Washtenaw County Democratic Party calls on commissioners to repay county, says Mark Ouimet's expenses 'dwarf all others'
The Washtenaw County Democratic Party issued a statement today, urging county officials to enforce county board rules and financial procedures and require any commissioners who improperly collected payments over the last five years to repay the county.
Party leaders said a report released Wednesday by County Clerk Larry Kestenbaum confirms that Commissioner Mark Ouimet, R-Scio Township, improperly collected thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds from the county for attending meetings ineligible for payment.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
While it appears other commissioners also received per diem and mileage payments they shouldn't have, the party stated, "Ouimet’s totals dwarf all others."
More than $16,600 — or about 51 percent — of Ouimet’s total payments of $32,805 from 2005 to 2009 were deemed either ineligible or questionable by the county clerk.
More than $4,800 — or about 43 percent — of Republican Commissioner Jessica Ping's total payments of $11,389 from 2007 to 2009 were deemed ineligible or questionable.
"By contrast, the average 'overpayment' to the eight Democratic commissioners was 7 percent," the Democratic Party stated. "Ouimet claims the payment rules are unclear, but all of the other commissioners were able to understand them well enough to get things just about right. Only former banker Ouimet seems to have a problem with following the rules."
Ouimet, who is running for the 52nd District state House seat, has called for an independent analysis of the expenses of all 11 county commissioners. He says he'll repay the county if such an investigation finds he improperly collected any money, and he hopes others do the same.
“Despite recent allegations, I followed the county policies for reimbursements," he said in a statement this week. "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. Three weeks prior to the election, the Democrat clerk has since changed his mind. The partisan politics must stop."
New television, radio and Internet ads have aired, shining a spotlight on Ouimet's spending. A 60-second ad launched today by Lansing-based citizens group Progress Michigan says: “Haven’t we had enough of politicians looking out for themselves and abusing taxpayer dollars? $35,000 the taxpayers paid for Mark Ouimet’s per diems and mileage. That’s 35,000 good reasons to call Mark Ouimet and tell him to give our money back.” The announcer on the ad then asks listeners to call Ouimet, leaving his phone number.
Under county board rules, commissioners can collect $25 payments known as "per diems" and claim mileage reimbursements for their attendance at committee meetings and working sessions of the board, and some other meetings and conferences when the commissioner has been properly authorized to attend by the board or board chair.
Kestenbaum's report shows many commissioners — not just Ouimet — billed the county for their attendance at meetings that fall outside the rules. Here's an analysis by AnnArbor.com of what the report, which looked at expenses from 2005-09, revealed:
1. Mark Ouimet
Total per diems/mileage: $32,805
Amount ineligible/questionable: $16,619 (51%)
2. Jessica Ping*
Total per diems/mileage: $11,389
Amount ineligible/questionable: $4,861 (43%)
*Joined the board in 2007
3. Ken Schwartz*
Total per diems/mileage: $8,950
Amount ineligible/questionable: $1,563 (17%)
*Joined the board in 2007
4. Barbara Levin Bergman
Total per diems/mileage: $12,713
Amount ineligible/questionable: $1,593 (13%)
5. Wesley Prater*
Total per diems/mileage: $14,839
Amount ineligible/questionable: $1,280 (9%)
*Was not in office 2007-08
6. Kristin Judge*
Total per diems/mileage: $1,040
Amount ineligible/questionable: $56 (5%)
*Joined the board in 2009
7. Conan Smith
Total per diems/mileage: $6,318
Amount ineligible/questionable: $341 (5%)
8. Leah Gunn
Total per diems/mileage: $4,100
Amount ineligible/questionable: $175 (4%)
9. Rolland Sizemore
Total per diems/mileage: $10,268
Amount ineligible/questionable: $314 (3%)
10. Jeff Irwin
Total per diems/mileage: $6,850
Amount ineligible/questionable: $75 (1%)
11. Ronnie Peterson
Total per diems/mileage: $0
Amount ineligible/questionable: $0 (0%)
Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2529.