Washtenaw Faces $20M Deficit in 2012-13

Also, Ouimet takes flak for per diem claims

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting (Oct. 6, 2010): Financial concerns emerged in a variety of ways at Wednesday night’s meeting.

Jeff Krcmarik, Martha Friedlander

Jeff Krcmarik, the county's environmental program supervisor, talks with Martha Friedlander, chair of the science department at Greenhills School in Ann Arbor. Friedlander was on hand to receive a county environmental excellence award on behalf of Greenhills, one of several such awards given out at Wednesday's meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Commissioner Conan Smith, who’s leading a budget advisory team, gave a grim update on an anticipated deficit that’s facing the county for 2012 and 2013. Originally projected to be $16 million, the administration now believes the two-year deficit could be $20 million or more, with possible adjustments necessary to address a shortfall in 2011 as well. Declining property tax revenues and uncertain state funding are primary factors.

Smith said cuts made to deal with a $30 million deficit in 2010-11 had brought them down to the bone, and now structural changes will be needed. “Some of what the county does will likely disappear in the process,” he said.

Budget issues also were central to a public hearing on the proposed Act 88 millage, which commissioners have used previously to fund programs related to economic development. It’s a millage they can levy without voter approval. During the public hearing, commissioners heard from supporters of the Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP) and Ann Arbor SPARK – both groups have been funded from Act 88 millage revenues. David Klingenberger of The Brinery, for example, told commissioners that FSEP is helping him build a pickle empire in Washtenaw County. But two people from the Washtenaw County Farm Bureau spoke out against the millage, arguing that property owners are already burdened and that any new tax needs to be on the ballot for voter approval.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, Tom Wieder spoke during public commentary to call for an investigation into per diem spending by commissioner Mark Ouimet. Based on documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Wieder contends that Ouimet claimed per diem payments to which he wasn’t entitled, and that his spending far exceeded other commissioners. Ouimet responded by saying that if any discrepancy is found in his expense reports, “obviously I’d want to know about it so I can take care of it.”

Ouimet, a Republican from Scio Township, is running for state representative in the 52nd District against Democrat Christine Green. Wieder is listed on a page of endorsements on Green’s campaign website.

Board Preps for Budget Discussions

During Wednesday’s meeting, commissioner Conan Smith gave an update on preparations for the 2012-2013 budget cycle, offering a look at the county’s financial projections that are grimmer than previously expected. Smith is leading a planning advisory team focused on the budget.

For planning purposes, the county works on a two-year budget cycle – the current cycle runs through Dec. 31, 2011. [.pdf file of Washtenaw County 2010-2011 general fund budget] Planning has already begun for the next two-year period, from Jan. 1, 2012 through Dec. 31, 2013. On Wednesday, Smith said that the county administration originally projected a $16 million deficit during that period, but now believes it will be over $20 million. In addition, there will likely need to be adjustments made to the 2011 budget, he said.

For the 2010-2011 budget cycle, the county addressed a projected $30 million deficit by cutting costs across most departments, but few structural changes were made. Now, Smith said, “we’re down to the bone.” Noting that everyone is keenly aware of the economic situation they’re in, he described the upcoming process as one of the toughest the county has ever faced, with difficult decisions to make. “Some of what the county does will likely disappear in the process,” he said.

The purpose of the planning team is to engage the staff, administration and board, he said. About 80% of their general fund expenditures are tied to personnel costs, he noted, and the county’s labor negotiations team is already meeting to get updates on the situation. That group is led by Diane Heidt, the county’s human resources and labor relations director. A labor/management team is also meeting every two weeks, focusing in part on the budget. Smith said they’ll need full participation from employees to find ways to deal with the budget shortfall.

One of the biggest challenges in the process, Smith said, will be in prioritizing county services, and one of the highest priorities is a commitment to customer service. They’ll need to invest their resources in a targeted way, he said – for example, perhaps by addressing employment and housing, two of the roots of the budget crisis.

Early in the last budget cycle, Smith said, the board established a revenue target for the staff to use when developing the budget. They had been conservative, he said, and that had been a wise decision. [See Chronicle coverage: "County Board: Plan for Worst, Hope for Best"] The board again needs to establish their expectations for the staff to work with, he said. Along those lines, he urged his colleagues to keep an open mind. Smith noted that he’s fought tooth and nail to keep funding for land use, planning and economic development, but that he’s trying to keep an open mind about what stays and what goes. They need to give staff clear direction on that, he said.

Promising to give regular updates from the advisory team, Smith concluded: “So we’re off and running.”

Budget Discussions: Commissioner Comments

Barbara Bergman said the board needs to get serious and quantitative updates about the budget. She noted that openness is important, but expressed concern about scaring people.

Kristin Judge said she was glad to see the planning process underway – she thought 2010 should have been a planning year. [Judge had pushed for planning to start early in 2010, but the last substantive discussion on setting priorities occurred at the Feb. 17, 2010 meeting. She mentioned the issue at a May 5, 2010 meeting – the final meeting for former long-time county administrator Bob Guenzel:]

Finally, Judge expressed disappointment that the Thursday working session had been canceled. The board needs to get to work setting its priorities and getting public input, she said. Next year they’ll have to set the budget for 2012 and 2013, which will be a difficult effort. It’s already May, and they haven’t made much progress in preparing for that. “We have a lot of work to do,” she said, adding that she hopes they’ll start to make faster progress soon.

On Wednesday, Judge said she appreciated Smith’s remarks about setting aside their favorite things and keeping an open mind. She noted that the board’s current set of priorities had been developed when revenues were growing – it’s a very different time now, she said, adding that she feels a sense of urgency to move forward on this.

Rolland Sizemore Jr., the board’s chair, said he wanted to look at professional services that the county uses, as well as at the many appointed boards, commissions and committees that are in place – some might not be necessary, he said.

Wes Prater said the issue of mandated versus non-mandated services will be a factor, as it was in the last budget cycle. [This was an issue that Prater brought up at the April 2009 board retreat, when the group met for three hours to discuss priorities. They have not held a retreat since then.]

Jeff Irwin began by saying that it’s certain he won’t play a role in the next budget cycle. [Irwin is the Democratic candidate for state representative in District 53.] But one of the things that troubled him during previous budget talks had been the issue of mandated versus non-mandated services, he said. He urged commissioners to consider very deeply what each of the non-mandated services is for – each of the services had been created to address a need, he said. And while it’s probably good advice to set aside favorites and keep an open mind, it’s also important to reflect on why particular programs are your favorite ones, he said. The board shouldn’t lose sight of what makes this county special, he said.

Judge responded by noting that mandated services require about $66 million [out of the nearly $100 million general fund budget], and said that a lot of non-mandated services help keep costs lower in mandated areas. She cited the example of the county’s public outreach team (PORT), which works with the homeless and mentally-ill population who might otherwise end up in jail.

But Judge added that the money just isn’t there to support all of the county’s non-mandated services, and they need to be honest with residents about that. Something has to go, she said. They just can’t continue to offer the same services anymore.

Smith pointed out that sheriff Jerry Clayton and Greg Dill, director of sheriff administrative operations, were in the audience that evening, and that Dill also served on the budget advisory team. The sheriff’s department has been keenly focused on the systemic approach, Smith said, and understood the impact of non-mandated services. [Operation of the county jail is a mandated service.]

Sizemore concluded the discussion by saying that while the economy is bad, this opens up the opportunity to take a hard look at what they do. He wants the county to remain a leader in the state and nation, Sizemore said, and to be proactive in its approach to the budget, not reactive.

Ouimet Called Out for Per Diem Spending

During the time for public commentary, Tom Wieder said he wanted to bring to the board’s attention some “disturbing information” involving a “breach of trust” by commissioner Mark Ouimet. [Ouimet, a Republican from Scio Township, is running for state representative in the 52nd District against Democrat Christine Green. Wieder is listed on a page of endorsements on Green's campaign website.]

Mark Ouimet

Mark Ouimet talks with county treasurer Catherine McClary prior to the board of commissioners' Sept. 1, 2010 meeting. (Chronicle file photo)

It’s common knowledge, Wieder said, that Ouimet has spent a disproportionate amount of the per diem budget for the board. For the four years prior to 2010, he said, Ouimet’s spending accounted for more than 30% of the total per diem payments to all commissioners. Holding up a sheaf of documents, Wieder said that Ouimet was reimbursed for roughly $23,000 in per diem payments for over 900 meetings, plus an additional $9,300 in mileage reimbursement. Those meetings included some held at the former Ann Arbor News, as well with township boards and former county administrator Bob Guenzel, Wieder said, referring to information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. [.pdf file of Ouimet's per diem requests]

Wieder said that based on the county board’s rules, Ouimet was not entitled to compensation for many of these meetings. He said it’s time for this to stop, then noted that the board had changed its policy. [Starting in 2010, each commissioner has an annual flex account for expenses, capped at $3,550. A commissioner can only receive additional funds if another commissioner agrees to transfer unused funds from his/her account. [.pdf file of flex account rules)] Wieder said he hoped the board would investigate this matter, and that there should be an effort to get Ouimet to reimburse the county for funds that he wasn’t entitled to receive.

The “compensatory service” section of the board’s rules and regulations deals with this issue [.pdf file of full board rules and regulations]:


In addition to the salary received by the Board of Commissioners, each member of the Board may receive a per diem payment of $25.00 and County mileage reimbursement from their residence or from their actual place of departure whichever is less from their CFA allotment for the following activities:

1. Attendance for a committee, subcommittee meeting or Working Session of the Board, when the member has been properly appointed to that committee or subcommittee, the meeting has been called in accordance with the Open Meeting Act, Public Act 267 of 1976, and the meeting has not been canceled twenty-four (24) hours prior to the scheduled time of the meeting and the Commissioner has not been notified of said cancellation within twenty-four (24) hours of the scheduled meeting.

2. Attendance at a meeting of a non-Board committee, subcommittee, commission, board, or attendance at a conference or convention as a representative of Washtenaw County when the member of the Board serves by appointment of the Board of Commissioners or the Chair of the Board.

3. For the purpose of receiving per diems, the Commissioner must be present for at least 1 hour or half of the meeting, whichever is less. Commissioners shall note their arrival and departure times on the meeting attendance per diem slip submitted to receive payments.

Any member of the Board of Commissioners may waive his/her per diem and/or mileage reimbursement by giving written notice to the County Clerk.

Following Wieder’s remarks, commissioner Conan Smith turned to deputy clerk Jason Brooks, and said it was the responsibility of the clerk’s office to review per diem requests, and that the clerk should meet with Ouimet if there was a discrepancy. Commissioner Kristin Judge told Smith that she disagreed – it’s not the responsibility of the clerk to understand the board rules. It’s the responsibility of commissioners to understand and follow the rules, she said.

Later in the meeting Smith apologized to Brooks, noting that under the old rules prior to 2010, no review by the clerk’s office had been required.

At the end of the board meeting, during the time set aside for commissioner follow-up to citizen participation, Ouimet addressed Wieder’s remarks – though Wieder had left the boardroom by then. Ouimet said it was important to understand that each commissioner is responsible for “whatever goes down on that piece of paper,” referring to the reimbursement request. In this case, he said, he’s responsible. “If there is any discrepancy, obviously I’d want to know about it so I can take care of it,” he said.

Ouimet also said that when he has traveled out of the district for county-related business, he’s always paid his own way. He further stated that he gives the money he receives from the county to charity.

Ouimet has encountered previous travel-related blowback. A 2005 Ann Arbor News editorial criticized him and other county officials for attending a five-day conference in Hawaii. At the time, Ouimet told The News that he was paying his travel and other expenses on the trip. And in 2007, he canceled another planned trip to Hawaii for a conference on public pensions, after negative publicity surfaced about the trip. Again, he told The News that he had intended to pay his own way.

Act 88 Public Hearing

The board held a public hearing at its Wednesday meeting to get input on levying an economic development tax of 0.043 mills. Known as the Act 88 millage, it is expected to generate roughly $611,266 annually and would cost homeowners $4.30 for every $100,000 of a home’s taxable value. Because Act 88 predates the state’s Headlee Amendment, it can be approved by the board without a voter referendum. The board is expected to vote on the millage at its Oct. 20 meeting.

Last year, the board for the first time levied 0.04 mills under Act 88, and allocated funds to Ann Arbor SPARK, the Eastern Leaders Group, 4-H activities, horticulture/MSU Extension, agricultural innovation/MSU Extension, the Food System Economic Partnership, heritage tourism and the director’s job of the county Economic Development and Energy Department. So far, no specific allocation has been designated for the 2011 Act 88 funds. The resolution setting the public hearing stated that the board has the “option of assigning some of the generated funds to a non-profit organization which is engaged in the purpose of advertising the advantages of and encouraging trade within the County.”

Eight people spoke during the public hearing: Three in support of funding for the Food System Economic Partnership, three in support of funding for Ann Arbor SPARK, and two people from the Washtenaw County Farm Bureau who urged the board not to levy the tax.

Act 88: Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP)

Jennifer Fike, FSEP’s executive director, noted that the nonprofit has been supported in the past with Act 88 funds. Based in Washtenaw County, FSEP serves a five-county area and focuses on economic development via the local food system. Fike read a statement of support from Sharon Sheldon, a member of FSEP’s leadership team and an administrator with the Washtenaw County public health department.

Sheldon’s statement highlighted the importance of healthy eating as part of an overall strategy for good health, particularly during a down economy. The statement noted that FSEP has worked diligently with farmers and businesses to make fresh and healthy food more available in outlets across the county, and that having access to healthy foods in venues across the county is important so that people with all types of economic backgrounds have the ability to eat fresh and healthy food.

Sara Aeschbach, director of Ann Arbor Rec & Ed, said she was also coordinator of the wellness policy committee for the Ann Arbor Public Schools. She was speaking in support of FSEP, specifically for its work in the Farm to School program, which Aeschbach described as “phenomenal.” She mentioned several aspects of FSEP’s work with the schools, including classroom presentations by farmers and the start of a farmers market for Head Start families, in partnership with Food Gatherers. The schools’ food service program has doubled the amount of local produce it uses, thanks to FSEP’s efforts, and that amount is expected to grow. Aeschbach urged commissioners to continue their support for FSEP.

David Klingenberger of The Brinery described himself as a local food entrepreneur, selling fermented vegetables at the farmers market and to restaurants like Zingerman’s. He said he wouldn’t be in business now if it weren’t for FSEP’s help. “I plan to have a pickle empire here in Washtenaw County,” he said, and employ many people. [The Brinery's tagline is "Stimulating your inner economy."] FSEP is helping his business grow, and he asked commissioners for their support of the program.

Act 88: Ann Arbor SPARK

Elizabeth Parkinson, director of marketing and public relations for Ann Arbor SPARK, spoke after Klingenberger and said “it’s always been my dream to follow the Pickle King.” She noted that prior to this year, SPARK – the region’s economic development agency – had received funding from the county’s general fund. In 2010, its county funding of $250,000 came from Act 88 revenues. She described a range of activities that SPARK performs, including operating a microloan program and three business incubators. The $250,000 from the county allowed SPARK to leverage $5 million from other sources, she said. Parkinson then said she’d brought along two entrepreneurs who had benefited from SPARK’s services.

John Harding, founder of Current Motor Company, said his firm has taken advantage of several SPARK programs and services, including its entrepreneur boot camp and microloan program. They are tenants in the SPARK East incubator as well, he said, and now employ six people. His hope is to grow their business in Washtenaw County.

Mitch Rohde, co-founder of Quantum Signal, said that when the company was founded in 1999 as a University of Michigan spin-off, there was little help for businesses like theirs. And when they started interacting with SPARK three years ago, he said he was initially skeptical that the group could help. But he said he’s been nothing but impressed with SPARK, noting that they’ve helped Quantum secure a state MEGA tax credit and negotiate a good deal on a new headquarters in the historic Union School in Saline. SPARK is also helping them create a new spinoff company, which he said is on the “hush hush” at this point. He said his firm has directly benefited and created new jobs because of SPARK.

Act 88: Washtenaw Farm Bureau

Ken Siler of Freedom Township said he was there representing the Washtenaw County Farm Bureau, which has about 7,500 members. Siler is president of that group. He reminded commissioners that he’d spoken at their meeting a year ago in support of Act 88, specifically for funding of FSEP and the Michigan State University Extension. However, this year the farm bureau board passed a resolution opposing renewal of the Act 88 millage, he said. While noting that the organizations funded by Act 88 are deserving and the action to levy the millage is legal, he said the members of the farm bureau believe the greater issue lies in giving property owners the right to decide by voting on a tax. Therefore, they are asking the board not to approve the millage. Siler said they are forwarding their resolution to farm bureaus across the state.

John Ochs, also of Freedom Township, described how farming and agriculture have been at the center of his life, whether as a political reporter, press secretary for the U.S. secretary of agriculture or PR director for Ford trucks. He is now chair of the policy development committee for the Washtenaw County Farm Bureau, and reiterated the group’s opposition to Act 88.

Any tax on people’s homes should be put on the ballot, he said. He’d heard commissioners express concern about foreclosures, and wondered why it made any sense in this economic climate to put an additional burden on homeowners. They’d said they were concerned about veterans, he noted, so how do they feel about taking away a veteran’s right to vote? [At its Sept. 15 meeting, the board gave final approval to levy 1/40 mill for indigent veterans’ relief, administered by the county's Department of Veteran Affairs. Like Act 88, it does not require voter approval.] Ochs concluded by saying the ballot is what separates America from third-world countries, and he urged commissioners not to levy the Act 88 tax.

Commissioners did not respond to commentary at the public hearing. They are expected to vote on the millage at their Oct. 20 meeting.

Awards and Recognition

During the meeting, the board honored several individuals, groups and businesses.

Saying Farewell to Mark Lindke

The board honored Mark Lindke for nearly 38 years of service to the county. Lindke, who is director of Washtenaw County Dept. of Veteran Affairs, is retiring this month, and received a standing ovation from commissioners and others in the room. Several commissioners praised Lindke for his work. Ken Schwartz said that veterans organizations look up to and respect Lindke, and Barbara Bergman described him as one of her mentors. Leah Gunn recalled a time when he had hand-delivered a disability check to a veteran by finding him at the St. Andrew’s breakfast for the homeless. “This is what he does … and I thank him greatly for his service,” she said.

Mark Lindke, Patricia Denig

Mark Lindke, director of Washtenaw County's Dept. of Veteran Affairs, talks with Patricia Denig, head of the county's Employment Training & Community Services (ETCS) department, prior to the start of the Sept. 1 board of commissioners meeting. (Chronicle file photo)

Lindke said his parents had taught him the value of community service. He noted that many of the people in the room likely knew his mother, who had been active in civic affairs, and that his father had been a member of the “Greatest Generation,” flying combat missions in Europe during World War II and later working for 38 years at General Motors.

Lindke praised his staff, in particular Patricia Parker-Self, saying that the administration would do well to sit down with her and get her advice, then sprinkle that throughout the county government. But he said the biggest gift the county gave him was the opportunity to meet a young librarian more than three decades ago – he and Bernice Lindke have been married for 31 years, he said, and throughout that time she’s been his best friend. He always asks her advice, adding that at the moment, she’d probably advise him that it’s time to take a seat. “I salute all of you,” he concluded.

Environmental Excellence Awards

Janis Bobrin, the county’s water resources commissioner, and Jeff Krcmarik, the county’s environmental program supervisor, presented several awards on Wednesday to businesses and organizations honored for their environmental stewardship. Bobrin thanked the board for supporting the county’s environmental efforts, and said the honorees set an example for the rest of the community.

The winners are:

  • NSF International – 2010 Environmental Excellence Award. NSF was honored for implementing a comprehensive waste reduction and recycling program, constructing a model stormwater and erosion control system involving native plants, and keeping toxic materials out of the waste stream.
  • Barton Hills Village –2010 Excellence in Water Quality Protection Award. The village was recognized for its numerous water quality protection measures and environmental stewardship. Earthen Jar Vegetarian Cuisine received an honorable mention in this category.
  • Four Points Sheraton of Ann Arbor – 2010 Excellence in Waste Reduction and Recycling Award. The hotel was honored for its extensive recycling program, purchasing of recycled products, and fostering a conservation ethic among its employees. Greenhills School of Ann Arbor got an honorable mention in this category.
  • Sensors Inc. – The 2010 Excellence in Pollution Prevention Award. The Ann Arbor firm was noted for reducing the use of toxic substances and preventing pollution before it is produced.

Cyber Security Awareness Month

Commissioner Kristin Judge presented a resolution declaring October 2010 as National Cyber Security Awareness Month. A breakfast meeting earlier in the day – hosted by the Washtenaw County Cyber Citizen Coalition, which Judge spearheaded – had marked the kick-off of the month, and the launch of the group’s new website. Judge highlighted the website’s page of resources for victims, noting that it was a way to find information about reporting a variety of Internet crimes.

Judge presented the resolution to sheriff Jerry Clayton, who told commissioners that preventing cyber crime from occurring was just as important as dealing with its aftermath. He cautioned that unlike in the past, when predators had to be physically present at locations where children could be reached, now the threat to children is often unseen. Washtenaw County is a model for being proactive in this area, he said.

Magnet Program Students from Skyline High

Several students from Skyline High School’s communication, media and public policy magnet attended Wednesday’s meeting, along with their teacher, Pat Jenkins. They were introduced by Michael Smith, the county’s veteran service officer who also serves on the magnet program’s advisory board. Smith said the students were there to “observe government in action.” Their projects include production of public service announcements, he said, and Washtenaw County is a client, as is the city of Ann Arbor. Jenkins told commissioners that “this is our first meeting – but you’ll see us at others as well.”

Present: Barbara Levin Bergman, Leah Gunn, Kristin Judge, Jeff Irwin, Mark Ouimet, Wes Prater, Ken Schwartz, Rolland Sizemore Jr., Conan Smith

Absent: Ronnie Peterson, Jessica Ping

Next board meeting: The next regular meeting is Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2010 at 6:30 p.m. at the County Administration Building, 220 N. Main St. The Ways & Means Committee meets first, followed immediately by the regular board meeting. (Though the agenda states that the regular board meeting begins at 6:45 p.m., it usually starts much later – times vary depending on what’s on the agenda.) Public comment sessions are held at the beginning and end of each meeting. [confirm date]


  1. October 7, 2010 at 5:03 pm | permalink

    A good start on the budget would be for the BOC to eliminate per diems entirely. I’d like to see travel allowances also eliminated, though I realize that is a little tougher on commissioners who travel some distance to come to meetings.

    There was an effort early in the session to reduce commissioners’ compensation to the salary (stipend) that they receive. Unfortunately Conan Smith among others put together the current “compromise” which clearly is still subject to abuse. Mr. Ouimet should never have claimed per diems for agenda and leadership meetings (those are meetings with administration, not committee meetings).

  2. By Concerned
    October 7, 2010 at 9:57 pm | permalink

    Ouch! Conan Smith criticizes a clerk staff member because Ouimet – (ONE of 11 commissioners that has heard the rules for 6 years) is spending 30% of the county’s meetings budget?
    Mr. Ouimet should know that just because you dash in & out of a meeting, you don’t get to bill taxpayers for it. One wonders how much bigger the spending of public money will be if Ouimet gets to do it at the state level!

    And the excuse “I give it to charity” doesn’t fly – please give your own money to charity; I’d like to choose where you give MY money away to.
    Commissioner Ouimet must reimburse the county for excess per diems & and revise his federal & state tax returns for the last 6 years.

  3. By abc
    October 8, 2010 at 9:05 am | permalink

    That explains Ouimet showing up unannounced to a minor municipal meeting, introducing himself, and then leaving.

  4. By Leah Gunn
    October 8, 2010 at 10:26 am | permalink

    Last year I tried to eliminate per diems, mileage and travel money and got nowhere. The “flex account” compromise was actually fashioned by Commisioner Judge, when my proposal did not fly. I intend to try again at the end of this year, so please let your Commissioners know what you think. If you don’t have the votes, you don’t have the votes. I voted “no” on the flex accounts, because I think they aer a sham.

  5. October 8, 2010 at 11:28 pm | permalink

    When I came on the board in 2009, I was accused of “micromanaging” because I wanted to see all the line items in the budget. What I found was unlimited lines for Commissioner mileage, per diem, books, magazines, food etc. In 2008, Commissioners spent $72,052. The “Miscellaneous” column alone was $7,075.

    Because of the new Flex Spending budget Commissioner Smith and I wrote, the most all 11 commissioners can spend cumulatively is $39,050. That is a 46% reduction in spending. The other benefit to the residents of the Flex Spending budget is that all expenses are tied directly to commissioners. Thanks to Commissioner Prater and I, the commissioner spending is online for all the residents to see. Open Book ewashtenaw will show residents all spending in the county.

    kristinjudge.com/ has a copy of Board of Commissioner Spending from 2005-2010.

    The only “sham” was the unlimited spending. Commissioner Prater and I also rewrote the Board Rules to require the clerk’s office to approve Per Diem payments. Commissioners can only get a per diem now for attending committees of the board. That was the rule before, but there was no “internal control”. When Commissioner Prater and I brought up the need for an internal audit and the need to examine accountability, Commissioner Gunn stated clearly that it was not the job of the board to examine the internal controls.

    The budget is the responsibility of the commissioners. I take that responsibility very seriously. I will never apologize for requiring transparency and accountability from our county government.

  6. October 9, 2010 at 5:54 am | permalink

    I wonder what the total expenditure is for per diem payments for all committees. I have never understood the custom of paying per diems for volunteers who are appointed to boards and commissions. This has never been a practice at the City of Ann Arbor though I don’t know how other municipalities have handled it. I’m guessing that there is a reasonably substantial administrative cost for making these token payments. I don’t know whether tax records are kept for committee members, but if so, there is a lot of accounting to do.

    I’d like to see the BOC stop the practice of per diems altogether, especially as we are threatened with major structural changes in county services. Certainly the idea of having a maximum expenditure for commissioners’ travel is good. I noted that Cmr. Judge followed another long tradition in requesting that another commissioner’s travel allocation be transferred to her. But I see no justification for continuing to pay per diems to commissioners, who are paid a stipend for their assigned duties.

    And yes, I collected the per diems (but with careful adherence to the rules) when I was a commissioner. Those were different times and I was not wealthy enough to refuse legitimate payments. But I did raise an objection to an effort to raise the amount of the per diem payments and we successfully defeated it.

  7. By County Employee
    October 9, 2010 at 9:34 am | permalink

    Commissioners Judge and Gunn,

    In the spirit of transparency, would each of you please list or post all of your travel expenses, per diems, training expenses and any other County dollars spent by you or on your behalf for the past two years? Thank you.

  8. By Leah Gunn
    October 9, 2010 at 11:06 am | permalink

    For your information, the expenses from the Commissioners’ flex accounts are all up on our web site: [link] There is an article about the check register, which will lead you to Open Book. Click on Commissioners’ flex accounts. You will see that mine totals zero, and that money will go back to the general fund at the end of the year.

    As for Commissioner Judge, in addition to using up her flex account money, (she had requested to use some of Comissioner Peterson’s and was denied, and withdrew her request), in 2009, she spent $2545.00 from the ETCS Dept. on travel. In 2009, this department, for which Cmsr. Judge must approve the budget as a member of the Community Action Board, spent $200,000 on travel and $50,000 on food. I find this outrageous. These policies have now been changed, but some CAB members feel “entitled” to elaborate meals and travel, at the expense of programs to serve those in need such as Meals on Wheels, Foster Grandparents and weatherization. I must give credit to Cmsr. Judge for supporting these new policies.

    As a member of the Retirement Commission, I proposed a motion limiting travel to one in state conference each year. I have not travelled for that Board either.

    It is time for all of us to stay home and attend to business. I will be introducing a motion to eliminate per diems, mileage and travel, as I did before, and I hope it will have support from Commissioners Judge and Prater, since they are so eager to reduce the Commisioners’ budget. They were not so eager last year.

    As to our annual compensation, which is $15,000 per year, Cmsr. Conan Smith was told that by law we cannot change that until a new Board is elected. I am also certainly willing to reduce that compensation for those people elcted in 2010 if I can get support. The action would have to take place at the end of 2010 to take effect in 2011.

    Former Commissioner Armentrout has a point about per diems for people who serve on our Boards and Committees – I also tried to introduce a change in this policy but got no where. I am less concerned about mileage. However, you will now be able to see, by examining the check register, just who is being paid per diems and mileage, and for which boards. Many of our volunteers never request payment, and in 23 years on the Library Board, before I was a Commissioner, I never requested nor received per diems or mileage.

    It is all about public service.

  9. October 9, 2010 at 11:30 am | permalink

    Re #7: Commissioner Judge called attention to the Open Book Washtenaw page, [link], which makes it easy to follow these expenditures. No need to pick on the only commissioners brave enough to comment online.

  10. By Brian
    October 9, 2010 at 11:58 am | permalink

    I too would like to see Commr’s Judge and Gunn post all per diems, mileage reimbursements, and any other conference and/or travel-related expenses paid for by the county on their behalf. Including conference registration fees and meals.

    If the county is going to talk about being transparent, it needs to “walk” the talk as well. If any commr’s received per diem reimbursements outside of the board policy noted above, then a criminal investigation should be pursued. It would be an abuse of tax dollars. No other way to put it.

    In this economic climate, public officials should be held to a higher standard and not simply jet-setting around the country on trips or collecting unauthorized expense reimbursements.

    If one commr is using up 30% of the per diem budget, we should all know who else is using up the bulk of the mileage reimbursements and travel reimbursements. THere is very little that can’t be acocmplished in this economic climate by phone or the internet to help save taxpayer resources.

    The Chronicle has done a great job detailing expenses for a commr in this article. It would also be great to see a combined report of all per diems, expenses reimbursements, mileage reimbursements, and conference travel for each of the incumbent commissioners. We might all be surprised.

  11. By Barbara Levin Bergman
    October 9, 2010 at 1:31 pm | permalink

    I do take per diems and ask for gasoline mileage. I spend the money and should I donate it to some charity, that is my business. I certainly do not cite “charity” as my reason for accepting these public funds. The money I receive for per diems and mileage is my money and it pays for the use of my car and my time. ( at $25.00 a meeting, no matter what the length and I have been to more than a few all day meetings).

    My major concern regarding Commissioner Ouimet’s statement that he donates the funds to charity is as follows:

    I will guess that he takes a tax deduction for his contributions. So, if indeed, he has received some questionable funds in per diems and mileage, the tax payers loose two ways. First, he has used taxpayer money wrongly and second he has used it to avoid taxation.

    NOT GOOD I earn mine and I spend mine.

  12. By Barbara Levin Bergman
    October 9, 2010 at 1:36 pm | permalink

    OOPS! I forgot……I earn mine and I PAY TAXES on mine.

  13. By John Dory
    October 9, 2010 at 4:09 pm | permalink

    Thank you, Barbara.

    This time around I am supporting Melinda Day.

    She has shown all-around competence and intelligence.

    I don’t object to your mileage and per diems, it’s just time for some fresh blood on the commission.

  14. By Kristin Judge
    October 10, 2010 at 10:03 am | permalink

    For a complete listing of the travel I charged the county for this year, go to my website: [link]. What I added to that document is what the county taxpayer gained from my travel. Note I did not charge for meals or transportation to and from the airport. I also did not charge the taxpayer for the taxi fees while I was traveling at the conference. I also spent $1,300 of my own money this year on conferences and a workshop put on by the Federal Government for Cyber Security. Our Cyber Security Initiative, which I started as a direct result of my attending a conference, is now being used as a national model and is in a position to receive grant funding that will total much more than all my expenses combined.

    To learn more about the coalition visit: [link].

    In 2010, I have not received one penny for per diem or mileage even though I am in Lansing at least once a month on behalf of the residents and in Detroit at least twice a month.

    Here is a copy of my travel on behalf of the Community Action Board in 2009. As a new commissioner and member of that board, I was asked by the director to attend educational workshops.

    KJ 2009 $201.20 Airfare NACCED Chicago October-09
    KJ 2009 $308.20 Lodging MAC Boyne August-09
    KJ 2009 $436.22 Lodging NACCED Chicago October-09
    KJ 2009 $264.00 Advance NACCED Chicago October-09
    KJ 2009 $360.80 Advance MAC Boyne August-09
    KJ 2009 $500.00 Registration NACCED Chicago October-09
    KJ 2009 $350.00 Registration MAC Boyne August-09
    KJ 2009 $125.00 Registration MCAAA Cancelled April-09
    JUDGE, KIRSTEN $2,545.42

    In 2009, my total per diems were $825, total mileage was $179.86. My conference travel expenses from the commissioner budget in 2009 was $2,419.92.

    I feel strongly that we need to have representation at the table when laws are being made that effect how counties are paid. That is why I am on the Justice and Public Safety Committees for Michigan Association of Counties and National Association of Counties. We create legislation that impacts the largest part of the county budget. I bring back a “tangible” every time I travel.

    If anyone including staff have ANY questions about my spending at any time, just call me on my personal phone at 734-646-2088. I also gave up my county phone to save the taxpayers $1,000 a year! I am proud of the work I am doing and the reduction in spending I have been able to accomplish for the taxpayers.

  15. By Leah Gunn
    October 10, 2010 at 12:56 pm | permalink

    I have e-mailed to my colleagues on the BOC a simple resolution calling for the elimination of per diems, mileage and travel. I will introduce it on Nov. 3, and we will see if it will get any support. I also included my suggstion for last year for the elimination of these items (I had overlooked mileage but added it this time)which was turned down.

  16. By Jack F
    October 11, 2010 at 8:05 am | permalink

    “I have e-mailed to my colleagues on the BOC a simple resolution calling for the elimination of per diems, mileage and travel.”

    From your private or government email account? Which one?

  17. October 11, 2010 at 8:33 am | permalink

    It would be appropriate for Commissioner Gunn to email a proposed draft resolution to colleagues on her county email account. This would not constitute a violation of the OMA, since it would not be deliberation, but only information. If she used the account to request that people indicate to the group whether they would support it, or if the group engaged in amending the resolution as a joint enterprise, that would get into dangerous ground.

    When I was on the BOC, our corporation counsel issued guidelines on the use of county email that more or less paralleled the statement I just made. The city council had been sued for using email to violate the OMA. (No, this wasn’t 2008, more like 2002. )

    I applaud Commissioner Gunn for bringing up the issue again.

  18. By Brian
    October 11, 2010 at 9:38 am | permalink

    My only question to Commissioner Gunn is this: why wait until November 3rd to propose your resolution for the elimination of per diems, mileage and travel? I think it should appear at the very next board meeting – prior to the election.

  19. By Leah Gunn
    October 11, 2010 at 9:58 am | permalink

    @Jack F – of course I used my county e-mail as this is county business. This is the only way to reach all Commissioners, as some do not have private e-mails and of those who do, I am not sure I have them all. Any e-mail among Commissioners is also FOIAable. However, if you will contact me at gunnl@ewashtenaw.org, I would be glad to send you the e-mail and its attachments. It is a simple three sentence proposed resolution, and I have already sent it to Mary Morgan here at the Chronicle. She is certainly welcome to publish it in full. I have nothing to hide. I said to my colleagues, “I hope you will support this”. It will go to the agenda meeting and will be fully discussed in public at the Nov. 3 meeting. If the Chair of the Ways and Means Committee does not wish to put it on the agenda, I will move it from the floor.

    I will point out that while I make responses using my full name, I find it most interesting that you have to hide behind an initial.

  20. By Mary Morgan
    October 11, 2010 at 10:40 am | permalink

    Here’s the text of the proposed resolution from commissioner Leah Gunn:

    November 3, 2010

    WHEREAS Washtenaw County is suffering from the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression; and

    WHEREAS Washtenaw County Commissioners receive various forms of compensation,

    NOW BE IT RESOLVED that Washtenaw County Commissioners will no longer receive compensation in the form of per diems for attending any meetings, for mileage within or without the county, and for any travel.

  21. By Mark Koroi
    October 11, 2010 at 1:14 pm | permalink

    That sounds like a fine proposed resolution.

  22. By Brian
    October 11, 2010 at 6:33 pm | permalink

    Outstanding. Thank you for your leadership Ms Gunn.

  23. October 11, 2010 at 7:51 pm | permalink

    Let’s talk about the almost $50,000 a year commissioners cost the taxpayer for pension and health insurance. That does not directly benefit the residents. It is a perk that I think needs to go.

    We need to vote on that before November 1st to change it for the incoming board. Commissioner Bergman is one of only two commissioners who is on the county’s insurance plan. That is a perk. Giving up weekends to sit in a hotel conference room and eat bad chicken dinners so I can bring back revenue and programs for the county is not a perk.

    Let’s talk about the true spending that should be eliminated from the commissioner budget.

  24. By Mark Koroi
    October 11, 2010 at 9:56 pm | permalink

    It is ludicrous that part-time commissioners should receive pension benefits and health insurance.

    There should be citizen pressure on the County Commission to abolish this ASAP.

  25. By Brian
    October 12, 2010 at 8:06 am | permalink

    Ms. Judge – You didn’t really use the phrase “bad chicken dinners” to draw sympathy for your penchant to travel to county conferences, now did you? We should view your efforts as a huge sacrifice on our behalf? Shame on you.

    You know as well as anyone that most of what is done at a conference can be accomplished remotely by some extra effort. Particularly in this economy. It is time you start using the “conference call” and “webinar” feature a bit more often to participate in future functions. Your not my commissioner, but if you were, I would want a LOT more accountability and respect.

  26. By Leah Gunn
    October 12, 2010 at 1:51 pm | permalink

    Once again, I will say that I proposed ending the MPPP (the Money Purchase Pension Plan, a defined contribution program that the Commissioners benefit from) last year, and I got violent pushback from Commissioners (whom I will not name out of courtesy). When I became a Commissioner, I asked to be excluded from this benefit, and was told that I had to take it. All Commissioners put in 7.5% and the county matches that. This year, with the county employees all in a different plan, this plan has only eleven members, the Commissioners. It is my understanding that a memo will be sent out soon to dismantle the plan and put Commissioners in a 457 deferred compensation plan, which will have no county match. Then, individual Commissioners can decide what they want to do – stay in the plan, roll it over to another tax deferred instrument such as an IRA, or pay taxes and cash out. I am hoping that all Commissioners will support the ending of this pension benefit. It costs about $10,000 a year to administer, and that is an expense we do not need to bear. I realize that $10,000 is a small amount, but we have already cut to the bone in our budget, and are in the position of looking at digits and perhaps limbs in the future. I am also willing to take a salary cut, and actually earn nothing, if my fellow Commissioners will agree to that. It is about public service, not about us.

  27. By Barbara Levin Bergman
    October 12, 2010 at 10:23 pm | permalink

    Just for the record: I am considered a half employee of Washtenaw County. Therefore , as a half time employee, I pay one half of the cost of my health insurance. I am part of the county employee group plan.

    Unlike Commissioner Judge and most other commissioners, i have no spouse or partner who has access to medical medical insurance which would cover me through his/her employment. Nor did I receive health insurance as a benefit to a widow of a deceased employee. I must pay for my own health insurance costs.

    Payment for one half of my health insurance by the county has been considered an employee benefit. It is one that I have greatly appreciated.

    I do support the proposal of Commissioner Leah Gunn to end all per diem and mileage payments.
    I do, however hope that the county will continue to offer shared payment health insurance to me and to any incoming commissioner who is in need of this benefit.

  28. By Alan Goldsmith
    October 13, 2010 at 6:34 am | permalink

    “Unlike Commissioner Judge and most other commissioners, i have no spouse or partner who has access to medical medical insurance which would cover me through his/her employment. Nor did I receive health insurance as a benefit to a widow of a deceased employee. I must pay for my own health insurance costs.”

    Then maybe Ms. Bergman can grasp thousands and thousands of Washtenaw County residents feel then? Elected officials should NOT be getting health care until everyone else in American does. If that is a major reason Ms. Bergman is running for office, then she needs to find another job.

  29. By Alan Goldsmith
    October 13, 2010 at 6:38 am | permalink

    “Once again, I will say that I proposed ending the MPPP (the Money Purchase Pension Plan, a defined contribution program that the Commissioners benefit from) last year, and I got violent pushback from Commissioners (whom I will not name out of courtesy).”

    Oh we know who they are/were. And, kudos to you Leah for taking the lead on this. I am not always happy with your political choices, but on this one, you are right on the money.

  30. October 13, 2010 at 10:00 am | permalink

    I agree that a pension plan for a part-time commissioner job is unwarranted.

    I am more sympathetic to having a health insurance plan. Why *not* have a plan available so that those who need it can avail themselves of it? — as long as it is reasonably priced. I would rather have everyone possible covered than punish people who are in no way responsible for our national health insurance policy.

  31. By Brian
    October 13, 2010 at 10:50 am | permalink

    I also agree that this so-called MPPP pension plan is unnecessary and should be eliminated. I am less concerned about health care since that is the very issue we want to promote for all employees – part-time or not. No health care means more costs long term for all governments. This is counter to President Obama’s initiative earlier this year to expand coverage, not reduce or eliminate it. Eliminating health care isn’t Democratic.

    Get rid of the pension. Get rid of the waste that is per diem, mileage and travel. No reason a board member should get these high-cost perks in this day and age.

  32. October 13, 2010 at 12:42 pm | permalink

    To clarify, the MPPP was the pension plan for all county employees who began work after a certain date in the 1990s. It was a defined contribution plan (like a 401K) and commissioners, as half-time employees, were included with all others at half-time or more. Employees from an earlier date were on a defined benefit (traditional pension plan), WCRS. Over time the employees on MPPP were dissatisfied and negotiated a change whereby all employees went onto the state defined benefit plan. This left only the commissioners, most of whom were not qualified for the state plan, in MPPP. It should have been shut down at that time but there was some resistance among certain commissioners. I hope that the BOC can do the right thing now and terminate the plan.

    (As a commissioner, I was a member of the MPPP and when I left, rolled over 8 years’ worth of my contributions, that were matched by the county. At that time, all employees were still members of this plan or of WCRS.)