January 23, 2014 | vol. 95, No. 19

Gogebic County Board signs MSU Extension agreement

BESSEMER - After hearing overwhelming support to continue the Michigan State University-Extension program, the Gogebic County Board of Commissioners Wednesday agreed to sign the annual agreement with MSU.

Ralph Ansami/Daily Globe
JOANNE PIHLAJA, former Michigan State University Extension director, addresses the Gogebic County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday. Seated next to her is Doug Brahee, regional director for the Upper Peninsula MSU-Extension service

The county board was not pleased with how MSU had handled a vacant 4-H coordinator's position in the past year, however it approved the memorandum of agreement to continue with MSU after a public hearing was attended by about 35 people before Wednesday's county board meeting.

The board also received 21 letters of support for retaining the MSU-Extension program.

Supporters of the program attending the meeting ranged from a new resident in Erwin Township who needed advice on planting crops to youngsters who are involved in the 4-H livestock program.

The phrase "learning life skills" surfaced numerous times during the half-hour public hearing.

Bob Johnson, of South Bessemer, said he was involved in 4-H 60 years ago and he hosts 4-Hers in hayrides, including one on Saturday. "I didn't see any iPads there," he said. "I would hate to see anything happen to 4-H," he said.

Joanne Pihlaja, former Gogebic County MSU-Extension director, urged the board to sign the agreement.

Fair board president Jim Gribble, of Bessemer, said he believes the county is getting a good deal for $50,000, including two MSU educators and two half-time positions. "I hope you will continue with them," he said.

One of the MSU educators, Lucia Patritto, said she'd like to see a return to a "solid relationship with the county board" that MSU Extension had in the past, acknowledging there has been a "fracture" in that relationship.

"Feel free to walk into our offices anytime," Patritto told board members.

Dr. Donald Martinson said he supports 4-H, but the problem was that MSU "was not serving us as they should be" in the past year and "...jamming things down our throats," suggesting there should be more local input.

But Katie Nelson, who said the leadership skills she obtained through 4-H have been invaluable, said a subcommittee that was to study alternatives to 4-H didn't have a plan for launching an alternative program.

The vote to sign the agreement was 5-0, with board members George Peterson, of Watersmeet, and Jim Oliver, of Ironwood, absent.

Board member Joe Bonovetz, of Bessemer, said he was "blown away" at a meeting last week attended by about 20 people, mostly supporters of the MSU program. He said Erin Ross, the other MSU educator, showed him facets of the program that he didn't know existed.

Dan Siirila, of Ironwood, who attended his last meeting as county board chairman because of he's moving out of his commission district, urged board members to "watch MSU through the microscope for the next six months."