Traverse City Record-Eagle

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March 18, 2014

GT board could drop per diems — but could get raises to offset loss

TRAVERSE CITY — Extra money that Grand Traverse County commissioners receive for attending meetings and events could be a thing of the past, but commissioners could get a salary raise to ease their loss.

Commission Chair Herb Lemcool plans to propose board members nix their taxpayer-funded payments for attending meetings and events — also called per diems — starting next year.

Lemcool said he’ll float the recommendation, which will include increasing commissioners’ base salaries in lieu of per diems, during a committee meeting Wednesday. How far he proposes to increase the base salaries will depend on commissioners’ average annual compensation, as determined by Jen Semen, the county’s human resources director.

“We can look at that and go from there,” Lemcool said.

The proposal comes nearly two months after members of the commission’s claims committee asked Lemcool, Vice Chair Addison Wheelock Jr. and Commissioner Charlie Renny to repay $175, $35 and $355 they respectively received for questionable per diems in 2013.

The three board members said they did not intend return that money, citing a combination of confusion over what types of events qualify for per diems, errors by claims committee members who failed to reject the erroneous reimbursements and -- in Wheelock’s case -- disagreement over whether his presence as a keynote speaker at particular event qualified for a per diem.

Lemcool stood by that position last week and added he was not given a chance to defend his position before the claims committee.

“Until they say ‘you can defend what you’ve got,’ I’m not going to do anything,” he said.

Commissioner Larry Inman, a member of the claims committee, said during a meeting last week that “a lot of human error on all parts” led to the questionable payments.

Inman suggested board members form a committee and with county attorneys review the board’s per diem policy.

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