Michigan Republicans will return Covid relief funds used to pay own bonuses
Elected Republican officials in a conservative Michigan county who gave themselves bonuses totalling $65,000 with federal Covid-19 relief funds said they would return the money – following days of criticism.
The Shiawassee county commissioners acted after a prosecutor said the payments were illegal, the Argus-Press reported.
The Michigan state constitution bars additional compensation for elected officials “after services had already been rendered”, prosecutor Scott Koerner said.
The commissioners voted on 15 July 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 the chairman of the county board, Jeremy Root, got $25,000. Two commissioners received $10,000 each, while four 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 too. They also said they would give it back.
“Since these payments were made, confusion about the nature of these funds has run rampant,” a statement 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.”
One commissioner, Marlene Webster, insisted she had no idea she had voted to pay herself. She returned the money last week, posting a copy of the check on Facebook. She criticized the latest statement, saying there was no misinterpretation.
“That’s an insult to the citizens of Shiawassee county,” Webster said.
Two Michigan congressmen, a Democrat and a Republican, said federal virus aid was not intended to reward elected officials.
A judge set a hearing for Monday in a lawsuit aimed at rescinding bonuses for the officials, filed before the latest action.