County officials in Michigan used about $65,000 in federal coronavirus relief funds to give themselves bonuses, The Guardian reports.
The Shiawassee county commissioners, all of whom are Republicans, voted earlier this month to give themselves $65,000 as part of a $557,000 bill to provide “hazard pay” for hundreds of county employees.
The commissioners voted 6-0 on the plan, giving the chairman $25,000, two commissioners $10,000 each, and four others $5,000 each.
The commissioners also awarded money to the elected prosecutor, sheriff, and county clerk. Lower-level employees received between $1,000 and $2,000.
"I think that I earned it," Commissioner Cindy Garber said. "I work really hard at this job. I was here in-person all through this crazy year."
But Commissioner Marlene Webster said she was “mortified” when she found the money in her bank account, claiming she did not realize she voted to award cash to herself.
"I'm giving the money back," she said. "I think one commissioner is giving it to a nonprofit so those actions indicate that we truly did not know this money was coming to us."
Commissioners to return money:
The board of commissioners said it would return the money after outcry over the plan.
“Since the payments were made, confusion about the nature of these funds has run rampant,” the board said in a statement. “The commissioners 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.”
Other officials, too:
Shiawassee County Prosecutor Scott Koerner said he would also return the $12,500 he received after determining that the payments were illegal under the state constitution.
“Not only am I not entitled to this money because of the Michigan Constitution, but me giving the money back is just the right thing to do,” he said. “I still hope that the hard-working frontline employees of the county continue to benefit from these (payment) -- they are the ones who deserve it.”
Sheriff Brian BeGole said he would also return the money.
“At no time did I ask or expect any compensation for my work during the pandemic, as the elected Sheriff,” he said in a statement. “This week the county, with my authorization, will withdraw the funds dispersed from the ARPA grant I received. I want to remain transparent to the residents of Shiawassee County and maintain the integrity of the Office of Sheriff.”