Apparently the separation between right and wrong gets a little blurry when government cash is involved.
At least that’s the message Green Lake Township officials send as they flail to justify their vote to grant themselves thousands in bonuses they planned to carve from COVID-19 relief money the township expects to receive. Thankfully, the township hasn’t yet written those checks because it hasn’t yet received the more than $300,000 in bailout cash destined for its coffers this year.
But the fact those payments haven’t been dispersed because of a fluke of bureaucratic bookkeeping doesn’t diminish the magnitude of the dereliction at play when the township board voted 6-1 in May to approve the payments.
It’s the umpteenth instance where we’re left shaking our heads as officials — many who campaigned on platforms of fiscal responsibility or budgetary conservatism — saw fit to dig in when the governmental cookie jar opened. Worse, this time the bunch who thought it appropriate to reward themselves appear to believe (at least in some instances) that they deserved more generous payouts than the actual frontline workers in their employ.
It’s hard to imagine the hazards of potentially long hours in a township office or meeting from home via videoconference during the pandemic somehow compare to the township’s first responders.
First responders. You know, the folks who spent the shutdown locked in the back of ambulances with sick patients or performing life-saving interventions on the injured. People whose jobs place them on the actual frontlines of a global public health crisis.
Heck, we will also support COVID-19 relief payments for township staffers whose jobs required they face potential exposure to the virus to simply keep the cogs moving in the local government machine.
But elected officials granting themselves bonuses? Did they really need someone to tell them writing hazard pay checks to themselves was a bad idea? Or potentially a violation of Michigan law?
We witnessed something similar play out in Shiawassee County a little more than a month ago when county commissioners there paid themselves handsomely from the infusion of federal COVID cash that landed in their laps. There, after the payments garnered national attention, commissioners returned the money and in a statement on the county’s Facebook page effectively claimed folks had “misinterpreted” their cash grab.
It’s hard to believe we might need to spell out why elected officials ought not grant themselves generous COVID relief bonuses. But the fact we need to enumerate all the problems with these payments tells us the problem may be much more widespread than a couple of local boards in Michigan.
These egregious missteps make us believe local governments may need a law — like the one proposed by Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, following the Shiawassee County debacle — to make such self-payment by elected officials from federal relief funds illegal.
Too bad we can’t trust all our elected office holders to simply know the difference between right and wrong.