Elected officials in a Michigan county came under fire this week after news broke that they had used $65,000 in coronavirus relief money to pad their own wallets.
Commissioners in Shiawassee County, all of whom are Republican, voted last week to use the federal relief money to award public employees — including themselves — one-time bonuses of at least $1,000, WILX-TV reported. They called the generous bonuses “hazard pay.”
But while the average payout to employees was $2,100, top-level employees made significantly more. Jeremy Root, the county board chairman, received $25,000, second-tier commissioners John B. Plowman and Brandon Marks received $10,000, and the remaining four commissioners were each given $5,000, according to MLive.com.
County commissioners are paid $10,000 annually for their part-time job, plus stipends for meeting attendance.
One commissioner, Cindy Garber, who was awarded $5,000, even stood by the decision, arguing she deserves the money.
“I think that I earned it,” she told WILX-TV. “I work really hard at this job. I was here in person all through this crazy year.”
But another commissioner, Marlene Webster, said she was “mortified” when she saw the money deposit into her bank account. She added that she plans to give the payment back.
“I’m giving the money back,” Webster told WILX-TV. “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.”
Webster claimed that she was aware that payments were to be made to county employees but didn’t know that commissioners were also set to be recipients.
Several members of the community, located between Lansing and Flint, were enraged at the county commissioners’ decision, according to interviews conducted by WILX-TV.
“They saw some money on the table and they grabbed it,” blasted one resident.
“There are so many businesses that struggled and closed … there’s [sic] a lot of people that could’ve used that money,” added another.
The federal stimulus money was intended to assist small businesses and local governments during the pandemic. But according to the Michigan Association of Counties, no other county in the state has used it to pay elected officials.
In a statement regarding the controversial payout, the association offered implicit criticism but acknowledged it is up to each county’s elected board to determine how to allocate the funds.
“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,” Stephan Currie, the association’s executive director, said. “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.”
The full board meeting where the vote took place can be seen here: