Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

January 20, 2013

Editorial: Commission per-diem battle turns absurd

It appears the Grand Traverse County Road Commission is out to wrest the crown of Kings-of-Public-Ineptitude from their county board of commissioners brethren.

That's no easy task, since the Grand Traverse County board's failings over the past decade or so are legion and legendary.

But members of the road commission board are showing they may have what it takes. They've hiked their ridiculousness and self-serving behavior to impressive levels, and their antics at an "organizational" meeting this month just might push them to the top — or the bottom, as it were.

Nasty infighting among road board members has been par for the course for years now, and county board meddling certainly fueled the fire. Personal agendas led to a prolonged and embarrassing fight with the road commission's ex-Manager Mary Gillis, and precipitated her eventual ouster (and subsequent $35,000 payout to Gillis to fend off a lawsuit).

Worse is certain road board members' zeal for feeding at the public trough, and their willingness to shout down and bully anyone who questions their apparently ravenous appetites.

At a Jan. 3 meeting, road Commissioner Dave Taylor — supported by Commissioner Marc McKellar — directed a string of profanities at fellow Commissioner John Nelson.

Nelson's crime? He suggested capping road commissioner "per diems" — Latin for grab whatever public money you can get your hands on — at what seemed to be a reasonable amount.

Taylor and McKellar, it must be noted, seem to love per diems. Both boosted their road commission earnings last year by thousands of taxpayer dollars for attending extra meetings and counting phone calls, ribbon cuttings and specious social events. An auditor's concerns last year about potential per-diem abuse put the program on the skids until this month. Nelson wanted restrictions put in place, but Taylor and McKellar obviously want the loot, not restrictions.

Road commission meeting minutes stated Taylor "used an expletive repeatedly" toward Nelson after McKellar said per diems "were never an issue before this one board member (Nelson) walked in the door and made it his issue."

McKellar also raised concerns about "Nelson's attempts to control per-diem costs" that led to "negative newspaper articles" ...

Attacks on Nelson by Taylor and McKellar are nothing but attempts to kill the messenger/watchdog. They don't want scrutiny, but that's a bad mix for people on the public payroll.

Taxpayers should not tolerate their behavior and must keep a close eye Taylor's and McKellar's liberal use of the per-diem program. The fact that they so badly want that money should serve as a big, red warning flag.

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