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Posted on Mon, Jan 31, 2011 : 6:05 p.m.

Mark Ouimet cuts check to county for $14,386 after audit finds commissioners improperly collected pay

By Ryan J. Stanton

Former Washtenaw County Commissioner Mark Ouimet has cut the county a check for $14,386 following the results of an independent investigation into county per diem expenses.

"I have reimbursed Washtenaw County in full for all per-diem payments that were in question," Ouimet, R-Scio Township, said in a statement released to the media today.

A long-awaited auditor's report, paid for by the county, was made public for the first time today. It shows 10 commissioners improperly billed the county for nearly $25,000 in ineligible per diem and mileage payments from 2005 to 2010.


Former Washtenaw County Commissioner Mark Ouimet cut a check to the county for $14,386 as repayment for per diems and mileage reimbursements improperly collected.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Ouimet topped the list at $14,386. Saline Republican Jessica Ping, who stepped down from the board last month, collected more than $5,000 in ineligible payments, the audit found.

Commissioner Barbara Bergman Levin, D-Ann Arbor, had $1,875, while Wesley Prater, D-York Township, had $1,835. 

Other commissioners had anywhere from $25 to $1,054.

The report was prepared by a senior auditor from the Rehmann Robson public accounting firm in response to allegations of misconduct that surfaced in October as Ouimet was campaigning for the 52nd District state House seat. The attacks came from local Democrats supporting Ouimet's opponent, Democrat Christine Green.

The auditor's review was independent of County Clerk Larry Kestenbaum's analysis that showed more than $26,000 in ineligible payments were made to commissioners over the six-year period, most of which belonged to Ouimet and Ping.

The auditor's report is not a recommendation that commissioners repay the county, but rather a finding of fact regarding payments that violated county rules. It will be up to the county board whether commissioners must repay the county, and that hasn't been decided yet.

County Board Chairman Conan Smith, D-Ann Arbor, said today he thought the audit was regrettably one-sided. Noting that the issue started as an attack on Ouimet, Smith said "the stink of politics is heavy on this whole thing."

County Administrator Verna McDaniel, who requested the audit to try to resolve the issue, could not be reached for comment.

Smith said he hasn't decided yet whether he's going to repay the county the $591 in ineligible payments the audit shows he collected over the last six years. He said there were meetings he often didn't bill the county for attending — perhaps as much as $7,000 worth.

"I rarely claimed per diems for Ways and Means, for example. Should I go back and get all those now?" he said. "If we're really trying to be just and fair here, why wouldn't I?"

Under county rules, commissioners are entitled to $25 per diem payments and mileage reimbursements for attending meetings of certain authorized county-related boards and committees on which they're appointed to serve.

A review of county records showed Ouimet billed the county for a wide range of meetings that fell outside of those rules, but so did other commissioners — albeit on a lesser level.

Ouimet, who fended off the attacks to win his race in November, suggested in his written statement today he's looking to put the issue behind him.


Conan Smith

"My focus is on getting Michigan's economy back on track," he said. "It's time to foster an environment favorable to job growth that will encourage small businesses to expand and create new opportunities for entrepreneurs, helping the people of Michigan and protecting the taxpayers."

Smith said he's "fully confident" no commissioner intentionally made inappropriate claims against the county, and he understands that many of them, including Ouimet, have pledged and acted to reimburse the county for their mistakes. He called the auditor's review "substantially biased" because it only looked at expenses charged by the commissioners who happened to be in office in 2010, and it only reviewed the time Ouimet sat on the board.

Smith said while county rules clearly indicate that commissioners "shall" be paid a per diem for attendance at boards and commissions, the audit did not review all eligible meetings to determine which commissioners did or did not claim per diems for them.

"As a result, we know if a commissioner was inappropriately paid but not when they were uncompensated," Smith said.

For example, Smith said, if a commissioner inappropriately claimed $100 worth of ineligible meetings but did not claim $200 worth of eligible meetings, by county rules that person is due $100 compensation from the county rather than the reverse.

Smith downplayed the $25,000 cited in the report, saying "this situation is incurring costs for the county that may end up being as significant as any funds we receive back." 

In addition to audit costs, Smith said the county may have to recalculate and issue amended W-2 forms to commissioners, who must then amend their tax returns and send them to the IRS. He said there could be as many as 50 such amendments.

Smith said he can't justify the staff time and consultant dollars going into an effort with such "obviously flawed premises."


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


Alan Goldsmith

Wed, Feb 2, 2011 : 3:40 p.m.

"Smith said he hasn't decided yet whether he's going to repay the county the $591 in ineligible payments the audit shows he collected over the last six years. He said there were meetings he often didn't bill the county for attending — perhaps as much as $7,000 worth. "I rarely claimed per diems for Ways and Means, for example. Should I go back and get all those now?" he said. "If we're really trying to be just and fair here, why wouldn't I?"" I love arrogant public servants.


Wed, Feb 2, 2011 : 3:21 a.m.

what I don't understand is why the BIG DEAL isn't that these guys erred in their submittals, my issue is with the city employees that paid them without any controls for verification. Our government efficientcy at work.

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Feb 3, 2011 : 12:13 a.m.

In addition to passing across the desk of an employee in the clerk's office, Conan Smith informed me the expenditures were reviewed by the county's comptroller, audited independently as part of the county's annual audit procedure and accepted via that audit with a vote of the board.


Wed, Feb 2, 2011 : 11:42 p.m.

The October 10th article by does refence that a county employee must sign off on the request for payment by the commissioner, so there is an opportunity for that employee to review what is being requested. If it was as blatant as Wieder suggests, why did the county employee not try to report it to his superiors? The County Clerk's office has stated that the County Commission rules applicable to these reimbursements requests had no system of checks and balances to give that office discretion to deny a claim submitted by a commissioner.

Tom Wieder

Wed, Feb 2, 2011 : 2:54 p.m.

Apparently, you haven't been following this story since the beginning. Until 2010, when the rules were changed, NO ONE had the authority to review and approve the per diem and mileage claims submitted by the Commissioners. The county (not city) employees that were responsible for writing the checks were told to just pay whatever the Commissioners claimed. The Commissioners run the county, and they were on the "honor system." There is no one else to blame. The Commissioners changed the rules, starting with 2010. At that point, the County Clerk's office was given the authority to review the claims before paying them. Payments dropped significantly.


Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 10:11 p.m.

The only possible officeholder "casualty" from the per diem revelation was longtime Democratic County Commissioner Ken Schwartz, who was found to have received over $1,000.00 in ineligible reimbursements. Schwartz was defeated in the general election by a largely unknown Republican nominee. As a GOP activist, I say "Thanks, Mr. Wieder, keep up the good work". State Representative Mark Ouimet (Ahhh, I like the ring of that), the intended victim, won his seat over Chris Green by about three percentage points. I largely agree with Conan's position in the above article, however if you want to go on the warpath against him over about $500.00, be my guest, he had served as AADP chairman and has a long history as a local Dem heavy hitter.

Tom Wieder

Wed, Feb 2, 2011 : 1:29 a.m.

I doubt that the per diem issue had much to do with Ken Schwartz'z defeat (high GOP turnout due to a township recall election probably did more so), and I'm fairly certain it diminished Ouimet's margin in a landslide GOP year. If calling on Conan to do the right thing and to stop saying stupid things is being on the warpath, so be it. "A long history as a local Dem heavy hitter?" Hardly. But, I don't really care. His stance on this is embarrassing. If criticizing him undermines his political career, there are plenty of other good A2 Dems for any of the offices he might run for.

Tom Wieder

Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 8:43 p.m.

@Roadman - "Tom, what about Dems Barbara Bergman and Wes Prater..?" - They should repay the ineligible amounts received, as should all of the Commissioners, but the magnitude of Ouimet's and Ping' receipts sets them apart, especially when you look at how totally absurd some of their per diem claims were.. Stu Dowty suggested that Mackie or the State Police look at the issue. Because they haven't (as far as we know) responded, doesn't make him full of "hot air." I've said before that I think a case could be made against one or more Commissioners for "obtaining money under false pretenses," but I've also said it's a tough case to win and probably wouldn't be brought if the money were repaid. I'm riding Conan, because I think his comments are incredibly stupid. He was showing a little leadership by proposing some changes to the per diem system, but he now has retreated to whining and complaining. Dowty didn't "lose" his chairmanship; he gave it up. It's a rather thankless volunteer job, and two years was all he wanted of it.


Wed, Feb 2, 2011 : 3:31 a.m.

What about the city employees that actually cut the checks? I think the attention should be on them. Try short paying your taxes and they'll catch you but they pay these guys with no problem......that's the real problem. Anyone get fired for cutting fraudulent checks? Not doing their job? How about management? Anyone even get a bad job review? How many other errors are being made by government employees? I think the investigation should be on the city agency that paid them.


Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 7:34 p.m.

@ Greggy_D Who said it was "easy" or that it was "sitting around" ? Was that reported in the story? Maybe it was really, really hard. Who knows? I don't care how much money you have. Cutting a check for $14,000 plus can't be easy. For anyone. Regardless of whether you agree with the per diems and the commissioners' methods for requesting them, he paid the money back. The investigation did NOT require him to do so. Who will follow suit? Let's see.


Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 6:54 p.m.

Who has $14,000 just sitting around that you can easily just write a check for? Amazing.

rusty shackelford

Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 7:44 p.m.

People who embezzle $14,000 from taxpayers.


Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 6:18 p.m.

@Tom Wieder So, by your calculus, if you think this was WRONG, a commissioner that submitted payments for less than Ouimet were just "less wrong"? C'mon. If you're going to object to the practice and those that participated, then at least be consistent: right is right and wrong is wrong....regardless of amount. There never should have been per diems anyway. Many commissioners were in the middle (>$25) ...are THEY going to reimburse? I applaud your consistency in looking to force ALL commissioners to do the right thing. Ouimet has paid up. Now its time for the others to do the same. Period. Then retire the practice all together. Fair is Fair.

Tom Wieder

Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 8:51 p.m.

Of course, any "theft" is "wrong" as is any physical assault on another person, but we don't treat shoplifting a $5 item the same as robbing a bank, and we don't treat a single punch in the stomach the same as stabbing someone in the back with a knife. If you can't see a significant difference between Leah Gunn's $25 and Mark Ouimet's $14,000, it's because you're a Ouimet supporter and refuse to face the reality.

Ron Granger

Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 6:26 p.m.

"So, by your calculus, if you think this was WRONG, a commissioner that submitted payments for less than Ouimet were just "less wrong"? C'mon. If you're going to object to the practice and those that participated, then at least be consistent: right is right and wrong is wrong....regardless of amount." A couple, or a few, could be a simple error. Hundreds and hundreds is extreme. Imagine someone taking home a pen or two from work. Not a big deal, especially since you bring work home. But if you bring 500 pens home from work, that's completely different.

Christopher LeClair

Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 5:51 p.m.

Whether he was intentionally at fault or not is no longer an issue. He has paid up and every dollar helps balance that budget! I am sure he will be much more cautious in the future when trying to claim expenses, as will the rest of the board. Try not to jump to conclusions and attack the guy! In the long run it doesn't hurt to give people the benefit of the doubt. -Happy Almost Snow Day

Tom Wieder

Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 5:51 p.m.

@avajolt1 - "...all of the commissioners - Republican and Democrat - participated. Unless you want to parse the amounts (and that's a specious argument anyway), everyone participated." You're kidding, right? There's no difference between receiving one extra $25 payment (Kristin Judge and Leah Gunn) and $14,000+? It's all the same? Claiming one ineligible fee is likely to be a mistake, but over 400?! " ... Ouimet has acquitted himself admirably and ethically." How so? Because, having been caught red-handed taking county money he wasn't entitled to, he gives it back? Perhaps, he's just trying to avoid any further political embarrassment or legal action. What's admirable about paying your "fine" when you get caught? "Will those same finger pointers ride those that decide not to cut a check as they chided Ouimet?" I certainly intend to, starting with my Commissioner, Conan Smith, who hinted that he might not pay up.


Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 8:11 p.m.

Tom, what about Dems Barbara Bergman and Wes Prater who each got over $1,800 improperly, per the audit? They clearly have egg on their faces. Last October, County Dem Chair Stu Dowty made a public statement published in that the County Prosecutor and State Police should look into this matter. Did they or was this just a lot of hot air that came out of Dowty's mouth? Did anyone from the government investigate? Go ahead and and "ride" Conan Smith, however is that because he has called the raising of the per diem matter political: "The stink of politics is heavy on this thing "? Why did Dowty lose his chairmanship? Was their anger in his own party about his per diem revelation backfiring? Answer these questions, Tom.


Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 5:32 p.m.

Look, Right or wrong, there was ambiguity and confusion around the concept an propriety of these per diems...all of the commissioners - Republican and Democrat - participated. Unless you want to parse the amounts (and that's a specious argument anyway), everyone participated. There was an investigation, the investigation deemed it inappropriate and Mark Ouimet cut a check to reimburse the county in full. After all the articles. All the political invective. All the finger pointing. After all the cards have been played - once again - I believe Ouimet has acquitted himself admirably and ethically. Will the rest of the commissioners do the same? Will those same finger pointers ride those that decide not to cut a check as they chided Ouimet? If not, it all the prior comments boiled down to nothing but hypocritical politics designed to destroy someone's record during a political year. Nothing more. Mark Ouimet is - and always has been a good public servant. Period.


Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 7:52 p.m.

The electorate apparently agreed with you on Mr. Ouimet's character.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 4:32 p.m.

Very interesting. Two Republicans receive nearly $20,000 in inappropriate per diem reimbursement. The rest of the board received a total of approximately $5,000 with four members receiving $100 or less (in other words, those four members' excessive per diem almost certainly can be explained as an honest mistake). I guess this shows us that being on the taxpayer's dole is a bad thing and completely unacceptable--that is, unless one is a Republican politician. Good Night and Good Luck


Wed, Feb 2, 2011 : 3:15 a.m.

Rangle? or do we wear party blinders good buddy?


Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 4:45 p.m.

I recall Stu Dowty, Dem County Chair, calling for the County Prosecutor and Mich State Police to investigate this. The problem was more Democrats have been found to have improperly reimbursed than GOP commissioners. County Dems have repeatedly pointed out that the Republican commissioners Ouimet and Ping took more money improperly than the Dem commissioners. That is like saying a bank robber who received less money in a robbery is less guilty than one who pulled off a more successful heist. Democrats Barbara Bergman and Wes Prater each took over $1,800.00 improperly, per the audit. It does not look good and it should be returned to the county. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Ron Granger

Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 3:42 p.m.

If this was a private company, anyone improperly claiming $14K would be in deep trouble. They'd be lucky to not be fired. That is a lot of money, and I believe I've read many stories where there were criminal investigations and prosecutions in similar situations. So, that this is a matter of the "public trust" makes it even more serious. I don't think a few errors is a big deal. Smith's $500 is not a big deal. But when it is clearly a 'pattern and practice', I find that excessive and disturbing. I think $14K is excessive enough that I wonder whether it is criminal fraud. And with the magnitude of this, the $14K that nearly slipped through the cracks... One wonders, what else don't we know?

rusty shackelford

Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 3:40 p.m.

Man, if I realized the only penalty for theft was you have to pay it back if you get caught, I would have been stealing things left and right my whole life.

Ron Granger

Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 3:33 p.m.

Mr. Smith certainly whines a lot about what a hassle it is to hold people accountable for claiming more cash than they are entitled. Yes, it is a waste of time and money, and a distraction, but it is what it is. At least Ouimet has done the right thing by quickly writing a check and being done with it. At this point, it all seems fairly black and white. We've all done stuff in our careers for which we were not compensated, whether it was travel, overtime, or otherwise. I am most troubled by his statement that he doesn't know whether he will re-pay what the report says he improperly claimed. HELLO? Earth to Mr. Smith... What planet are you on? Perhaps he has forgotten how important it is for elected officals to avoid the appearance of any impropriety. How dare anyone question whether he claimed more than he was entitled! I don't think the IRS will take a favorable view on any of this. Nobody should need to wait for a new W-2. Let's hope nobody dares to reimburse using funds from their re-election funds... Thanks to Ryan Stanton for the thorough follow-up on this!


Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 1:15 p.m.

An audit isn't about the money spent or if it's a moot point now. An audit is about whether the procedures are proper and public money is spent according to the guidelines. Also, this lets the public and the civil workers know that someone is keeping an eye on the operation, regardless of the politics.

Jon Saalberg

Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 1:02 p.m.

Well, kind of a moot point, since Ouimet has been installed in office. I would guess it's not likely he'll resign, now that the accusations against him were found to be true.

Steve Pepple

Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 12:34 p.m.

A personal attack has been removed.


Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 6:50 a.m.

Wow. What a stand-up guy.


Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 3:55 a.m.

Everybody is pointing the fingers at everyone else and saying its the Democrates or the Republicans. Follow the money . . . it is the Republicans and exponentially. Who cares if Quiment is repaying . . . it's only because he got caught.

Tom Joad

Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 3:48 a.m.

Corruption is rife in government, solution: Cut a check


Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 2:43 a.m.

Ryan, thanks for staying on top of this story. We need to be able to trust our county commissioners and elected officials.

David Briegel

Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 1:55 a.m.

It wasn't a "tidy system", it was an HONOR system. We found out who was more or less Honorable. Didn't we? And the "circus" rolls on to bigger and better things. Telling Slick Rick what a genius he is ? Imagine those possibilities !? He's in the Big Time now ! Yeah, Mr Gunzel was really silly to think that he could trust them all to be honorable. What a silly man he was. He was almost as silly as the voters !! Partisan smear campaign, indeed !! We paid for his campaign !? Aren't you proud of us and him ?


Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 1:36 a.m.

It is quite helpful to know which of our elected officials bother to learn and follow rules. Note that in most of the realms beyond the Washtenaw County Commission, valid expenses are reimbursed and invalid expenses are returned unpaid, thus preserving the integrity of what should be a tidy system. That things ran so foully amok for so long suggests that all was not as orderly as we thought under the late rule of his unelected highness Robert Guenzel. Yeah it is about politics, politics inbred and opaque. Should we let the circus roll on undisturbed by mere democracy? Let more light and transparency in BEFORE the next election please. And please let us considering cutting the number of commissioners in half so there is enough time to read reimbursement requests before cutting checks.


Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 1:22 a.m.

"Smith said he can't justify the staff time and consultant dollars going into an effort with such "obviously flawed premises."" This sounds to me like his position is "$15,000 is an acceptable level of corruption." You can also see that some people went to a lot more meetings than others. What I find interesting is each individual's percentage of disallowed expenses. Implying that you should go back and back-bill for meetings attended is playing tit-for-tat. It also sounds more like an implied threat to me rather than just trying to be fair. What is fair is claiming what you are going to claim, or not, within a reasonable time of the meeting. If you didn't ask for compensation then, you shouldn't be asking for it now.


Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 12:53 a.m.

"Smith said he hasn't decided yet whether he's going to repay the county the $591 in ineligible payments the audit showed he collected over the last six years. He said there were meetings he often didn't bill the county for attending..." Like saying you shouldn't be expected to pay penalties on late income tax because you paid the other years on time. And thanks for publishing this, Mr Stanton...sorry I kept bugging you for it!


Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 12:34 a.m.

The tendering of ths check was a big victory for those who believe in accountability of our elected officials who have improperly received monies rightfully belonging to the taxpayer-funded government. Mark Ouimet now joins Commissioner Leah Gunn as those who have acted honorably and returned monies that were not properly payable or questionable. Two down, eight commissioners to go. This brouhaha has surpassed even E-mailgate as the biggest recent embarrassment in local government. The flames of this debacle were fanned largely due to political motives by Stu Dowty, Tom Wieder and the Washtenaw County Democratic Party. Conan Smith is largely correct in his analysis of an "October Sunrise" campaign attack.

David Briegel

Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 12:31 a.m.

You guys don't get it. YOU financed his campaign ! You paid him to campaign !! No interest or penalties added !? That said, these public servants are not overpaid. Mr Barrie is correct. This is peanuts in the big scheme of things.

Ben Connor Barrie

Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 12:16 a.m.

I do not mean this as an excuse for the ineligible per diem payments. We should keep in mind that the modest compensation package and per diems County Commissioners receive allow people to act as public servants without undertaking a financial burden. It's important that all citizens can run for office in our democracy, not just affluent ones.

Basic Bob

Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 12:15 a.m.

I have to agree with Conan Smith. The investigation, audit, and staff time for this political witch hunt has turned out to be quite expensive. Not to say that we should just look the other way, but the whole thing has been blown way out of proportion in a partisan smear campaign. In the meantime, the county is running out of cash, and some current commissioners are digging in their heels to defend their "flex" budget. It is "off the table" before "targeted budget cuts" are announced. It disappoints me that someone will lose their job, and a county resident will go without service, just because a commissioner needs to go to a conference.


Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 12:08 a.m.

Are the other commissioners going to repay their ineligible per diem payments? Will report if the do? or if they don't?

Ryan J. Stanton

Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 1:48 a.m.

I'll be closely following the story, as I have since October, and continuing to provide updates.


Tue, Feb 1, 2011 : 12:52 a.m.

I agree that the media should keep this story in the spotlight until all per diems not properly payable are repaid.

Ace Ventura

Mon, Jan 31, 2011 : 11:18 p.m.

These commissioners are disgusting! This is enough money to pay a couple of employee's salary.


Mon, Jan 31, 2011 : 11:39 p.m.

$114,517 + commissioner salary to oversee a $100 million budget does not seem that far out of the question. That said, I do agree that paying back wrongfully claimed expenses is appropriate.