SUTTONS BAY — A Leelanau County commissioner who advocates getting "government out of the way" collected more than $222,000 in government wages, taxpayer-financed health insurance benefits and public sector employment perks since 1999, a review of public records shows.
From her perch on the Leelanau commission Melinda Lautner staked out positions against rising government health insurance costs, inflated mileage reimbursements and taxpayer-funded farm preservation programs. But she accepted tens of thousands of dollars in public health insurance benefits, mileage reimbursements, per diems, and farm subsidies.
Additionally, her husband, James Lautner, is listed in U.S. Department of Agriculture records as a recipient of more than $70,000 in federal farm subsidies for the Lautner family farm since 1995.
Lautner said the farm subsidies are reimbursements for failed crops. She told a Record-Eagle reporter she’s earned every dollar she’s collected from county taxpayers and tirelessly worked to save money through reduced government regulations and unnecessary county expenditures.
“As far as my salary goes, I’ve earned it,” Lautner said. “I’ve saved the county a whole lot of money.”
Others question how Lautner can carve out a political career espousing small government while annually pocketing thousands of dollars from public sources.
“Which is it?” said John “Chip” Hoagland, who resigned as chairman of the Leelanau County Economic Development Corporation after butting heads with Lautner and other Leelanau commissioners over the county's unwillingness to participate in a regional job growth strategy.
“You are against big government, but you are willing to take the funds?” Hoagland said. “Which is it?”
Examples of contrasts between Lautner’s political persona and her personal life are ample. Among them is her appointment this year to the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments' Board of Directors. NMCOG is a government-backed, regional planning agency that promotes partnerships between the public and private sector to promote job growth.