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Posted on Thu, Jan 7, 2010 : 6:03 a.m.

Washtenaw County commissioners' retirement benefits, travel expenses talk of annual meeting

By Ryan J. Stanton

The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners held its first meeting of the year Wednesday night, electing officers to leadership positions for 2010.

Commissioners unanimously chose to keep Rolland Sizemore Jr. as board chairman and Mark Ouimet as vice chairman. Conan Smith remains Ways and Means chairman, and Jessica Ping remains the working session chairwoman.


Rolland Sizemore Jr.

Commissioners also voted on changes to the board's rules and regulations. Changes to how commissioners are compensated for traveling to conferences and conventions generated the most discussion.

From now on, each commissioner will be entitled to spend one-eleventh - or about $3,500 - of the board's "commissioner flex account." Should they choose not to spend their portion, it will be pooled into a joint account other commissioners can draw upon with board approval. Any money remaining at the end of the year will revert to the general fund.

Commissioner Jeff Irwin, D-11th District, said he thought the flex account system was a bit convoluted and didn't send a strong enough message to the public that commissioners are trying to cut their own levels of compensation.

Irwin said he preferred a proposal introduced last year by Commissioner Leah Gunn, D-9th District, to cut commissioner expense accounts across the board and eliminate per diems for meetings. He said he felt that was a clearer way to reduce compensation in light of the county's budget situation.

"It would have been much stronger if we had just said, 'Look, we're cutting travel by 50 percent, we're going to get rid of our per diems and that's going to save $60,000 or $80,000,'" he said. "I thought it would save more money. My feeling was that the budget would be more transparent, more easy for the citizens to understand, and therefore a stronger leadership role for the board to take."

Gunn brought up another proposal Wednesday night that came before the board last November but was tabled then. She suggested the board consider approving a resolution to discontinue commissioner retirement benefits effective Jan. 1, 2011 - a move that could save more than $42,000 per year.

Over the last year, as a result of collective bargaining, the county has transferred nearly all active members from the Money Purchase Pension Plan to the Washtenaw County Employees’ Retirement System. In an attempt to further reduce administrative expenses and move toward closure of the MPPP, former participants have been encouraged to withdraw or transfer their assets. The board of commissioners is the only remaining active participants making contributions and receiving employer contributions under the MPPP.

Currently, commissioners contribute 7.5 percent of their salary on a pre-tax basis and receive a 100 percent employer match. Unlike the MPPP’s immediate vesting provisions, the WCERS defined benefit plan has an eight-year vesting period. So commissioners - being part-time employees - would need 16 years of continuous service to vest and become eligible for benefits under WCERS.

Also during Wednesday's annual organizational meeting, the board established a timeline for the process to replace retiring County Administrator Bob Guenzel, who will leave his post in May.

Rather than conduct a search, commissioners decided they'll post the job internally on Monday and accept applications from current employees through Jan. 15. The board will consider the applications and conduct interviews at a Jan. 21 working session. Commissioners are expected to take a vote on appointing a new county administrator Feb. 3.

Several names have been tossed around as possibilities for the county's top spot, including Deputy Administrator Verna McDaniel and Bob Tetens, the county's parks and recreation director.

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



Sat, Jan 9, 2010 : 9:35 a.m.

Kristin, Thanks for the valuable information. The compensation seems resonable, but I too have a problem with health and retirement benefits for part time elected officials. I do think that Commissioners should be encouraged to attend appropriate conferences and have their expenses paid for. Continuing education is good for people, and will benefit the County.

Lifelong A2

Fri, Jan 8, 2010 : 3:02 p.m.

All of the Commissioners' per diems, conferences, health insurance, and retirement should be eliminated completely and immediately. This is a part-time job, not a career. Ann Arbor City Councilmembers do not receive any of those things. County Commissioners should get a salary similar to what they currently receive, and that's about it. Even in a more prosperous economic climate, those other expenses are un-necessary.

Brian Kuehn

Fri, Jan 8, 2010 : 8:32 a.m.

Thank you to Kristen Judge. The compensation and cost of the Board seem very reasonable. The members of the Board invest a great deal of time providing guidance to the County and it appears that in large part they do the job out of civic duty rather than for persoanl interests. I think most of us agree that ending retirement benefits and possibly health care for part-time elected positions is a reasonable move.

Kristin Judge

Thu, Jan 7, 2010 : 11:14 p.m.

Dear Cash, The resolution to take Commissioners out of the retirement program was tabled until February. No changes can take affect until 2011. By State law we cannot change our compensation while in office. Some comissioners wanted more information before we vote. It takes 16 years of continuous service to be fully vested. I agree that part-time employees should not retire from a job with full benefits. It does not happen in the private sector, and government needs to start operating more like the private sector in some matters.

David Briegel

Thu, Jan 7, 2010 : 5:25 p.m.

These amounts all seem very reasonable to me. I really appreciate the attitude of Kristin Judge. It would have been helpful if would have provided more in depth coverage and analysis.

Kristin Judge

Thu, Jan 7, 2010 : 4 p.m.

As far as I know, the fringe benefit line item includes health care and retirement. I will check to see what else is in that line.


Thu, Jan 7, 2010 : 3:01 p.m.

"Some commissioners take part in the county health insurance plan. That is still in the budget. Total line item for fringe benefits in 2009 was $64,152." Kristen Judge How many commissioners "take part"? That's a large amount of money if only one or two take part.


Thu, Jan 7, 2010 : 2:57 p.m.

What happened to the proposal introduced last year by Leah Gunn? Was it ever voted on? If not, why not?


Thu, Jan 7, 2010 : 2:53 p.m.

I would like to congratulate Rolland Sizemore Jr I have known him for many years and have the utmost respect for him. Thank you for serving our county. Jon David Hall


Thu, Jan 7, 2010 : 2:28 p.m.

County commissioners who are part time employees get retirement benefits? And expense accounts? I do not think I will be voting for any county millage until these expenses are ended. Apparently we have been wasting much of our money.

Kristin Judge

Thu, Jan 7, 2010 : 2 p.m.

Brian Here is a summary of the commissioners salary and benefits. I have actual budget numbers from 2002-2008 that I could fax if you are interested. County Commissioner Salary: Chair of Board - $18,500 Chair of Ways and Means $17,500 Chair of Working Session - $16,500 The remaining 8 commissioners - $15,500 each Fringe Benefits Currently commissioners are in a pension plan, and I believe that will change as of 2011. We are not able to change our compensation during a term. Only two sitting commissioners will qualify for full retirement benefits as the plan stands now. My Pension Plan statement shows that I put in $272 per quarter in 2009 and the county matched that amount. After 2011, there will most likely be no more retirement benefits at all for remaining or future commissioners. Some commissioners take part in the county health insurance plan. That is still in the budget. Total line item for fringe benefits in 2009 was $64,152. Per Diems Each commissioner is entitled to a $25 Per Diem and mileage reimbursement for a meeting they attend as an appointed representative of the board. For example, I attend the Head Start Policy Council meetings once a month as a board representative. Prior to our change in the board rules, there was no cap on this amount. In the 2009 budget, the line item allowed for $25,500 to be spent by all commissioners combined. If all commissioners took Per Diems (some chose not to), that would allow each commissioner to receive $2,300 a year in Per Diem payments. I thought that was too excessive and thought that limiting Per Diem payments was a good way to cut our salaries. What came out of our new board budget is a limit to that spending by only giving each commissioner one account that they are expected to use for ALL spending including Per Diem, mileage, travel, subscriptions and books. Those items all had their own budget prior to our board cutting our budget last year. In the 2009 Board of Commissioners budget, commissioners had the following line items to use for the entire board. $25,500 Per Diem $3,000 Subscriptions $5,845 Travel $33,000 Conferences and Conventions $167 Books $400 Employee Development $5,239 Miscellaneous $73,151 Total / 11 Commissioners = 6,650 per commissioner Flex Account for 2010 In the new plan, each commissioner has $3,500 to spend total. This will include any of the above listed items. Now there will be quarterly reports on all spending by individual commissioners so that we are more accountable to our constituents. This method is easier for our staff to track, easier for the public to follow the money and limits the spending of commissioners. If you have any questions or comments, please contact me at 734-646-2088 or

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Jan 7, 2010 : 11:32 a.m.

"Currently, commissioners contribute 7.5 percent of their salary on a pre-tax basis and receive a 100 percent employer match." It should be noted that the "employer" is we the people. "the WCERS defined benefit plan has an eight-year vesting period. So commissioners - being part-time employees - would need 16 years of continuous service to vest and become eligible for benefits under WCERS." Do they have an ever increasing partial vestment each year? Is the 16 year number to "vest" or to "fully vest"?

Brian Kuehn

Thu, Jan 7, 2010 : 8:04 a.m.

What does a Commissioner's annual compensation package look like? I thought the Commissioners were paid a small stipend plus an expense allowance. So what does a Commissioner cost (salary, benefits, expenses, etc...)?