Commissioners in a Michigan County decided to use COVID relief cash to pay themselves bonuses worth half of their annual salaries.
Elected officials in Shiawassee County voted to award public employees with generous bonuses that the commissioners deemed “hazard pay” for the work they put in during the pandemic.
The minimum amount gifted to county workers was $1,000, but the average one time payout to employees was $2,100. The people at the top of the county hierarchy received significantly more, with seven officials splitting $65,000 in coronavirus cash between them.
County board chairman Jeremy Root collected the lion’s share of the funds with a $25,000 bonus, second-tier commissioners John B. Plowman and Brandon Marks both took in $10,000 each, while the other four commissioners received $5,000 bonuses, which amounts to half the annual salary for their positions.
Commissioner Marlene Webster was “mortified” to learn that she had received funds, which she had only believed were going to county employees outside of the board when they voted.
“I’m giving the money back,” Webster remarked. “I think one commissioner is giving it to a nonprofit so those actions indicate that we truly did not know this money was coming to us.”
While commissioner Cindy Garber believes she deserves her $5K. “I think that I earned it,” she commented. “I work really hard at this job. I was here in person all through this crazy year.”
Residents of Shiawassee County are not thrilled that the American Rescue Plan funds are going into politician’s pockets. “I think it’s selfish. It’s very greedy, especially if it can go back to the community. I mean we vote for them,” remarked Owosso resident Leslie Powell.
The chairman’s $25K bonus was a particularly hard pill to swallow. “A lot of people can benefit from $25,000. I’m not sure what his job entitles – like why that would entitle him to have that money,” said resident Barb Haber-Grinnell.
The Michigan Association of Counties said that the payouts are not against regulations, but are a first of their kind.
“We have been consistently advising our members to focus on making strategic investments in their services to the public, through documents, through regular briefings for commissioners and administrators and through webinars put on by such partners as the state of Michigan and the National Association of Counties,” MAC executive director Stephan Currie said in a statement.
“We are not aware of any other counties considering payments to elected officials, and MAC has not provided any guidance or advice to do so.”