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Posted on Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 3:51 p.m.

Washtenaw County board shoots down Kristin Judge's proposal to cut commissioner perks

By Ryan J. Stanton

A proposal by Washtenaw County Commissioner Kristin Judge to eliminate commissioner pensions and health benefits was quickly defeated Wednesday night.

Judge made a motion during the county board's Ways and Means Committee meeting, asking fellow commissioners to join her in making cuts to commissioner perks — reductions she said would save the county tens of thousands of dollars.


Kristin Judge, D-Pittsfield Township, watched her proposal to cut commissioner perks go down in defeat Wednesday night.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"The residents in my area feel pretty strongly that part-time elected officials shouldn't receive benefits when quite a few people are losing their benefits," said Judge, D-Pittsfield Township, in making the motion to vote on her proposal.

"The resolution has been moved. Is there a second?" said Committee Chairman Conan Smith, D-Ann Arbor. 

After a long pause, Smith said, "Hearing no second, the motion dies."

Judge, who is up for reelection against Republican Sean Gray on Nov. 2, expressed disappointment afterward that her proposal lacked support. Other commissioners, however, said they believe politics were at play.

"I don't think it's morally right to mess with somebody's health care, and there's only one commissioner who has it — she's singling out Barbara," said Leah Gunn, D-Ann Arbor, referring to an ongoing feud between Judge and Commissioner Barbara Levin Bergman, D-Ann Arbor.

Judge and Bergman have been at odds in recent months, with Judge accusing Bergman of engaging in "abusive" workplace behavior. In an e-mail to Bergman on Aug. 27, Judge stated, "Unfortunately, you continue to act in a manner that is hurtful, unprofessional and interferes with my ability to be as effective as I would like in my job. As with any employee of Washtenaw County, I am entitled to a harassment-free workplace."

Judge stated in the e-mail she had met with the county's human resources director to file a formal complaint against Bergman and planned to start an investigation into her conduct.

"I intend to FOIA all your outgoing e-mails since Jan. 1, 2009, and compile the information needed to show a pattern of 'conduct unbecoming an elected official,'" Judge wrote. "I will also search the tapes of board meetings to compile other evidence. Staff will be interviewed, and it will be an uncomfortable situation for both of us. After having my personal attorney look at a sample of the e-mails, I am confident that harassment has occurred."

Judge claims Bergman habitually sent out e-mails to other commissioners and county staff members after board meetings, attacking her for things she said or did during the meetings. Judge claims Bergman repeatedly directed county staff to try to discredit her work.

"I have been harassed online and in person for about a year and a half now," Judge said. "I don't think anyone should be harassed in the workplace. Even elected officials have rights."

When asked about the matter, Bergman said she preferred not to comment.

"This is her deal. I think you should talk to her about it," she said.

Judge said she has decided to hold off on pursuing a disciplinary process against Bergman for now because it would take staff time for interviews, and the county would need to pay for a lawyer. She said she doesn't want to spend taxpayer dollars on fighting a "bully."

Judge denied any political motive was behind her proposal on Wednesday, saying she's only responding to concerns raised by residents who believe part-time commissioners shouldn't get lifetime benefits.

Judge's proposal would have eliminated pension and health benefits for all returning and newly elected commissioners effective Jan. 1 and beyond. The only current commissioner whose health benefits would be affected would be Bergman.


Commissioner Leah Gunn, D-Ann Arbor, speaks at Wednesday's meeting. Behind her is Commissioner Barbara Bergman Levin, D-Ann Arbor.

Ryan J. Stanton |

The only commissioners taking health insurance from the county are Bergman and Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, who is leaving the board at the end of this year. Judge noted Bergman would qualify for lifetime health benefits at the end of this year, and so would Gunn in two more years. Gunn said she's not interested in collecting those benefits, though.

Commissioners currently participate in the county's money purchase pension plan, contributing 7.5 percent of their pre-tax wages and receiving a matching 7.5 percent county contribution.

In 2008, the county's human resources department transferred nearly all active employees from the money purchase pension plan to the Washtenaw County Employees Retirement System. Judge said commissioners are the only 11 employees left in the plan, and the county continues to pay a fee of $10,000 annually for administration of the accounts.

Commissioners are eligible for retirement benefits at age 60 if they've clocked eight years of service credit (which is 16 years in office since they're considered part-time) — or if their age plus years of service credit total 75 or more.

Judge estimated a savings of $13,200 annually by eliminating the 7.5 percent county pension contribution, and an additional savings of about $12,500 annually by eliminating health care benefits for commissioners based on current costs. She said the county now pays about $6,000 apiece for health insurance for Irwin and Bergman.

Irwin said he didn't support Judge's proposal because he prefers an alternate plan from Gunn, who proposes getting rid of per diems, mileage and travel expenses for commissioners. Gunn's proposal, in some form, is expected to come before the board in December, along with a proposal to get rid of the county's retiree match for commissioners. That proposal, at least for now, leaves health and dental benefits for commissioners in place.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529.



Wed, Dec 14, 2011 : 12:46 a.m.

I hope every person reading this remembers that these people we elected, won't and refuse to give up anything, yet let everyone else have to pay for their own health.. and then they bad mouth unions.. shesh.. backstabbers

Alice Ralph

Fri, Oct 22, 2010 : 8:52 p.m.

A public discussion of Commissioner Judges motion among all of the County Commissioners might have been useful. The lack of a second is disturbing as a procedure to prevent public discussion. As voters, we benefit from public discussion of an issue among officials. We put them in office and we deserve an opportunity to hear what they have to say as our representatives. Waiting until after the elections has its own pitfalls. Individuals have little control over health care cost increases. For example, I have paid for individual insurance for several years. Last year my premium increased by over 40% even as my health remained excellent (thankfully). My insurance does not provide the coverage that Medicare does. I am not yet eligible for Medicare. One lament I often hear is why dont elected officials give up coverage benefits until all of us can have, at least, the same? While that bargain might be a bit simplistic, I am grateful that health care reform has begun. We have a long way to go. Travel expenses can be controlled, to some extent, by an individual. Travel to extra meetings can be valuable to effective leadership. Knowledge and contacts can bring external funding to local government programs that benefit citizens. Recent reports indicate that at least two county commissioners, more experienced than Kristin Judge, have been reimbursed for more expenses than she has. (The County Clerks office is currently adjusting its eligibility review of expenses submitted by commissioners for reimbursement.) Yet, Commissioner Judge has brought new or enhanced programs or services to the public, without increased local costs, partly as a result of her attendance at related meetings and conferences. Im sure that other commissioners also have done or could do so. The relationship between constituents and officials is two-way. We have imperfect means to make that relationship work. Public process in a *civil* environment is messy sometimes, but it is necessary to a functioning government at every level. Effective performance of a full-time job for half-time pay requires a personal sense of duty. A neck might need to be stuck out once in a while and sometimes there wont be much to show for it. It isnt always easy. To those who try and especially to those who also contribute to a civil process, we voters can show our appreciation.

Kristin Judge

Fri, Oct 22, 2010 : 4:46 p.m.

@Speechless - thank you for pointing this out: "However, I do feel it would help if Judge would respond to characterizations made here that she seeks to end health coverage for all part-time county employees, and not just for elected officials who may have other options available to them." Residents are holding elected officials to a different standard right now. The opinion I hear from residents I speak to is that part-time elected officials should not get benefits like pension and healthcare. That is very different than healthcare for our part-time employees. I have No intention of taking healthcare away from any of our employees. Employees who have spent time with me know how much I value their service to the residents of Washtenaw County. There may be only two commissioners participating in the health coverage right now, but we will have at least three new members on the board as of January 1. This is about the county budget and public expectations of elected officials, not one commissioner.


Fri, Oct 22, 2010 : 2 p.m.

Atta girl Kristen, keep standing up for the taxpayers of Washtenaw County. The walls must come tumbling down on those who are feather bedding on a part time political position.

Marcia Feingold

Fri, Oct 22, 2010 : 12:37 p.m.

This is clearly a personal attack on Commissioner Bergman, despite its claim to being a way to save County money. There's no reason to bring up a motion when you know beforehand that it has no support. That's grandstanding, Commissioner Judge. Rather than attack a single person or a single expenditure, let's hear some responsible and comprehensive views on the entire County budget.


Fri, Oct 22, 2010 : 12:28 p.m.

A few comments primarily concerning the apparent, behind-the-scenes board emails, messages or statements critical of commissioner Judge: • When a legitimate political disagreement among elected officials has links to interpersonal conflict, it becomes harder for observers to to fully understand what's going on and be cognizant of all the motivating factors. • There's a certain dynamic where petulant, sniping, or cliquish behavior sometimes intends to 'push buttons' and provoke its target into openly overreacting out of frustration. Once an overreaction has been elicited for all to see, this allows the provokers to assume the 'high ground' in front of the crowd and thereby make their target look bad and appear to be the bully. It can be an even more effective tactic when aimed at a newer, less established group member. • Why has a post up above, which alleges rude or otherwise difficult behavior by Judge at county meetings, not yet been removed? Under another report on this site, a post with innuendo about commissioner Ouimet at meetings was quickly and quite appropriately, I believe, moderated out of comments. • However, I do feel it would help if Judge would respond to characterizations made here that she seeks to end health coverage for all part-time county employees, and not just for elected officials who may have other options available to them.


Fri, Oct 22, 2010 : 9:26 a.m.

Judge has been working hard for transparency and accountability. She should be commended for her honor, strength, and integrity. Constituents don't have "fat cat perks." Should commissioners?

Doug Gross

Fri, Oct 22, 2010 : 9:15 a.m.

Kristen has done a great job as a commissioner. She is only challenged in working well some of the existing commissioners because she is not accepting of the status quo. The current commissioners have created a budget nightmare at the county with unfunded healthcare and pension liabilities of over 200 million dollars. At last year end the county had unfunded pension liabilities of $55 million in their main plan and $119 million in their retiree health care plan! Road commission employees and the sheriffs dept add another 40 million of unfunded liabilities for a total of 214 million dollars. Kristen is I think the only commissioner interested in addressing these issues recognizing the burden it places on taxpayers. What is the end result of such a burden? The county is forced to lay off employees, taxes are higher so fewer employers want to build businesses in Washtenaw County. Aren't these issues that need to be addressed? Well it looks like most of the current board except Kristen does not think so to all of our detriment. For more information on the county's retirement and healthcare liabilities go to and look under the title Database.

Basic Bob

Fri, Oct 22, 2010 : 8:02 a.m.

@ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND: I think that one of the qualities we deserve in a Commissioner is a person who can work together effectively with others on the board. This is clearly lacking in Ms. Judge. She has isolated herself, and in doing so, negated my representation on the county board. As much as I would like to vote for the Democratic candidate, I can't vote for someone who makes a habit of retaliation and legal threats against those who disagree with her. I know little about her opponent, but I am willing to take a chance that he is not a drama llama.


Fri, Oct 22, 2010 : 7:17 a.m.

"I don't think it's morally right to mess with somebody's health care..." really? Well what about all the people who have already lost their health care, or being forced to purchase care? The U of M president gets a huge pay raise, government employees, board members, etc, get all kind of perks... no wonder this state is in a mess. Good going Kristin Judge for trying to do a good job... at least someone is!


Fri, Oct 22, 2010 : 6:44 a.m.

Basic Bob: "Yes, this is the same Kristin Judge that tells us she is a full-time commissioner, working 40 hours a week for us! But just because MR. Judge works for a company that gives his family benefits, the county can act just like the Walmart she hates so much. Thanks so much for standing up for what you believe in!" What would you like our public servants to be? What would be your ideal situation? Is it people like BOB? Has BOB ever run for any elective office or does he just stay behind the safe confines of his computer? What should a politician look like? Rich or Poor? Blonde or Brunnette? The point is that we do not give our elected officials much credit for the tough decisions they make. I commend Judge for what she has done. While I don't know what her husband does for a living, I think its great that she has decided to give back to her community by serving on the county board. Most families unfortunately don't have the time to have one family member take on such a selfless role. Now you can all go back to your mindless banter. But if you really want to make a difference, get some literature printed up and start knocking on doors. I may even give you some money to get them printed up. As long as I'm there the first time someone slams the door in your face.

Go Blue

Fri, Oct 22, 2010 : 6:42 a.m.

Why get rid of per diems, travel mileage? The county commissioners SHOULD be traveling to find out ways to obtain grants and ways to make Washtenaw County better and more efficient. That doesn't sound like a good plan at all, Ms. Gunn/Mr. Irwin. Health care (individual benefits for part time work) should be eliminated. The money saved will allow the other commissioners to get off their bottoms and go to work for the county -- Like Kristin Judge is already doing.

Go Blue

Fri, Oct 22, 2010 : 6:36 a.m.

I guess Kristin Judge is the only county commissioner who is taking her job seriously. Why does Barbara Bergman feel she deserves health care (paid for by us) for part time work? How many residents in Washtenaw county work part time and have these benefits? This is an abuse of some elected officials. Hey. Times are tough people. Make the budget cuts and live like your constituents.

Sabrina Gross

Fri, Oct 22, 2010 : 6:20 a.m.

Thank you Kristin Judge for bringing to the forefront a public dialogue that must continue about lifetime health benefits - Who knew that the county provided LIFETIME health care benefits to some board members? A proposal to save the county over $31K should Absolutely be discussed in an open meeting. [BTW, Medicare is Primary for UM retirees after age 65; why wouldn't this be the case for board members?] Ora Peskovitz & Tim Slottow are very conscious of the excessive costs that retiree benefits create in government institutions. "U-M has by far the richest retiree health benefits of all institutions in a study of 27 peer institutions. Even AFTER full implementation of the health care cost-sharing changes are completed in 2011, the University will still be providing more than DOUBLE the market average for retiree health benefits." The past 2 years have underlined this: If the mindset of the County leadership is not focused on cost reductions, costs will not decrease. Please continue to comment (using your own name if you are not embarrassed to do so) as citizens wrestle with how to provide services with limited resources. Thanks Commissioner Judge for attending a conference that ignited the process of transparent finances online, and then spearheading the effort. Thanks to Commissioners Ping, Judge & Prater for advocating for a prescription discount program for county residents. Commr. Judge's continued detail-oriented examination of county services is outstanding. The 2 years of pushback from the "old guard" is expected - they want things to remain status quo. Job well done Kristin Judge!


Fri, Oct 22, 2010 : 6:18 a.m.

You absolutely amaze me. I would imagine that some of you making comments about Judge cutting benefits are the same Republicans that go in front of the Tea Party and say that Obamacare is going to kill old people. Just another perfect example of election year politicking. And if you aren't one of those Republicans, I guess my question is what is so wrong with looking at every expense in the county? In this day and time, it is absolutely ridiculous to have health benefits for part time employees. Honestly, when was the last time anyone heard about part time employees getting benefits in the private sector? Any finally, for all of you that think Judge is "posturing" or has a little too much drama? What would you prefer? The way things have been run for the past few years? Or someone who will come in and ask tough questions and not be afraid of retribution. Everyone needs to open their eyes and get their heads out of their rear ends. Judge is doing what she promised. Don't let political spin rule our county's politics.

Pittsfield Township Resident

Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 11:10 p.m.

As a resident of Pittsfield Township and a long-time employee of Washtenaw County, I applaud Commissioner Judge. She is the only one who has the guts to tell the truth and to take on the controversial issues. I was appalled that not one commissioner supported her yesterday when she called for the elimination of the lifetime insurance for these folks who meet twice, maybe four times a month and spend most of that time showboating and laughing about things that only they find funny. To the other county employee who said that "As a county employee, I echo what others have said since it is common knowledge that she bullies her way around employees and ridicules those who do not agree with her. Only to get her own way or else." Speak only for yourself. My experience with Judge has been nothing but positive. There are people on that board that I would consider bullies, but Commissioner Judge is not one fo them. Hang in there Commissioner - you have my support and the support of my co-workers and neighbors.


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 10:30 p.m.

People who have been in office for years, career politicians, dont like it when a new person gets in and wants to do the right thing with fresh ideas and a little courage! Judge is getting the usual treatment we see over and over in our government, if you dont shake hands with the well-oiled machine the people who run that machine will destroy you, smear your name, create falsehoods, whatever it takes. Thats what is happening here. Cutting ALL COSTS should be the NUMBER 1 priority for any public official right now. Spending is out of control. Part time employees should not have health benefits especially if they are paid for by OUR TAX DOLLARS! I for one would prefer to have more money in my paycheck to feed my family than to pay for Ms. Levins health costs! Go Kristin!

joe average

Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 10:04 p.m.

So my tax dollars are being squandered on some snippy, back-biting feud between these two? Two guys would simply sit down over a couple of beers and work out their differences. I'm just sayin'....

David Briegel

Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 9:14 p.m.

Stephen, If you think Kristin Judge wants to cut your benefits wait until the Tea Party/Republicans get in charge. Your head will swim. They are all in favor of pay and benefit cuts on this board on a regular basis. YOU represent that EVIL big goobermint!


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 9:03 p.m.

Kristin Judge is an embarrassment to the entire county. As a county employee, I echo what others have said since it is common knowledge that she bullies her way around employees and ridicules those who do not agree with her. Only to get her own way or else. Clearly this board seat is the best thing to have ever happened to her and it has gone straight to her head. She doesnt understand that she was elected as a BOARD member and not an employee yet she thinks she can walk into any room or meeting and everything should stop talking and salute her. Nothing but pure inexperience at play here. Im not sure if she has ever had a full-time job dealing with people before since Judge obviously doesnt know how to work with others and negotiate compromise. When she is the only one to make a motion it says everything. Knowing that no one else would support it yet to still bring it up tells everyone that she wants to use it only for political purposes to get reelected to a job she desperately needs to continue to feel important. Guessing she wasnt very well respected before this so it would be devastating to her to lose. Ask any county employee now and they will tell you this: Kristin Judge is out to cut county employee health care benefits and try to eliminate benefits for all part-time county employees. This is her signal for that. And if it doesnt happen she will scream that she tried to save the county millions and was thwarted by others. All about ambition. Now for certain: Judge will post a response here to tell us all how she is only doing this for the residents whom she will never be able to name and will throw some wild dollar figures out so that people will think she is amazing. But that act is old now. What type of person claims that another board member is harassing her simply because that person disagrees with you? To try and intimidate someone to stop disagreeing with you by filing some bogus HR complaint (ever realize that the HR dept doesnt have authority over board members? Nope). That is beyond bizarre. Again: inexperience and inability to work with people. Not good traits for a board member. Kristin Judge wants to spend thousands of taxpayer funds to travel around the country but not spend a dime for employee health care. Talk about misplaced priorities. She already has her health care. Shame on you Judge. Shame on you.

Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball

Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 8:37 p.m.

This is a stunt. Politicians - local, state, and national will bring forth proposals that make them 'look' good in the eyes of their voters when then know full well the proposal will fail. I motion everyone gets a new Corvette! Well, at least I tried.


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 8:17 p.m.

Health care is an expensive option becuase it went from preparing people to die to making them live. Healthcare was once a healing art. Heck, native americans made the medicine man their spiritual leader. Now health care is an industry, and one of the biggest at that. People are entitled to healthcare, they believe it is in the bill of rights, well it isn't. Imagine if the state of Michigan tomorrow said it is no longer going to run the Medciaifd program in this state, really imagine it, because it is a possibility. The health care reform we have now is basically going to make everybody a Medicaid beneficiary, except the wealthy few. Single payer at the Medicare reimbursement rate might be ok, but it is going to be single payer at the Medicad rate. Next time you see your dentist or doctor ask them if they take Medciad patients, and when they say no ask why. There is a better way to deliver healthcare, but we have not seen it and we are not going to see it any time soon.


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 7:44 p.m.

I wish I got to vote on my benefits and raises at work. I would be paid like my union employees instead of getting the shaft at every turn.

David Briegel

Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 7:14 p.m.

You see Ghost, the Republicans represent the upper class that hire illegals without benefits! If it were not for that upper crust Republicans (like Lou Dobbs) there would be no illegals!! Like you, I think all citizens, especially those who serve, deserve benefits. Not just the privileged few!

David Briegel

Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 6:42 p.m.

This whole mess is proof positive we need single payer! Medicare for all! The Republican HATED Medicare. Unless of course that same Republican uses and benefits from Medicare. Hypocrisy is their value! Ghost, I feel the same. I want to live in a civilized society!!


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 6:40 p.m.

Right. When individual incomes are down across the board and the economy is limping along, let's make sure the county commissioner doesn't lose a dime!

Basic Bob

Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 6:16 p.m.

Yes, this is the same Kristin Judge that tells us she is a full-time commissioner, working 40 hours a week for us! But just because MR. Judge works for a company that gives his family benefits, the county can act just like the Walmart she hates so much. Thanks so much for standing up for what you believe in!

A. Green

Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 6:02 p.m.

oops * does not understand how things work

A. Green

Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 5:58 p.m.

Kristen Judge should be ashamed of herself trying to take access to healthcare away from someone. What kind of democrat is she? This is not a special perk that is just for commissioners, it is an employee perk for all county employees. Many companies including the University of Michigan give health benefits to part time employees, so I dont think it is out of the ordinary for the county to do that also. The insinuation that this is a favor or a special perk is not true in the least and is outright deceptive in my mind. Also, Ms. Judge sure sounds like the bully to me. Everything I have read about her confrontations with people is that you must do what she says or she will publicly embarrass you, accuse you of illegal behavior or bring harrassment charges against you. They come off as threats to me when I read her words. It also seems hypocritical to me for her to want to cut some of the benefits the commissioners get that she does not use, but wants to INCREASE travel benefits because that is the one benefit she enjoys. Anyone who has worked at any company knows that when times get tough, management does not cut employee benefits first, they cut travel. Travel is always the first thing to go. The fact that she wants to increase travel, yet cut health insurance just shows that she does understand how things work. Her personal vendetta against some of the commissioners is getting in the way of her doing her job. And this is coming from a democrat.


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 5:34 p.m.

Coincidence that Judge is bringing this proposal forward now? I think not! She knew this proposal did not stand a chance. She was just grandstanding. It is easy to put forth a proposal when you know it won't pass.You don't even have to really be in favor of it.

Rod Johnson

Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 5:23 p.m.

I like Kristin Judge, and think she's been a great commissioner--but I'm starting to think she's going off the rails a little bit and would do well to dial back the drama.


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 5:21 p.m.

Layers upon layers of government with "cadillac retirement plans," are literally killing this state. I commend Ms. Judge, and do hope she is re-elected. Someone is going to have to dismantle this monster, if we ever want to be economically viable again.