Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Thursday

December 27, 2012

Meeting per diems capped

TRAVERSE CITY — Editor's Note: Part of a series of stories about people, places and events that made news in the Grand Traverse region in 2012.

The Grand Traverse County Road Commission ended the year with a few thousand dollars more for road repairs — after agency officials limited how much money road commissioners could collect for attending meetings.

The new policy mainly affected Commissioners David Taylor and Marc McKellar, who together were on pace to collect almost $8,000 in extra pay for attending meetings and events such as ribbon cuttings and social gatherings.

Road commissioners turned off the cash spigot in June by limiting commissioners to charging for just three meetings — or per diems — a month at $35 per meeting.

It's a temporary cap that expires by year's end, but road Commissioner John Nelson said he plans to propose a new cap in 2013. The road board's new meeting policy, meanwhile, should eliminate any questionable meeting charges.

"It's pretty tight and pretty explicit as to what meetings are allowed," Nelson said. "It pretty much limits it to government-type meetings."

McKellar charged the road commission for phone calls, meeting with staff and outside vendors, and attending three social networking events for business people where food and alcohol were provided.

McKellar defended the social meetings in June as necessary to represent the road commission.

"I don't charge for everything, but if I have a meeting and sit down face-to-face, or a telephone meeting that takes half an hour, you bet, because that's cutting into my personal time," he said.

McKellar did not return calls seeking comment for this story.

Taylor declined to comment.

The county's five road commissioners already earn a $5,500 a year salary, plus health, life, and pension benefits to attend one meeting a month. McKellar, the chairman, earns $6,500. He accumulated an extra $3,395 in meeting pay in 2011 and another $1,860 for the first five months of 2012, putting him on pace to top $4,400 in per diems for the year.

Taylor charged the road commission $2,950 in 2011 when he was board chairman and $1,440 through May. At that pace he would have topped $3,400.

No other road commissioner made it to $1,000 in meeting charges for 2011.

The large spike in meeting charges caused auditors to take a closer look at the bills of all commissioners to see if they in fact attended meetings. Auditors found several meetings in which they couldn't confirm a road commissioner's attendance, but neither could they say the commissioner in question wasn't there.

The audit found no evidence of wrongdoing or violations of the road board's broad per diem policy that was in effect in 2011.

"As an issue it's pretty much gone and over with, done and taken care of," Nelson said.

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