Controversy has risen over pandemic related hazard pay after a mid-Michigan county approved COVID funds for elected officials. A Shiawassee county commissioner says she had no idea the board approved funds.
“It's infuriating, I'm very sad for our employees it's demoralizing,” Marlene Webster said.
Webster is speaking out after a board meeting last Thursday about pandemic-related hazard pay for county employees.
“We were presented with 'we have 250 employees if we pay an average of 2148 comes out to just half a million dollars' and that’s all the information we were given,” Webster said.
She voted to approve it as a way to thank frontliners for their hard work. But she said she was disappointed when she found out after it passed that some board members were paid significantly more than county workers.
“A constituent tipped me off and said I heard that commissioners had paid themselves some hazard pay, and one may be getting $25,000,” Webster said.
That person is Board Chairman Jeremy Root. According to numbers Webster posted on Facebook, Vice Chairman Brandon Marks and Finance Chair John Plowman each received $10,000.
Webster told TV5 there was never a discussion about commissioners getting paid. When she checked her bank account Monday, she noticed a $3,400 deposit from the county. She returned the money and put up a Facebook post stating, “I wanted to make sure I was being transparent saying here’s what happened and here’s what I'm doing about that.”
Shiawassee county resident Emily Thomas tells TV5 she is shocked to hear about the payout. She's friends with a county dispatcher, who she said received only $661.
“For them to receive that amount is just beyond ridiculous,” Thomas said. “How can you put that price on yourself but not the people that are actually out there doing the footwork and keeping our county running?”
In a statement, Root said the funds weren't tied to COVID specifically, but they were allocated based on factors such as seniority, degree of risk faced and achievements. He added the staff put in exceptional work during trying times and are paid substantially less than their counterparts in neighboring counties.
He said the county finance director, coordinator and health director also received $25,000 apiece, and that they were worth it.
But some aren't buying it.
“I wouldn't be surprised if a lawsuit is not coming out of this for violations,” Thomas said.
Read Jeremy Root's full statement below:
Thank you for reaching out for comment from me prior to running your story. Let me begin by saying Shiawassee County has been through tough times during the last 18 months, and the money we received from the Federal Government in the form of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds have been very helpful. We have been promised a total of $13.3 million spread across two years, with $6.6 million received this year and another $6.6 million promised to us for next year.
These funds came with certain delineated “allowable uses” that include such things are premium payments, recouping revenue loss, investment in certain infrastructure projects (e.g. water, sewer, and broadband, but not roads and highways, etc.).
The “premium payments” instructions we received from the Michigan Department of Treasury (a copy of which is attached hereto) specifically allowed us to make a supplemental premium payment to each of our county employees and elected officials, of an amount not to exceed $13 / hour for hourly workers, and $25,000 / person. According to the Treasury instructions, we were also allowed to provide retroactive pay.
I want to note these funds were NOT tied to COVID specifically, i.e. they were not designed as COVID funds for front line workers, but rather as part of President Biden’s “build back better” policy of economic investment and local stimulus.
Our board voted 6-0 (Commissioner Brodeur was absent for a funeral) to grant these funds to county employees, including ourselves and other elected officials, at last Thursday’s board meeting. The amounts ranged from $1,000 to $25,000, depending on a number of factors. Those factors included seniority, the degree to which the employee or official worked in person during the COVID lockdown, the degree of personal risk or discomfort the individual faced during the epidemic, etc. We also took into account specific achievements of some of our staff that have put in exceptional work during trying times, and are otherwise paid substantially less than their counterparts in other neighboring counties. For instance, our County Finance Director Tracy Bublitz and County Coordinator Dr. Brian Boggs have almost single handedly balanced the County budget and brought spending reforms and fiscal responsibility to County Government. Our Health Director Larry Johnson has performed above and beyond for months now, often at great personal risk and no sleep. All three of these individuals received the full $25,000, and they absolutely earned every penny of it.
It is unfortunate this has become a story about commissioners rather than about the heroic stories of each of our employees and staff. Despite the unanimous vote, one of our members wants to use this opportunity to play politics. I find that shameful, and I hope this individual has the decency to refocus the spotlight back on our employees and staff where it belongs.