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April 9, 2014

Officials may have to do without extra pay for attending activities

TRAVERSE CITY — Grand Traverse County commissioners might soon have to do without extra pay for attending ribbon-cuttings and other ceremonial activities.

Members of the county’s Resource Management and Administration Committee will discuss a resolution that includes ceremonial functions as a standard part of a commissioner’s salary. For years, commissioners collected taxpayer-funded payments, called per diems, in addition to their salaries for attending anything from a government meeting to a ground-breaking.

The move comes after the county board’s audit committee asked three commissioners to repay the county after they received per diems “in error.”

“When you read what the compensation and per diem policy was, it was very vague,” said board Chair Herb Lemcool. “We went through and looked at the per diems and are making recommendations on not changing anything but cleaning up the language.”

Lemcool was one of three commissioners accused of receiving questionable payments, and was asked to return $175.

The new language states that ceremonial functions are to be included in commissioners’ salaries, meaning they can’t get paid extra for attending them. Commissioners collect a salary of $7,000, with an additional $500 and $1,000 going to the vice chairman and chairman, respectively.

Lemcool said that compensation for meeting with community leaders could count under the new rule.

“It’s up to the commissioner on how they want to present that,” Lemcool said.

The resolution was created by a committee that included Lemcool, Larry Inman and Vice Chair Addison Wheelock Jr. Wheelock also received a letter that he had been paid in error.

Inman was surprised a draft of the resolution didn’t include meeting with community leaders as part of the salary. He said per diems are intended only to compensate commissioners for meetings they’re required to attend, like sitting in on a township meeting in their district.

“If we need to clarify or clear that up, I’d be happy to,” Inman said.

Commissioner Christine Maxbauer said the language needs to go even further in limiting what can count for per diems.

“There cannot be a gray area. There can be no room for misinterpretation,” Maxbauer said.

She also wants meetings with constituents and community leaders to be included in annual salaries.

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