COVID-19 relief money was meant to aid workers, small business owners and people who had lost their jobs or lost wages during the pandemic. It was meant for people who are financially struggling due to something they had no control over. Of course, if you happen to be a Republican government official in Shiawassee County, Mich., you might have briefly been under the impression that financial relief efforts served a different purpose—to make it rain on your bank account balance.
The Associated Press reports that elected officials in the conservative Michigan county gifted themselves and other county officials $65,000 worth of COVID relief money for bonuses and are now giving it all back after public outcry—and after legal officials informed them that what they were doing was illegal AF.
The Michigan Constitution bars additional compensation for elected officials “after services had already been rendered,” prosecutor Scott Koerner said Friday.
The commissioners, all Republicans, voted on July 15 to award themselves $65,000 as part of a plan to give $557,000 to 250 county employees as “hazard pay” for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
The smallest amounts for recipients were $1,000 to $2,000. But County Board Chairman Jeremy Root got $25,000. Two more commissioners received $10,000 each, while four others received $5,000 each.
The vote was 6-0 with one commissioner absent.
So, the commissioners gave money to other Shiawassee elected officials including the county’s prosecutor, sheriff and county clerk. Virtually all of the recipients of money meant to help citizens keep from starving and losing their homes and businesses were Republicans, and they were all people who one would think should have known better.
Of course, according to the commissioners, there was much confusion about what hole all that money was shitted out of.
“Since these payments were made, confusion about the nature of these funds has run rampant,” the commissioners said in a statement, AP reports. Officials also said they “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.”
It’s a statement on “confusion” that doesn’t really clarify much, isn’t it?
Are the commissioners saying that elected officials whose job it is to know these things were confused about what the money they were doling out was supposed to be used for? Are they saying the public “misinterpreted” officials’ free money bag exchange and that it wasn’t actually a blatant misuse of funds at the expense of those who desperately need them?
Who are they saying is confused here?
Commissioner Marlene Webster called the statement “an insult to the citizens of Shiawassee County,” saying there was no misinterpretation regarding the payments. But she also said she had no idea that she was voting to put money in her own pockets.
Maybe the commissioners’ coming to glory on the fact that they can’t be using relief money to line their own pockets has something to do with a lawsuit that was filed demanding the bonuses be rescinded. According to AP, a hearing on that case was scheduled for Monday and the suit was filed before the commissioners’ statement was released.
It seems the threat of legal action was enough to clear up a lot of—what’s the word?—confusion.