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Posted on Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 12:09 p.m.

Compensation changes introduced to Board of Commissioners; cost savings unknown

By Amy Biolchini

Compensation changes and salary increases are on the table as the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners scrambles to finalize business before the end of the 2012 term Dec. 31.

Chairman Conan Smith, D-Ann Arbor, proposed a number of changes both to commissioners' compensation for the meetings they attend and for their salaries at the Wednesday night Ways and Means meeting of the board.


Conan Smith

Commissioners gave their initial approval to the resolution in an 8-2 vote, with dissent from Dan Smith and Rolland Sizemore Jr. Ronnie Peterson was absent.

Though the county’s population has grown to 347,962, the number of seats on the board will be shrinking from 11 to nine in the 2013 term as a result of redistricting.

Conan Smith proposed a switch from the per diem process by which commissioners are paid for the meetings they attend to a stipend schedule, mainly to reduce the hassle on the commissioners and staff to file the per diems and get them approved, he said. The cost-savings are relatively uncertain at this point, he said.

The per diem payment system was heavily criticized in the 2010 election cycle, as an audit later found commissioners were improperly collecting pay -- including Conan Smith. Changes have since been made in the way per diem requests are approved.

Conan Smith initially made the decision to not pay the county back for the $591 he owes in per diem payments discovered in the audit. However, further analysis of the meetings he attended by County Clerk Larry Kestenbaum in January resulted in a payment from Conan Smith of $175, according to a report by the Ann Arbor Chronicle.

Commissioners are granted a base salary of $15,550 and then an additional $1,000 for being a chairman of the working session or Ways and Means committee. The board chairman earns $3,000 more than the base salary.

An increase in the commissioner’s base salary of $200 is also a part of Conan Smith’s initial resolution, though a $1,500 to $1,700 salary increase has also been floated.

During the Wednesday night meeting of the board, commissioners voted to amend the draft resolution Conan Smith presented by increasing the additional salary amounts for the chairpersons of the Ways and Means committee and of the working session to $3,000.

Conan Smith said after the meeting that there’s talk that in the 2013 term, the Ways and Means committee could be eliminated. Ways and Means meets before the full board meeting.

The pay rate for commissioners hasn’t been adjusted since 1999, when it was set at half of the median salary of all county employees. If that same scale applied to the present median salary of county employees, commissioners would be paid $27,184 per year.

Under Conan Smith’s proposal, commissioners would be paid a base of $15,750 per year, which is half of the median income for the lowest pay grade of county employees in 2012.

Currently, Washtenaw County is paying its commissioners a base salary rate of $0.49 per resident. Under Conan Smith’s proposed base salary, that rate would drop to $0.41 per resident -- the lowest in southeast Michigan, according to documentation Smith provided to the board.

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The Board of Commissioners adopted budget. Commissioner salaries are included in the "Personal Services" category. For 2012 and 2013, commissioners' flex spending account totals are included in "Personal Services." For the 2010 and 2011, flex spending accounts are included in "Other Services and Charges."

Each of the 11 commissioners also has $3,550 in a flex spending account from which they withdraw expenditures and can charge a $25 per diem for each meeting of the board and of committees appointments that they attend.

In 2011 as an entire group, commissioners used 32 percent of the maximum amount available in the flex spending account. However, commissioners Felicia Brabec, Leah Gunn, Ronnie Peterson and Dan Smith charged nothing to their flex spending accounts.

The additional appointments of commissioners to other committees account for about $15,275 in budgeted per diems, although not all of the commissioners claim their per diems.

Conan Smith has proposed eliminating the per diem policy and implementing a stipend schedule based on the frequency of which the committee meets.

For the Board of Commissioners, which typically meets twice monthly, commissioners would receive a stipend of $500 per year.

Under the stipend schedule, commissioners would be paid a theoretical rate of about $20 per meeting, assuming there are 24 meetings of the board per year.

However, the stipend does not include any attendance requirements as the per diem pay schedule does.

“This has no accountability for attendance,” said Commissioner Wesley Prater, D-York Township. “I don’t think (the compensation change) is necessary. I think we should leave this alone.”


Dan Smith

Commissioner Dan Smith, R-Northfield Township, said the 2013 budget year is not a time to be increasing commissioners’ salaries, but his amendment to the draft resolution failed to gain support.

The last time the commissioners publicly discussed changes to compensation was in the spring, when Dan Smith proposed a boost from the $15,500 base salary to $16,250, with an overall 5.7 percent cut in compensation by reducing other perks. The motion failed to gain support.

He did agree with the Conan Smith's proposal to use stipends instead of per diems, which is a shade of what Dan Smith had proposed in the spring.

“The stipends address the issue that work isn’t always done at a board meeting,” Dan Smith said. “Just because a person can’t attend a meeting doesn’t mean they haven’t contributed.”

After Wednesday’s meeting, none of the compensation changes are final. The Board of Commissioners will take its final vote on the matter at its Dec. 5 meeting, the last regularly scheduled meeting of the year. Setting the new compensation rates for the 2013 term must be done by Dec. 31.

Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.



Fri, Nov 9, 2012 : 3:34 p.m.

Did Mark Ouimet ever pay back his disallowed costs when he was on the Board?

Basic Bob

Fri, Nov 9, 2012 : 5:22 p.m.

You know he did. At least he wasn't galavanting around the country on the taxpayer dime. No one ever asserted he didn't go to all those local government meetings, only that he shouldn't have turned them in. What did we get for the trip to Reno? Or Traverse City? Sheesh.

Basic Bob

Fri, Nov 9, 2012 : 5:01 a.m.

"Cost savings unknown".... The grand idea of "Open Book" which tracked commissioner spending on travel and per diems has faded quickly from memory and soon will pass into oblivion. Reviewing the "Open Book" page on the county website shows the 2010 data has been overwritten with 2011, and 2012 data not updated since April. The former commissioner who spearheaded this project collected her travel bucks to pay her way to conventions and job interviews with out of state companies. The remaining commissioners are afraid of raiding the spending account for travel and per diem payments. Except for Conan Smith, who could always use a little extra cash for himself and a few friends.


Fri, Nov 9, 2012 : 3:07 a.m.

On its face, I would normally be annoyed by our elected officials arguing about HOW MUCH of a raise they need. But the fact that they are among the lowest paid and the fact that they have not had a raise since 1999 makes me think twice. I am all for making their pay with comparable elected positions in the state. Or even with sticking to the "1/2 the average county pay" schedule. That said, why not just come up with a more simple, and transparent, pay scheme? How about we pay them a certain amount and then expect that they actually DO their job for that amount. We shouldn't have to pay them extra to go to meetings which make up their job. The idea of stipends or per dimes, or whatever, makes it seem as though we lay them a base salary for having the job title....then we pay them extra every time they actually do the job.


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 8:58 p.m.

The people had an opportunity to be rid of Mr. Smith at the ballot box yesterday, but they returned him to office. One can only wonder.


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 8:57 p.m.

I would normally be the first to jump on this pay increase. But how many commenting here are earning the same as they were in 1999?


Fri, Nov 9, 2012 : 1:24 p.m.

cinnabar Are you actually getting less pay per year than you did in 1999? Or is the cost of insurance and everything else eating up more of what you make?


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 10:32 p.m.

I'm making less, and paying more for everything. And I have a good job.


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 7:15 p.m.

Wouldn't it be nice if all of us could vote on pay raises and perks for ourselves.

Alan Goldsmith

Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 6:25 p.m.

And why is Smith wearing ADVERTISING around his neck in the photo here? Good grief. Sort of like NASCAR drivers with all the sponsors plastered over their outfits?

Kyle Mattson

Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 8:09 p.m.

No problem, here is the story:

Alan Goldsmith

Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 7:37 p.m.

Thanks Kyle. That must have been the conference where Bob Ficano and Conan Smith and three other Michigan politicians were dubbed the "Fab Five". I appreciate the information.


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 7:10 p.m.

Alan you can buy anything these days, even people.

Kyle Mattson

Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 6:40 p.m.

Alan Smith's photo is a file shot from the Mackinac Policy Conference in the spring where the passes issued to attendees were on the Deloitte lanyards (Deloitte was a sponsor of the event).

Alan Goldsmith

Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 6:21 p.m.

"Conan Smith initially made the decision to not pay the county back for the $591 he owes in per diem payments discovered in the audit. However, further analysis of the meetings he attended by County Clerk Larry Kestenbaum in January resulted in a payment from Conan Smith of $175, according to a report by the Ann Arbor Chronicle". The 'analysis' was done in secret. The process wasn't open and transparent and we still don't have all the details of this secret deal. It appears to be nothing more than political cover for yet another politician who seems to forget he works for the people and taxpayers. His sense of entitlement is stunning. Not surprising Mr. Smith's is now one of the 'fab five' and a buddy of Wayne County's poster case for mismanagement Bob Ficano. Why doesn't interview Mr. Smith and ask him about this issue, since you did do an editorial about the repayment situation?


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 5:59 p.m.

I can't believe the gull of the commissioners. My wife works for the county in the mental health division. Several years ago her union took a pay cut via added furlough days and agreed to no pay increases for the new contract. Since then all the county(via votes from county commissioners) have done is added more furlough days(days off without pay put into calendar year) and no pay increases since. And you commissioners have the nerve to ask for a pay raise. Give my wife and her coworkers a raise and maybe then you would have some grounds to stand on when looking for a raise. Crooks that's all you guys are.

Rod Johnson

Fri, Dec 7, 2012 : 2:48 p.m.

They're robin us! I know you're out there, I can hear you breathing.

Rod Johnson

Fri, Dec 7, 2012 : 2:13 p.m.

The gull of those commissioners! Why, they're practically giving taxpayers the bird, feathering their own nests like that. Someone should talon them--they deserve a real beak down for this.


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 6:19 p.m.

And all the while they make these decisions sitting in $1 million board room.


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 5:50 p.m.

Elected officials should be able to approve a pay hike only if the increase takes effect after they leave office.