Genessee County judge orders return of Shiawassee County hazard pay pending new vote

Hazard payments draw ire; judge orders injuction stopping Shiawassee County employees from spending money
A Genessee County judge is issuing an injunction to stop Shiawassee County employees from spending the hazard pay they just received.
Posted at 6:44 PM, Jul 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-26 19:37:13-04

LANSING, Mich. — A Genessee County judge is issuing an injunction to stop Shiawassee County employees from spending hazard pay they just received.

“I will grant an injunction as has been requested and I will extend the injunction through the date of the next commission meeting,"" said Circuit Court Judge, Mark Latchana. "My intention is not to interfere with how the government in Shiawassee County decides to distribute their funds. My only purpose with injunctive relief is to protect those funds."

A lawsuit filed last week alleges the Shiawassee County Commission was wrong when it decided to pay itself and other county employees hazard pay without allowing the public to weigh in.

An attorney for the plaintiff says the Commission continues to violate the Open Meetings Act and, on Monday, asked Latchana to step in to stop those employees from spending that money.

One commissioner, Marlene Webster, told the court she didn’t know some of the payments would go to her and her colleagues on the Commission.

“I thought we were voting on giving our county employees about $2,048 a piece, which made sense to me," she said. "I’ve seen similar distributions from similar funds to similar people. There was no discussion about this going to elected officials and certainly not county commissioners."

County Board Chairman Jeremy Root got $25,000. Two commissioners received $10,000 each, while four others received $5,000 each.

Webster says, when the payment amounts came to light, she started getting calls from people saying some county workers were threatening to walk off the job because they were upset that the county’s top brass got the lion’s share of the American Rescue Plan funding.

On Friday, the entire Commission agreed to give back the hazard payments.

And Commissioner Gregory Brodeur is calling on Root to step down, saying in a statement released to the media that "Root’s decision to withhold information regarding his own egregious $25,000 bonus and the outsized amounts he awarded others is inexcusable and has destroyed his ability to effectively lead our county board."

Root did not respond to a request for comment sent Sunday.

Attorney Philip Ellison says he thinks the judge did the right thing.

“The mechanics of this still needs to be figured out but I suspect the county employees who received those funds will be directed to return those funds back to the county bank account," said Ellison.

Ellison also says the injunction lets the Commission and the public to have a mulligan to allow the public to weigh in on who should get hazard payments and how much they should get.

The injunction is valid through the Shiawassee County Commission's next meeting, which is slated to happen on Aug. 12, or at any special meeting where hazard pay is part of the agenda.

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