Judge halts $500,000 worth of bonuses for Shiawassee County employees, officials

Temporary injunction allows commissioners to reallocate bonuses at their next meeting
Published: Jul. 26, 2021 at 6:11 PM EDT
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FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) - A Genesee County judge ordered a halt to about $500,000 worth of bonuses paid to Shiawassee County officials and employees.

Circuit Court Judge Mark Latchana issued a preliminary injunction retracting the payments until the Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners reconsiders how it will redistribute that money.

”You can’t violate the basic process and transparency laws in our state without there being some sort of repercussion,” said attorney Philip Ellison, who filed a lawsuit on behalf of Shiawassee County Resident Nicole Ruggiero over the bonuses approved on July 15.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Jeremy Root, Sheriff Brian BeGole and other top county officials received bonuses of $25,000 apiece from Shiawassee County’s $13.3 million share of COVID-19 relief money. Other commissioners, the county clerk, treasurer prosecutor and others received $10,000 apiece.

The remaining commissioners and other officials received $5,000 while employees each received $1,000 to $2,500.

Ellison’s lawsuit claims the Board of Commissioners violated the Open Meetings Act by approving the bonuses in closed session.

Commissioner Marlene Webster testified during Monday’s court hearing. She said the bonuses needed to be discussed in open session and she was not aware of the hefty bonuses for top county officials.

“I never would have voted to give the board chair $25,000 -- to give commissioners $10,000 and $5,000,” Webster said. “Those amounts to me are just ludicrous.”

Webster said she only understood that the bonuses would average $2,148 per person with some receiving more and others receiving less.

“I want to serve my constituents and I thought I was serving them well with my vote,” she said.

Ellison said Ruggiero wants the bonus money for elected officials and top managers to be reallocated for front line workers. Latchana is giving the Board of Commissioners another chance to decide how they want to allocate the bonus money.

“My only purpose with regard to injunctive relief is to protect those funds until and unless the board makes a different or alternate decision at their next board meeting,” he said.

All commissioners have returned their bonus money after Shiawassee County Prosecutor Scott Koerner said the payments were unconstitutional. BeGole returned his $25,000 payment while Koerner gave back the $12,500 he received.

Shiawassee County Health Department Director Larry Johnson and county Buildings and Grounds Superintendent Tim Hill, who also received $25,000 apiece, have not said whether they plan to keep their money.

After Monday’s hearing, Commissioner Gregory Brodeur called for Root to resign as chairman of the board and from his seat on the Board of Commissioners immediately.

Brodeur was not at the July 15 meeting when the bonuses were approved because he was attending a funeral. He said Root’s decision to withhold information regarding his $25,000 bonus and the amounts others received is inexcusable.

Brodeur believes Root has destroyed his ability to effectively lead the county board.

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