In one county in Michigan, the Board of Commissioners decided to pay ‘first responders’ some relief funds… but failed to mention that they paid themselves each $25,000.
Members of the Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners agreed to share a windfall in federal COVID-19 relief funds with employees last week.
What they didn’t tell the public was that top-level administrators for the county would receive far bigger payments — up to $25,000 each — than front-line workers who were directly exposed to coronavirus as they cleaned buildings and provided vaccines to residents.
Records obtained by MLive-The Flint Journal show “top-level administrators” in the county received $25,000 each from the COVID-19 relief funds awarded to the county while department heads each received $12,500. “Middle management” officials received $5,000 each while chief deputies, Health Department employees, and attorneys received $2,500.
The breakdown written by County Coordinator Brian Boggs shows employees identified as “cleaning staff” received $2,000 each and all other employees received $1,000.
“It’s a sad day … I feel badly,” said Commissioner Marlene Webster, a Republican who represents a portion of the city of Owosso. “It’s a blow to county workers’ morale at a time when it’s difficult to keep good workers … I think (it shows) a serious lack of acknowledgment of what people did (during the pandemic).”
Like other commissioners at the county board meeting Thursday, July 15, Webster voted to provide hazard pay to county employees with part of the federal relief funds provided as a part of the American Rescue Plan signed into law by President Joe Biden earlier this year.
The vote to do so after a closed session of the commissioners didn’t provide a break down of which employees would receive how much hazard pay or if county commissioners would receive the extra payments.
Webster said she learned commissioners, who are paid just $10,000 annually plus stipends for meeting attendance, were included in the payments only after a deposit showed in her banking account from the county on Monday.
The commissioner said she’s since learned that county board Chairman Jeremy R. Root was paid $25,000, Commissioners John B. Plowman and Brandon Marks received $10,000, and the remaining four commissioners were each given $5,000.
“I’m mortified. I never would have voted to give myself more than the average (employee) — if anything,” Webster said Tuesday, July 20.
The commissioner said she intends to give back the hazard pay she was awarded but said she’s not certain the distribution of the federal funds to employees can be reversed by the county board.
The Journal could not immediately reach Boggs or Root for comment on the hazard pay payments Tuesday, but the county coordinator cited state and federal guidelines in response to questions from Webster this week.
The guidelines say the COVID-19 relief funds can be used to provide additional pay of up to $13 an hour for employees with a maximum of $25,000 per person.
Commissioner Cindy L. Garber, who received a $5,000 payment, said Tuesday that she has no intention of returning the money she was granted, saying it pales in comparison to the additional money hourly employees were able to make during the pandemic by collecting unemployment while they were laid off one day per week.
Garber said she continued to work for the county in person as coronavirus raged in Michigan during 2020 and earlier this year.
The $25,000 payment to Root was justified, she said, because he “bears the burden of all emergency orders.”
“That is no small responsibility,” said Garber, who accused Webster of “crying like a teenage girl” about the distribution.
“I am going to follow (President Biden’s) advice and spend the money. That’s what it’s for … stimulate the economy,” she said.
The Journal could not immediately reach a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Treasury for comment on the hazard pay distribution in Shiawassee County.