TRAVERSE CITY — When in doubt, try to get paid.
That’s what led Grand Traverse County Commissioner Charlie Renny to collect taxpayer-funded payments — also called per diems — for attending local events like ground-breakings, “meet-and- greets” and employee recognition ceremonies.
Renny said in January he’s never heard a “hard and fast” definition about what events qualify for the county’s $35 per diem reimbursements.
“It’s a good question,” he said. “Being a new commissioner, I was just kind of led to believe to put them in if you went to them.”
Now Renny and the county board’s top officers are being asked to repay money some said they shouldn’t have collected — and their fellow board members shouldn’t have approved in the first place.
Three letters from the county board’s audit committee request repayment for 2013 per diems that Renny, board Chair Herb Lemcool and Vice Chair Addison Wheelock Jr. received “in error.”
The board members placed blame for the erroneous payments on a county audit committee that is responsible for reviewing board members’ per diem requests. All three commissioners said they won’t repay the wrongly issued money.
“That’s their responsibility to make sure that (per diems) are correct on a monthly basis,” Lemcool said. “You don’t wait until the following year, then go through and decide there’s something you missed.”
Lemcool collected $175 in questionable payments for attending events like a volunteers recognition dinner and a meeting with Record-Eagle Publisher Neal Ronquist.
Lemcool said the letter detailing his wrongful per diems had “no validity” because it was not signed by audit committee Chair Larrry Inman, though it is signed by committee members Richard Thomas and Christine Maxbauer. Inman, Thomas and Maxbauer also are county commissioners.
Either way, Lemcool said he has no plans to cut the county a check for $175.