers for Food Gatherers the following weekend; the Ann Arbor Summer Festival and Top of the Park starts after that. And almost every night there’s a great entertainment at The Ark a non-profit I’ve been affiliated with for more than 25 years.    

And there seems to be more going on, locally, in all of our communities as we head into the 13 weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Just more reasons to celebrate our communities, more reasons to care about sustaining this quality of life and care about the future. 

Thanks again to Concentrate for this opportunity to be in touch with you all.  Conversations are the beginning of everything. It’s been nice to chat. 

Bob Guenzel, Administrator
Washtenaw County 

Post No. 3: The Eastern Leaders Group

One of the themes I've been pushing in these blog entries this week has been collaboration. If you have become, as I have, a frequent visitor to the Concentrate site, you see evidence of new partnerships generating new ideas with every click of the mouse.

The economy today isn't going to let us get far without collaboration. Today I want to speak to the exciting prospects underway in the eastern part of our County through the collaboration of the Eastern Leaders Group (ELG). This group includes Eastern Michigan University and civic leaders in business, education and government who are seizing the opportunities presented in Ypsilanti and the eastern part of the County.

The area is rich with opportunity – and now, with the continuing leadership and community engagement from Eastern Michigan – there is both the will and the way to make things happen.

To borrow a slogan from one of or private sector partners, the eastern County should be the best place to "Live. Work. Shop. Play." Just this week, a high energy meeting on this initiative demonstrated the willingness and ability of local government, including a fiscally revitalized City of Ypsilanti to step into the future.

And real steps forward have begun.

§ Eastern Michigan University is using its considerable influence and resources to develop programs and partnerships to meet the pressing needs in the community. This includes a targeted effort to establish premier schools in the area. In January, EMU and all local school districts signed a partnership agreement for hosting services and improvements initiatives. This includes the development of a centralized website portal, facilitated by the Washtenaw Intermediate School District, to share information on current initiatives and successes as well as AP classes, dual enrollments, fine arts programs, and athletic program information.

§ SPARK East is the name of the high-tech business incubator, tentatively set to be housed in the Smith Furniture Building at 15 S. Washington in Ypsilanti. The target date to open the incubator is September 1, 2008. Similar to Ann Arbor SPARK, the incubator will be based on an open concept with cubicles of approximately 300 square feet, conference rooms, administrative offices and possibly two training/classrooms with a capacity of 30 people each.

§ Eastern Gateway Project - The purpose of this part of the Eastern Leaders Group initiative is to develop concepts for land use, property redevelopment and physical design for the "gateway" into the City of Ypsilanti. After all, from our most populous neighbor and destination city, Detroit, Ypsilanti is the "Gateway to Washtenaw County". It is our important connection to future development there, like the Aerotropolis project.

So, you can give me all the details you want about what's not working in Washtenaw County. I think I can beat you hands down with what is! Let me know what you think.

Post No. 2: Literacy in Washtenaw County


27,000 of your neighbors and mine face severe challenges in reading or writing. That translates to a rate of illiteracy above 12% in Washtenaw County.

More than what it says about our community, think for a minute about what it means to those individual people. It's hard to calculate the limiting fear. Each day, unsure of street signs in any neighborhood but their own, people who can't read don't want to venture much beyond their own neighborhood. At home, they find ingenious ways to avoid reading with their children, or helping them with homework that's presented on the written page. At their workplace, they need to hide their illiteracy by staying in a very low-paying job – safe from discovery. Even getting a Driver's License – passing the written test or being able to read certain road signs can prove too much.

The toll illiteracy takes on self-esteem, on families, on sustainable employment – on all of us – can be devastating. It should come as no surprise that illiteracy rates are tied to poverty rates. Seventy percent of adult welfare recipients in the United States function at the lowest level of literacy.

Part of that 27,000 are those older children who managed to get by in school until finally dropping out completely. The dropout rates for local high schools average about 12%, with some districts and individual schools at much higher rates. Add to that the fact that in Washtenaw County, nearly 15% of households do not speak English in the home.

Nationally, adult literacy levels have remained virtually unchanged in the past 10 years. Locally, we have seen no evidence that the cycle of illiteracy has been broken in Washtenaw County. But, locally, we're doing something.

As we have before with issues like homelessness in our County (The Blueprint to End Homelessness); with shoring up the digital divide (Wireless Washtenaw), and with empowering our teenage youth (Washtenaw Area Teens for Tomorrow) I was able to convene an extraordinary group of local leaders who care very much about breaking the cycle of illiteracy in Washtenaw County. The Washtenaw County Literacy Coalition formed almost a year ago, with an approving resolution from the County Board of Commissioners in July of 2007.

This group is comprised of 30 members: 20 representing academia, libraries, business, not-for-profit, and faith-based organizations; 8 representing Washtenaw County Departments, and 2 Washtenaw County Commissioners. (See the list of Coalition members below.)

Let me tell you, this is as very motivated group. You can see it in the work that has already been accomplished within one year. Two capacity building grants are helping to enable the "Blueprint to End Illiteracy" and a follow-up work plan. In this County we are blessed with the presence of a lead agency on this issue –
Washtenaw Literacy. For more than 35 years this volunteer-based organization has provided free literacy instruction customized to the needs of adults in our county.

The Coalition is the strongest collaborative effort to address illiteracy ever implemented in Washtenaw County. The Blueprint to End Illiteracy holds great promise for our community in that it: provides early and sustained intervention, incorporates innovative solutions based upon best practices, reduces duplication of services, facilitates collaboration among partner organizations, leverages funding sources, and will achieve clear outcomes. This collaboration has the flexibility of vision and the high-level support necessary to succeed.

The Literacy Coalition

Bill Abernethy / Washtenaw Community College
Anya Abramzon / Jewish Family Services
Cara Belkofer / Reach Out & Read
Jesse Bernstein / Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce
Donna DeButts / Ypsilanti District Library
Pastor Phil / Ferrell Ministerial Alliance
Bob Guenzel / Washtenaw County Administration, Chair
Leah Gunn / Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners
James Hawkins / Ypsilanti Public Schools
Freman Hendrix / Eastern Michigan University
Diane Keller / Ypsilanti Chamber of Commerce
Julie McFarland / McNaughton and Gunn
Verna McDaniel / Washtenaw County Administration
Bill Miller / Washtenaw Intermediate School District
Sian Owen-Cruise / Washtenaw Success by Six Initiative
Josie Parker / Ann Arbor District Library
Keith Peters / Washtenaw County Workforce Development Board
Joanne Pierson / University of Michigan
Ronnie Peterson / Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners        
Chris Roberts / Washtenaw Literacy
Mike Scholl Community / Collaborative of Washtenaw County
Peg Talburtt / James A. & Faith Knight Foundation
Sandy Williams / Family Learning Institute
To be determined / Washtenaw Association of School Boards
Ellen Clement / Washtenaw County Dept. of Public Health
Patricia Horne / McGee Head Start
Trenda Rusher / Employment Training and Community Services
Kerry Sheldon / Washtenaw County Administration
Mary Udoji / Library Learning Resource Center
Nancy Thelen /  MSU Extension

Post. No 1

The idea of a blog has always held special appeal to me and I thank Concentrate for this opportunity. I think you could say, pretty easily, that one of my core beliefs - one that's been demonstrated over and over again in any public leadership role I've held over the years - is the importance of relationships.

Relationships are about conversations. People learning about people, people taking the time to listen and to understand different positions and different ideas: I've seen them move mountains.

So, this site and these blogs are just higher tech' ways to keep those conversations going – and here in Washtenaw County we have a lot of new, important and compelling conversations to have. 

If you think I'm going to spend time with you in this space talking about the downturn in our economy, you might be right. But I'll speak of it only in terms of what opportunities it can bring to this community. Sound backwards? It's not.

We will deal with this downturn. We will find ways to reduce costs with as little pain as possible to the citizens of Washtenaw County. But these economic hard times are also doing something else. In order to find ways to do more with less we are beginning to reach out beyond our own organizations, our own "comfort zones", to collaborate for the future. Villages, townships and cities; private sector businesses and public sector government and educational institutions; entrepreneurs and artists and advocates – all seem to be reaching out to one another as never before. A lot of conversations are beginning to happen.

In the next few days, I will use this opportunity to have a conversation with you about a glass that is definitely more than half full. I don't have to consult anyone or any backgrounder - there's a lot to be hopeful about in Washtenaw County: The Aerotropolis Project; Ann ArborSPARK; the Blueprint to End Homelessness; Washtenaw Area Teens for Tomorrow; WALLY; the Eastern Leaders Group; the Countywide Natural Area Preservation Program and Greenways Initiative; the Literacy Task Force; the 4-County Community Mental Health Partnership of Southeastern Michigan; the ArtsAlliance Community & Culture Plan for Washtenaw County and the regional outreach of the Community Success Process – and that's just off the top of my head.

In fact, this website itself, Concentrate, is more evidence of positive impact through real collaboration – real conversations.

When I read Richard Florida's "The Rise of the Creative Class" a few years ago, I have to say that his idea of the "Three Ts" for attracting the new Creative Class – Talent, Technology and Tolerance, really resounded with me. I can't speak for other communities, but I think I know this one pretty well and I think we have all three. And we have more. This County has diverse communities having great, forward-looking conversations.

Like this one. I look forward to hearing from you.