GRAND TRAVERSE COUNTY Per diem policy gets once-over

Aug. 27—TRAVERSE CITY — Several proposed changes to the Grand Traverse County per diem policy have been recommended by a three-member ad hoc committee, but would not go into effect unless approved by the full board.

That likely won't be until later this year, said Commission Vice-chair Brad Jewett, who sits on the committee.

Commissioners Ashlea Walter and Scott Sieffert also serve on that committee, which will meet for the second time at 10 a.m. Monday in the commission chambers of the Boardman Avenue government center.

"Our first meeting went really well," Jewett said. "We didn't get through the entire policy, but we did make some changes.

"I look forward to getting through the rest of the policy."

Walter said the committee went through the policy line-by-line and had some good discussions. The goal is to make the policy clearer and remove some of the discretion, she said.

The issue of per diems collected by commissioners was questioned months ago, especially when it was learned that some board members are charging for meetings and phone calls with constituents, county administrators, township trustees and each other.

Proposed by Sieffert, the ad hoc committee was appointed in April after a proposed amendment from Walter to eliminate paying per diems for one-on-one calls and meetings with constituents or other commissioners failed.

Walter also had proposed putting the per diems that are being requested from each commissioner online — or in the board packet.

Jewett said ad hoc members were working together well. That is not always the case when the full board meets because they have their own ideas, he said.

"Differences are great because that's how ideas are spurred," Jewett said.

Per diem pay was increased by commissioners in December to $65 per meeting from $35 per meeting.

No one at the county questions whether a particular per diem requested is legitimate; and they are routinely paid by the county's finance department.

According to the policy, commissioners are paid for special county board meetings, committee meetings and authority or commission meetings, such as the road commission or the Department of Health and Human Services board, if they are members.

They also can charge for attending city, village and township meetings in their districts and for seminars and conferences.

They are not allowed to collect a per diem for attending regular board meetings, one-on-one meetings with constituents, or events such as ribbon-cuttings or grand openings.

They can collect a per diem for other meetings not in the policy, if "per diem is deemed appropriate as determined by the individual county commissioner who is seeking per diem compensation," current board policy states.

Recommended policy changes by the committee include adding study sessions to the eligible list and striking that section that allows commissioners to determine what is appropriate.

"It seemed to be an inflamed paragraph," Walter said. "To give people the individual discretion isn't what we wanted."

Jewett and Walter said they hope to get through the rest of the policy at Monday's meeting, but a third meeting may be needed.

There may be other additions to the policy since the committee has had discussions based on public input, Jewett said.

"At the end of the day, everybody wanted a little more clarity around the agreement," Walter said.