Shiawassee County commissioners pay back bonuses as new controversy erupts

Chairman accused of billing the county for mileage to watch Zoom court hearing
Published: Jul. 30, 2021 at 6:49 PM EDT
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SHIAWASSEE COUNTY, Mich. (WJRT) - The final two Shiawassee County commissioners paid back their COVID-19 bonuses on Friday as a new controversy about one of them came to light.

County Coordinator Dr. Brian Boggs said Board of Commissioners Chairman Jeremy Root and Commissioner Cindy Garber paid back their bonuses on Friday morning. Root received $25,000 while Garber received $5,000 from the county’s $13.3 million share of COVID-19 relief money.

Attorney Phil Ellison of Hemlock, who filed an Open Meetings Act lawsuit over the payments last week, said a preliminary injunction from Genesee County Circuit Judge Mark Latchana halting or freezing the bonuses to elected officials had not been signed as of Friday afternoon.

“There’s somewhat of a dispute between the parties as to what the judge ordered,” Ellison said. “At minimum -- at base minimum -- those commissioners cannot spend that money. If they spent that money after the judge issued that order, they’re in trouble.”

On July 23, all commissioners and other elected officials agreed to return the money after Prosecutor Scott Koerner ruled the payments unconstitutional. But there was no specific deadline for when the money had to be returned.

The lawsuit remains in a waiting period until Latchana signs the order.

“We don’t have this happen very often, where a public body violates the Open Meetings Act and the Michigan Constitution in one swoop,” Ellison said. “We’re kind of developing a precedent, because this hasn’t happened before.”

In addition to the $25,000 bonus Root received, he now is facing scrutiny after billing the county for attending the Open Meetings Act lawsuit hearing in Genesee County via Zoom. He also billed the county $44.19 for mileage driving from his home in Byron to Corunna, where he attended the meeting.

“People are irate about that,” said Commissioner Marlene Webster. “It’s like asking a victim to pay because the person who committed a crime against them has to go to court.”

Root again did not return messages seeking comment about the controversy on Friday.

Attention now turns to a special Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners meeting at 5 p.m. Sunday at McCurdy Park in Corunna. The public will be allowed to comment on the COVID-19 bonus controversy, after which Webster plans to make a motion to remove Root as chairman.

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