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Shiawassee County commissioners accused of violating Open Meetings Act

Hazard pay discussion happened during closed session
Published: Jul. 23, 2021 at 6:17 PM EDT
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CORUNNA, Mich. (WILX) - Most members of the Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners are ordered to appear in a Genesee County courtroom Monday morning.

They are accused of violating the Open Meetings Act.

The lawsuit comes after commissioners approved thousands of dollars of hazard pay from the American Rescue Plan, including for themselves. The discussion for the payments happened in a closed session during Thursday’s meeting.

Commissioners not named in the lawsuit said they weren’t surprised.

“It’s not the first time Shiawassee County has been sued over this,” said Marlene Webster, Shiawassee County Commissioner.

Commissioners Jeremy Root, Gary Holzhausen, Brandon Marks, Cindy Garber and John Plowman are named in the lawsuit.

Webber and Gregory Brodeur weren’t named in the lawsuit. Brodeur wasn’t at Thursday’s meeting.

“I questioned the validity of going into closed session on Thursday night. I still question that. I can’t talk a lot about that,” Webber told News 10.

Philip Ellison represents the resident who filed the lawsuit. He said the lawsuit questions the process commissioners used to award themselves thousands of dollars of COVID relief money.

“They did not follow the requirements necessary to hold open and transparent decision making processes,” said Ellison.

Commissioners voted on paying county employees an average bonus of $2,148 Thursday. Brodeur, Holzhausen, Garber and Webber received $5,000 each. Marks and Plowman received $10,000 each while Root received $25,000.

Commissioners’ base pay is $10,000 a year, plus a per diem based on how many meetings they attend.

Now, Ellison is asking a judge to order them to return the bonus and start the process over.

“The lawsuit itself might result in the board reaffirming exactly what they’ve done. At least the process would be open and transparent,” said Ellison.

Since court employees got the bonuses as well, the case has been transferred to Genesee County. A hearing is scheduled at 11:30 a.m. Monday. News 10 reached out to commissioners named in the lawsuit, but no one responded to interview requests.

Late Friday, Shiawassee County Prosecuting Attorney Scott Koerner issued a statement saying all elected officials agreed to return their hazard payments.

That was followed soon after by a press release from the Shiawassee Board of Commissioners.

“The commissioners deeply regret that this gesture has been misinterpreted, and have unanimously decided to voluntarily return the funds to the County,” the board wrote. “Pending additional guidance from the State of Michigan.”

Koerner didn’t believe the payments were constitutional.

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