County Commissioners to Raise Own Pay

Washtenaw County commissioners debated options for changing their compensation, ultimately giving initial approval to boost their base salaries from $15,500 to $15,750 annually and replacing per diem payments with stipends, effective Jan. 1, 2013. The 8-2 vote took place during the board’s Nov. 7, 2012 meeting. Voting against the increase were Dan Smith and Rolland Sizemore Jr. Ronnie Peterson was absent. A final vote is expected at the board’s Dec. 5 meeting.

On Nov. 5, two days before their meeting, board chair Conan Smith had emailed commissioners a draft proposal that he described as “a straw-man policy to poke at.” [.pdf of proposal emailed from Smith to the board] The basics of his proposal remained in place, though some amendments were made during the Nov. 7 meeting.

Most commissioners currently are paid a salary of $15,500. The new amount of $15,750 is calculated by indexing it to one-half the median “step” of the lowest grade salary among county employees. Smith’s resolution directs future boards to adjust commissioner salaries based on this same calculation. During deliberations on Nov. 7, Dan Smith proposed an amendment that would keep salaries at their current levels, but it was not seconded.

Officers of the board earn more than other commissioners. The board chair, Conan Smith, is currently paid $18,500. The board vice chair, Alicia Ping, earns $16,000, while chairs of the board’s ways & means committee (Rolland Sizemore Jr.) and working session (Yousef Rabhi) are each paid $16,500.

Yousef Rabhi proposed an amendment to increase the pay for chairs of the ways & means committee and the working session – bringing them to the same level as the board chair, at $3,000 more annually than the base salary of other commissioners. His amendment passed on a 7-3 vote, with dissent from Dan Smith, Rolland Sizemore Jr. and Rob Turner. So, unlike the current compensation arrangement, vice chairs will receive the same base salary as other commissioners.

Currently, commissioners also have a $3,550 flex account to use for per diem and mileage reimbursements, training or other authorized expenses. For example, a per diem of $25 per authorized meeting is allowed, as is mileage driven to those meetings – at a current rate of $0.555 per mile. Some commissioners don’t use their flex accounts, however, and most don’t use the entire amount. The payments are administered through the county clerk’s office.

At an Oct. 18 working session, Conan Smith had indicated his intent to bring forward a proposal on commissioner compensation. [See Chronicle coverage: "Compensation Change for County Board?"] He described replacing the current per diem system – which requires that commissioners submit a request for payment – and instead paying commissioners an automatic stipend as part of their compensation. Per diems came under fire during the 2010 election season, and resulted in repayment – by most commissioners who were on the board at that time – of a portion of their per diem requests that were determined to be ineligible under board rules.

Conan Smith’s resolution proposed making stipend payments based on the number of meetings that a commissioner is likely to attend for a particular appointment. One or two meetings per year would pay $50, three or four meetings would pay $100, and the amounts increased based on the number of meetings. At the high end, more than 24 meetings would pay $1,000. Commissioners would be able to waive their stipends by giving written notice to the county clerk.

During the Nov. 7 deliberations, Dan Smith proposed eliminating these staggered amounts and replacing them with a flat $200 annual stipend per appointment. That amendment failed – as  he was the only one voting in favor of it.

Changes to compensation for an upcoming term must be set by the board before that term starts. So for the two-year term beginning in January 2013, any changes in compensation must be made before the end of 2012. The board has only one more scheduled regular meeting this year to take the final vote – on Dec. 5.

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the county administration building at 220 N. Main in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link]