Officials in Michigan county will return virus bonuses

Commissioners, all Republicans, voted on July 15 to award themselves $65,000

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CORUNNA, Mich. – Elected officials in a conservative Michigan county who gave themselves bonuses of $65,000 with federal COVID-19 relief aid said they will return the money following days of criticism.

Shiawassee County commissioners acted after the prosecutor said the payments were illegal, The Argus-Press reported.

The Michigan Constitution bars additional compensation for elected officials "after services had already been rendered,” prosecutor Scott Koerner said Friday.

The commissioners, all Republicans, voted on July 15 to award themselves $65,000 as part of a plan to give $557,000 to 250 county employees as “hazard pay” for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

The smallest amounts for recipients were $1,000 to $2,000. But County Board Chairman Jeremy Root got $25,000. Two more commissioners received $10,000 each, while four others received $5,000 each.

The vote was 6-0 with one commissioner absent.

The commissioners awarded money to other elected officials, including the prosecutor, the sheriff and the county clerk, all Republicans. They, too, said they would give it back.

“Since these payments were made, confusion about the nature of these funds has run rampant,” a statement from commissioners said. “(We) deeply regret that this gesture has been misinterpreted, and have unanimously decided to voluntarily return the funds to the county, pending additional guidance from the state of Michigan.”

Commissioner Marlene Webster insisted she had no idea that she had voted to pay herself and returned the money last week, even posting a copy of the check on Facebook. She criticized the latest statement, saying there was no misinterpretation of the payments.

"That’s an insult to the citizens of Shiawassee County,” Webster said.

Two Michigan congressmen, a Democrat and a Republican, said federal virus aid wasn't intended to reward elected officials.

Separately, a judge set a hearing for Monday in a lawsuit aimed at rescinding bonuses for the officials. It was filed before the latest action.