Vote trading played a role in a decision to expand Grand Traverse County's road commission from three to five members, a county official contends.

The county board voted 7 to 1 on Wednesday to expand the road commission. The board then filled the new openings from prior applicants instead of posting jobs anew and holding public interviews for commission seats that pay about $13,000 in wages and benefits.

The move surprised Commissioner Beth Friend, who said she originally planned to oppose the quick appointments.

"But then I thought, why bring them back to do a dog-and-pony show and do what we did last time?" Friend said. "Why do an interview process under the pretense that the decision hasn't already been made?"

In November, the board interviewed six candidates to replace a departing road commissioner. They picked Carl Brown, of Fife Lake Township, a contractor with road construction experience. Commissioner Larry Fleis was Brown's chief supporter.

On Wednesday, the board appointed John Nelson and Marc McKellar to fill new road commission seats. Nelson is a member of the Garfield Township planning commission and TC-TALUS, a regional transportation planning group.

McKellar, of Interlochen, is director of business development and public relations for Members Credit Union.

County commissioner Ross Richardson supported Nelson.

Friend said she asked Richardson why he didn't nominate Nelson in November, and he acknowledged trading a vote then to get Nelson appointed at a later date.

Richardson said he spoke with Fleis and fellow Commissioners Addison Wheelock Jr. and Larry Inman, but said he didn't cut a deal.

"There wasn't any discussion of a quid pro quo," Richardson said. "I was doing what I could to get Nelson on, and I looked at it as my best chance to get that done was to expand it to five members."

Fleis brushed off questions of vote swapping but said commissioners do share information about people they know.

"I think that's fine because you get commissioners who know people, and that makes a difference," Fleis said. "You've got to have people you can trust."

The board split for several years over the cost of road commission expansion and whether road commissioners should be elected or appointed. Richardson and Friend wanted to cut salaries and health benefits for existing road commissioners to pay for expansion.

Richardson said cost was less important to him now. But Friend criticized her peers' decision.

"They are perfectly happy making decisions not knowing, asking or even caring about what the financial ramifications are," Friend said.

Inman said it wasn't money or appointments, but the "dysfunctional structure" of the current road commission that formed board consensus.

"People are frustrated ... with everything that's occurred, with how they handled their budget and the millage request," he said. "We needed a broader, more diverse group ... to make better decisions."

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