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Posted on Wed, Oct 20, 2010 : 6:32 p.m.

Washtenaw County Clerk releases findings on Commissioner Mark Ouimet's expenses

By Ryan J. Stanton


Washtenaw County Commissioner Mark Ouimet, R-Scio Township, vowed on Wednesday to repay the county if he collected any meeting payments improperly, but he said he's still waiting for an independent, nonpartisan analysis.

Ryan J. Stanton |

(This story has been revised to correct information about changes to the county board rules. While the county board did change its rules this year, what hasn't changed in six years is which meetings commissioners can and can't collect payments for attending.)

Washtenaw County Clerk Larry Kestenbaum released a report to the county Board of Commissioners today, calling into question more than $10,000 in expenses billed to the county by Republican Commissioner Mark Ouimet from 2005 to 2009.

But that doesn't necessarily mean Ouimet violated county rules or improperly collected payments during that time, according to Kestenbaum.

"Until the beginning of this year, there really weren't any standards that were enforced," he said. "I suppose you could study the rules and maybe figure something out, but essentially the per diems that were submitted went straight to payroll to be paid."

The clerk's report follows claims made by the Washtenaw County Democratic Party that Ouimet billed the county for thousands of dollars worth of mileage reimbursements and "per diems" for his attendance at meetings that weren't eligible for such payments.

The Washtenaw County Republican Committee is standing up for Ouimet, saying he shouldn't be penalized for potentially violating rules that were unclear in years past.

"If there are ineligible expenses, it wasn't clear at the time that they were ineligible," said GOP Chairman Mark Boonstra. "I think if you look at the written statement from Washtenaw County as to what qualifies, it is anything but clear. I can read that and I can't tell you what meetings qualify, and that's part of the problem here."


County Clerk Larry Kestenbaum addresses the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners Wednesday night.

Ryan J. Stanton |

The county board changed its rules this year, setting a limit of $3,550 per commissioner for travel and per diems. But what hasn't changed is which meetings commissioners can and can't collect payments for attending.

The rules state, and have stated for the six years Ouimet has been a commissioner, that commissioners can only collect per diems for attendance at a "committee, subcommittee meeting or working session of the board, when the member has been properly appointed to that committee or subcommittee." The rules also allow per diems for 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."

Kestenbaum, a Democrat, said he agreed with the GOP that the rules for per diems weren't entirely clear until this year. He said his office isn't asking Ouimet to repay the county — that's a matter up to the county board to decide.

Commissioner Kristin Judge, a Democrat, disagreed with the assertion that it was unclear in years past which meetings were eligible for per diems. She maintains that Ouimet collected payments for meetings that weren't eligible.

"The only thing that happened to change in 2010 was something that Commissioner (Wesley) Prater and I wrote that put in an internal financial control and gave the county clerk the authority to turn down per diems that did not meet the board rules," she said. "But the board rules for what counted as a per diem expense were always the same."

Ouimet, who is running for the 52nd District state House seat against Democrat Christine Green, said today he's disputing the findings of the clerk's report due to the procedure used to investigate the claims. Ouimet called for an independent, nonpartisan investigation into the travel expenses of all 11 commissioners on the county board.

“I’m very disappointed with the negative campaigning this election cycle. This is nothing but a distraction from the real issues facing Michigan families, which are jobs and stopping government overspending," he said in a statement. "To bring the focus back to what families are concerned about and to remove any perception of inappropriateness, I am calling for an independent, nonpartisan investigation into all county commissioner spending, both in-district and out-of-state, my own spending included."

Kestenbaum said he assigned Jason Brooks, a deputy with the clerk's office, to conduct the analysis of Ouimet's expenses from 2005 to 2009. He said he believes a fair and impartial evaluation was done by Brooks, who works closely with commissioners on a regular basis and takes minutes at board meetings. Brooks also is the staff member of the clerk's office responsible for approving commissioner expenses.

"I think everyone sees him as being very fair, honest and reasonable. I have noting but high praise for him," Kestenbaum said. "So this was not my doing as a Democrat."

The clerk's report shows Ouimet collected $25 per diem payments for 297 meetings that would be ineligible for per diems under today's standards. That adds up to $7,425. Ouimet also collected $3,139 in mileage reimbursements for driving to those meetings, the report shows.


Mark Boonstra

Another $6,055 in expenses claimed by Ouimet are flagged as "uncertain" in the report, meaning it's not entirely clear whether they would or wouldn't be eligible.

The report determined 108 meetings Ouimet billed the county for were clearly eligible for per diems and mileage. The expenses for those meetings added up to $16,186.

Ouimet said in his statement he believes "partisan politics" are at play.

“Despite recent allegations, I followed the county policies for reimbursements," he said. "Following the procedures the board has had in place, I’ve done everything by the book and each in-district reimbursement was approved by the clerk."

Ouimet said he plans to put money into an escrow account until an independent investigation is done. If such an investigation finds he received any money in error, he said, he'll pay it back.

County records show Ouimet has far outpaced other commissioners in billing the county for per diems. In 2009, all 11 commissioners combined to claim $18,650. Of that, $6,550 went to Ouimet, while the other 10 commissioners averaged $1,210 apiece.

In 2008, the 11 commissioners combined to claim $15,325 in per diems. Ouimet accounted for $6,450 — or about 42 percent of the total for the entire board that year.

The GOP says that just shows Ouimet's work ethic.

"It's fair to say that Commissioner Ouimet charged per diems for meetings he attended under what he understood to be the standards in Washtenaw County," Boonstra said. "It's also fair to say that Mark had more per diems than other commissioners because he's been the hardest working, most diligent commissioner that Washtenaw County has."

GOP Vice Chairman Wyckham Seelig agreed.


Wyckham Seelig

"If you know Mark, you know that he hardly spends any night at home," Seelig said. "His district has eight governmental units, and when he got involved in the road patrol issue, he was working on issues that covered the entire county."

Among the nearly 300 meetings Ouimet billed the county for that wouldn't be eligible by today's standards, according to the clerk's report, are meetings with township officials, attorneys, the county administrator, The Ann Arbor News, and nonprofit groups.

The Democratic Party claims Ouimet violated county board rules that state commissioners are entitled to per diems only for attending meetings of the county board and its committees, as well as other authorized county-related boards and committees on which commissioners serve. The GOP maintains that wasn't spelled out clearly in the past.

"The problem here is the line was moving around and the line wasn't clear to begin with," Boonstra said. "And so here we are, years after some of these per diems were received, with someone second-guessing whether or not they were properly charged under the rules, which are anything but clear. And we're looking at that issue only for one Republican commissioner, as opposed to looking at it for everybody. What we need to do is have a clear standard, no matter what it is, and apply it to everyone equally on a going-forward basis."

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


Tex Treeder

Sun, Oct 24, 2010 : 8:11 a.m.

I, too, will commend Mr. Kestenbaum for his quick and impartial handling of the Board of Commissioners' request for analysis. I see no political bias in the results. I have to question the Board's handling of per diem requests prior to this year. At least they have finally designated someone to review the requests. The result: ineligible per diem requests are being rejected. Kudos again to Mr. Kestenbaum and his staff.

David Briegel

Fri, Oct 22, 2010 : 12:52 p.m.

MjC, Expense reports were not approved. The rules required no approval. They were simply paid! It was an Honor System!

Larry Kestenbaum

Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 5:25 p.m.

@ Roadman: my hat is a Bukharan-style kippah, in other words, a Jewish yarmulke. I wear it in my synagogue, and also frequently in other contexts. It also conveniently shields from view my unsightly, patchy-bald head.

Ron Granger

Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 3:02 p.m.

"County records show Ouimet has far outpaced other commissioners in billing the county for per diems. In 2009, all 11 commissioners combined to claim $18,650. Of that, $6,550 went to Ouimet, while the other 10 commissioners averaged $1,210 apiece. In 2008, the 11 commissioners combined to claim $15,325 in per diems. Ouimet accounted for $6,450 or about 42 percent of the total for the entire board that year." --- Those ratios are disturbing, and not partisan. I question the ethics of anyone who doesn't find those ratios unusual. Ouimet's suggestion that everyone else should be investigated is sad. I wonder what is claimed in those tax returns? Maybe the IRS will take a look. Of course there might be a flurry of re-filing..


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 12:40 p.m.

I wonder about Larry's hat. Does the style have an African origin - like the one Detroit City Councilman Kwame Kenyatta wears? Is it a variation of a yarmulke? Or is it something else? I have seen him wear it on a number of occaisions.


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 8:42 a.m.

I know Mark Quimet. He is a good man. Please let us not convict him of a crime until all the facts are in. In the United States of America, the State of Michigan and Washtenaw County all men are considered innocent until proven guilty. This man has given his time to the city and county government. Please consider your words and contain your political emotions during this time of review.


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 7:37 a.m.

Larry Kestenbaum - I give you a lot of credit for responding to this article and the bloggers concerns. You may need to post on the board for the latest story covering this mess so people (like me) have a better understanding about how expense reports were approved and then found to be questionable reimbursements. Thanks for tuning in.


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 7 a.m.

He's campaigning office. He is also vice president of "United Way". I wonder whether he can vote on Nov 3 at the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners for the "Coordinated Funding Initiative"? Because, if this proposal adopted, combined government Human Service Fund will mainly go "United Way". Until then, his political opponents in future might do the same thing, digging out his wrongdoings in the past and let the public know. If he could become the Chair of "Urban County", he could even make recommendations on the table through OCD (Office of Community Development), leading to stronger influence on the decision. I just point out the same kind of stuff that can also be predicted to happen again. If Mark Quimet is under the conflicts of interest, it's wiser to tell everyone in advance than being dug up by people later. The same thing, if he wants to explain his expenditures, it should not be done by the clerk. He, himself, should have prepared a report and show the public. It might help a lot.


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 6:36 a.m.

Mr Kestenbaum, your report certainly seems very fair and concise. Thank you for the hard work. It seems this commissioner owes the taxpayers some money, and he owes us all an apology. Always err on the side of caution. Many of us turn in expenses reports in our positions. Speaking for myself I would not ever assume that something is okay without asking. Very poor judgment.

Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball

Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 6:35 a.m.

"Until the beginning of this year, there really weren't any standards that were enforced,". That says it all. With 7 Dem commissioners - it is hard to believe there are any fiscal standards even today!. Btw - Please keep in mind - - Mark Ouimet donates all his county commissioner income.


Thu, Oct 21, 2010 : 6:10 a.m.

From Mr. Kestenbaum's comments, it appears to me he is truely being professional. I thank him for his service.


Wed, Oct 20, 2010 : 10:09 p.m.

You know what's missing from this story/debate??? Any issues that I as a voter would like to see debated. This non-sense takes away from any real issues that Mark or Christine will be dealing with in Lansing. I'm a DEMOCRAT through and through, but this reminds me of the same ridiculous politics that has me ranting at my television and radio daily as Republicans play politics instead of dealing with issues. That sentiment however is in no way directed at Mr. Kestenbaum or his staff for doing the job they are obligated to do by completing this report. This issue was brought to the Board of Commissioners by a resident if I'm not mistaken and once aware someone had to look into it. A partisan elected clerk that runs elections has to know how to set aside any political partisanship in order to do their daily jobs so I have no doubt that our County Clerks Office has set aside partisanship to do this job fairly. As for Ouimet, anyone that pays attention to local politics knows that he is at more meetings than any other commissioner and also has enough money to pay this back. In my mind it is highly unlikely that Mr. Ouimet took this money to get over on tax payers. MY ADVICE, pay it back, put this issue to bed and if the findings show you were not in the wrong make the board pay you back.

Larry Kestenbaum

Wed, Oct 20, 2010 : 10:08 p.m.

@ DonBee - I was asked to do this report, by county administration on behalf of members of the Board of Commissioners. I promised to have it done by the next board meeting. And I did. Obviously this question came up because per diems were being challenged. A number of people, including Commissioner Ouimet himself, wanted to know the complete facts of the matter, and that I should be the one to prepare the report. Moreover, this report covers ALL of the current commissioners and their per diems and mileage. The determination of which meetings were eligible for per diems (listed in the green section of each commissioner's page) was made exclusively by the deputy clerk who currently reviews and approves or rejects those payments on a daily basis.

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Oct 20, 2010 : 10:02 p.m.

@DonBee The allegations about Mark Ouimet were first raised publicly two weeks ago by local attorney Thomas Wieder, a Democrat supporting Christine Green, and the Washtenaw County Democratic Party. Ouimet encouraged Larry Kestenbaum's office to conduct a review of his expenses in light of the allegations. Questions about the timing of this, therefore, would be better directed at the party. It's my understanding that the records of Ouimet's expenses were obtained by the Michigan Democratic Party back in May and local Democrats just now are bringing the issue to the public. Wieder told me he personally hadn't seen Ouimet's expense records until two weeks ago. He said he had known of their existence, but had a hard time getting the records from the state party.


Wed, Oct 20, 2010 : 9:27 p.m.

@ Larry Kestenbaum - This is a reply to your post here. Since you posted here, I will assume you can answer my questions. I have to wonder about the timing of your review and report. Was it so critical that it be done a couple of weeks before the election? I have to wonder why your report leaves open the question it does, right before an election? I have to wonder how you would feel if someone did this to you? I am an Independent, and I never vote a straight ticket. Right now I probably will not vote for you again. Unless you can clearly state how the timing of this had NOTHING to do with the election and politics.

David Briegel

Wed, Oct 20, 2010 : 9:27 p.m.

shep, you have not responded to one issue raised here. Are you the partisan flamethrower unaware of facts! Truthiness?


Wed, Oct 20, 2010 : 9:09 p.m.

Some County Offices sadly employ folks who find a sudden need to fumble over expense accounts days before an election even as their pathetic party is far behind in the polls!? What a surprise! These folks, who sometimes write here, should admit that they're political partisan hacks engaged in dirty politics - the truth will set them free....and hopefully point to more appropriate employment where ethics and good judgment are not primary requirements.

David Briegel

Wed, Oct 20, 2010 : 9:07 p.m.

shep, please come out of your gutter! Mark hasn't been to Lansing. Do you know what his title is?? COUNTY COMMISSIONER. Washtenaw County Commissioner. Nothing to do with Lansing or Ingham County. The last time I looked, Nancy Pelosi isn't running anything in Washtenaw County or Michigan. Did you know? Do you even notice that I addressed specifics? Why have you not addressed any specifics? You lost your credibility even to sling your mud!


Wed, Oct 20, 2010 : 8:51 p.m.

Occasionally someone in the private sector volunteers to set their successful career aside and run for public office. I imagine after years of long days and nights working tirelessly on behalf of our community away from his family, exceptional men like Mark Ouimet must sometimes wonder why they bother trying to make Michigan a better place. After all his success in Lansing, he wakes up one day to be faced with nonsensical accusations from democrat Green who also has the nerve to write about her desire to return civility to politics. so while running against one of the most honest, genuine gentlemen in the Michigan House, she quickly resorts to lies and slander. After all, she has no answers on the issues just some vague gibberish about being fashionably green. Sounds like neither she nor her hero Nancy Pelosi are as concerned with civility as they claim. Perhaps she is just one more party line leftist who has been endorsed by the same democrat DC crowd who spent the last 4 years passing trillion dollar deficits and bankrupting the United States. lets seegentleman whos worked tirelessly on our behalf for years or unpredictable candidate flailing away from the gutter in a desperate grab for power.?

Larry Kestenbaum

Wed, Oct 20, 2010 : 8:24 p.m.

Within the county government, the Board of Commissioners is supreme. The board makes the rules and pays its members. Prior to the beginning of this year, per diems and mileage claimed by board members went straight to Payroll for payment. That was the board's policy for many years, long predating the current board members. The money came from the Board of Commissioners' own budget. Starting at the beginning of this year, the Board delegated to my office the authority to review and approve or reject claims for per diems and mileage, and we have done so. Many claims have been rejected. The number of claims paid is smaller than before. As Commissioner Judge pointed out, the rules for what constitutes a legitimate reimbursable meeting have not changed. All that has changed is the creation of an enforcement mechanism. When I was a commissioner in 2000-02, I advocated against the payment of per diems to board members, who already receive a salary. I did not claim or accept per diems as a commissioner, starting very early in my tenure, and I do not take any per diems as county clerk.

David Briegel

Wed, Oct 20, 2010 : 7:30 p.m.

To the Republicans posting here: Should the taxpayers pay for media interviews? Will you pay for my "charitable donations"? Fiscal conservative?? Mark wants to be a leader. Really? So, how did he lead? He took advantage of "the system" in more ways than one! Why did he not lead and "fix" the system so the evil Dems could no longer take advantage? That is what a leader would have done! One commissioner did lead! I wouldn't advertise my association with Ron Weiser! I have always been aware of Mark and his success and reputation. I am very diaappointed. Partisan mudslinging, indeed!


Wed, Oct 20, 2010 : 7:24 p.m.

'"Until the beginning of this year, there really weren't any standards that were enforced," he (Larry Kestenbaum) said.' Washtenaw County is just now finally getting around to setting up best practice standards for submitted expense reports?! It's 2010, isn't it? Excuse me while I hit myself in the head with my keyboard. I'm not a Republican, and I don't know him personally, but I do know that Mark Ouimet has served Ann Arbor well. This sounds like nothing more than a smear campaign to me. Maybe it's time for a complete audit of the Washtenaw County Clerks Office. No expense should ever be cleared for reimbursement unless it is absolutely clear that it's a legitimate business expense!

Basic Bob

Wed, Oct 20, 2010 : 7:11 p.m.

Yes, it is largely a waste of time, but if it wasn't done then the Democratic attack dogs would have been howling about the lack of fiscal responsibility, blah blah blah. IMO, a dollar is a dollar, regardless of whether one is driving to Chelsea or flying to Reno. But since the election is coming up all we hear is partisan nonsense.


Wed, Oct 20, 2010 : 7 p.m.

I applaud the findings of Larry Kestenbaum. The fact that the findings come from a prominent Democrat give it an indicia of credibility. I believe the key blame should lie with the Board of Commissioners for not promulgating and enforcing proper standards for submission and payment of these per diems and mileage. If someone slipped and sprained their ankle in the county building, recovered two weeks later, and made a 100,000 personal injury claim to the Board of Commissioners and the Board, without authorizing an investigation, voted to issue a $100,000 check to the claimant, citizens would be rightfully screaming over incompetence in administering personal injury claims. The Ouimet case is no different. Mark Ouimet is a longtime close friend of Michigan GOP chairman Ron Weiser, but he also has worked with Democrats on their campaigns. He played, for example, a key role in Democrat Chris Easthope's successful 2008 campaign for District Judge when many Republicans were backing Margaret Connors. I have found him to be an intelligent and capable individual and I believe most county commissioners would agree, especially since they had voted him the vice-chairmanship. I believe this attack on Mr. Ouimet was clear partisan mudslinging.

dading dont delete me bro

Wed, Oct 20, 2010 : 6:55 p.m.

"...that doesn't necessarily mean Ouimet violated county rules or improperly collected payments during that time..." so this is a useless take up of cyberspace...not to mention time taken reporting it, both here on and mr. kestermbaum's office.

David Briegel

Wed, Oct 20, 2010 : 6:40 p.m.

Imagine this. Now let's listen to the Republicans whine!! Mark, You were campaigning for higher office. Why should we, the taxpayer, pay for your campaigning? Did you honestly believe that interviews with media should be paid by taxpayers? Should you be allowed to "launder" tax dollars to your favorite charity and get a tax deduction? Admit the truth that you thought you were smarter and above the rules! Seriously, you want us to believe you are a fiscal conservative?