By Jeff Leonhardt
I wrote to the Grand Traverse County commissioners to express my concerns about the recent multiple reports of the ballooning commission budget due to increased commission salaries and health care, and what appears to be a liberal, I would argue abusive, use of the per diem policy.
Having served as an uncompensated public board member, I know that elected positions are, first and foremost, positions of public service and trust. All of them ran on just such a platform. In recent years, commissioners gave themselves generous raises and health care benefits.
Now, many of them find out that some members of the board are gathering more public tax dollars with generous per diem expenses. Many of them, according to recent reporting, are exorbitant and doubtful.
As a taxpayer in this county, the amount of money going to some commissioners is upsetting. Frankly, it makes me angry, given the fiscal conservatism and accountability many of them profess. It seems they are not applying those standards to themselves.
Many of them campaigned on fiscal conservatism and accountability for tax dollars. It is frustrating to find out that they are applying those values selectively — especially when it comes to enriching themselves. This will lose them credibility.
I have read the policy regarding per diem and it is incredibly loose and open to abuse. When they proclaim fiscal conservatism to the public, it is important that they begin with their own use of our tax dollars, and do so with utmost integrity.
A few more thoughts of concern for me are: The defensiveness of some commissioners about light being shed on these issues and claiming it is just political; the unwillingness of some to immediately agree to simple transparency standards as far as how they personally gain from tax dollars; the timeliness of commissioners in submitting their expenses; and the ridiculous notion that the current practices are somehow OK because that’s the way it has always been done. Rubbish. Do they not have the standard and practice of continuous improvement?
There is clearly room to improve their processes and openness with the taxpayers of this county. It is our right to easily and openly know when and how they get money from the county coffers. All of them ran on the slogan of wanting to be public servants — above all else.
The reported level of personal enrichment is unseemly and to oppose efforts to make themselves more transparent and accountable is baffling.
It seems as if they are embarrassed — or worse yet — hiding something.
About the author: Jeff Leonhardt is a resident of Traverse City and a retired public school teacher for Traverse City Area Public Schools, who later served on the board of education.
By Jeff Leonhardt