BY BRIAN McGILLIVARY
TRAVERSE CITY — Grand Traverse County road commissioners will limit themselves to collecting pay for up to three extra meetings a month in an effort to stem for now a growing controversy over possible abuse.
Road commissioners can collect $35 for attending meetings outside of the monthly road commission session. Known as a per diem, questions were raised about both the number and type of meetings some commissioners were submitting for reimbursement. Following a lengthy and sometimes heated discussion Thursday night, the board decided to widen the type of meetings allowed but limit the pay to three per diems a month for the rest of the year.
"The idea is if you want to go to all these meetings, that's fine, but we only pay for you to go to three," Commissioner Jim Maitland said. "At this point since we have a cap we are sort of putting it off and hopefully it can be resolved in the next seven months."
But what constitutes a meeting remains a point of contention.
A resolution prepared by road commission Chairman Marc McKellar included meetings with employees, vendors, engineers, lawyers, accountants and insurance brokers plus a broad list of community organizations "which have a direct relationship to county road commission activities."
McKellar could not be reached Friday for comment. McKellar accumulated $3,395 in per diem pay in 2011, and another $1,860 for the first five months of this year.
Maitland and road Commissioner John Nelson opposed collecting per diems to meet with individuals and some of the community groups.
"We are supposed to set policy, not go out to talk to vendors or union reps without management present," Maitland said. "We have a continual problem with board members interfering with the manager's job, and if it's the current manager or a future manager it needs to stop."
The Grand Travese county board sets the per diem amount for the road commission. County board Chairman Larry Inman said the new policy differs considerably from the county board's and causes him concern.
"We are policy and budget, you don't meet with vendors, you don't meet with employees," Inman said. "Those are all responsibilities that should go with the management of the road commission. The other things that are community related that they want to attend should be considered part of their salary."
Road commissioners earn a salary of $5,500 to $6,500 a year plus health and life insurance and a pension.
Inman said he will ask the county's attorney to determine if the road commission's new per diem policy is legal and if the county board has any control over it.