Stuart Dowty and his Democrat friends are apparently trying to transform a virtue – diligence, dedication, and hard work — into a vice. At least that is the conclusion one would have to draw from the puzzling, 11th-hour hit-piece they pushed on Sunday.
Let’s review: When Washtenaw County commissioners attend a meeting on behalf of the County, they are entitled to receive a $25 “per diem” fee. A high level of per diem expenses, rather than being a bad thing, as Mr. Dowty wants us to believe, instead simply demonstrates that a commissioner is working hard at his or her job.
This is particularly true in the case of Commissioner Mark Ouimet, who has a large geographic district comprised of eight different governmental units, each of which is affected by decisions taken by the County Board. Keeping the lines of communication open between the County and these units is an aspect of a commissioner’s job at which Commissioner Ouimet has particularly excelled.
(Mark Ouimet’s) skillful performance in these inter-governmental issues was especially important, for example, when…
… the County Board virtually eliminated its support for the Sheriff’s road patrol that had, until that point, provided almost all of the policing support for the non-urban areas of the County. Leaving these areas without police support was obviously impractical, so it was necessary to develop a new working arrangement.
Setting up the new system, in which individual jurisdictions contracted for their police support with the Sheriff’s organization, required three-way negotiations among the County, the Sheriff, and individual jurisdictions. The parties involved had to agree on rates, terms of coverage, and dozens of other issues before the contracts, tailored to each jurisdiction’s particular needs, could be finalized. Although Mr. Dowty apparently doesn’t “get it,” this whole process required lots and lots of meetings.
Commissioner Ouimet took the lead in this effort – and in many others — not just for his own district but for the entire County. Now, apparently operating under the philosophy that “no good deed should go unpunished,” the Democrats attack him for all of his work.
Even worse, (the Democrats have elected to) slander and single out Commissioner Ouimet – baselessly attacking his character and integrity – without informing the public that Democrats on the County Board, while perhaps not working as hard as Commissioner Ouimet, also have charged the County per diems, as well as thousands of dollars per year in out-of-county travel expenses that Commissioner Ouimet has not charged. And they ignore the fact that Commissioner Ouimet donates every cent he receives from the County (including his salary) to charity. Can the Democrats on the County Board say the same?
Among the so-called “issues” raised in the Sunday article:
- The Democrats apparently are surprised that Commissioner Ouimet sometimes attended more than one meeting in a day. [Folks in the private sector, of course, would be surprised and delighted to have a day in which there was only one meeting, but Stu and his pals find this strange.] If this truly does bother them, though, they might want to take a close look at the County’s records over the past 6 years. If they did so, they would find (or would have to admit) that Commissioner Jeff Irwin has attended (and charged the County for) multiple meetings in one day 71 times, including two “four meetings in a day” occasions. Other commissioners who have attended multiple meetings in a day include Commissioner Barbara Bergman, 73 times, Commissioner Ken Schwarz, 53 times, Commissioner Rolland Sizemore, 24 times, and Commissioner Conan Smith, who has done the same on 23 occasions.
Commissioner Wes Prater, though, may hold the “multi-meetings-in-one-day” title: On October 20, 2005, he managed to attend (and charge the County for) seven meetings in one day, a feat that is even more impressive when one realizes that the commissioner had to travel (and he additionally billed the County for) 100 miles of car travel that day!
- The article suggests that it was somehow improper for Commissioner Ouimet to charge for a meeting with the Ann Arbor News editorial board. The purpose of that meeting, though, was to discuss the County budget with the News so that it could accurately report on the issue—surely legitimate County Board business.
- The article claims that Commissioner Ouimet charged $3,621 for “attending conventions and meetings outside the area last year.” This is FALSE. First, the County’s records – which were produced in response to a specific request for documents that would reflect such travel expenditures — clearly and simply says that “NO DOCUMENTS EXIST THAT WOULD SATISFY THIS PARTICULAR REQUEST.” Second, the County records actually reflect that this $3,621 in travel expenses was paid to Commissioner Wes Prater, NOT to Commissioner Mark Ouimet. Perhaps an apology to Commissioner Ouimet is in order? Speaking of travel, though, while Commissioner Ouimet has been tending to business within the County, others have been wandering:
- Commissioner Kristin Judge, first elected in 2008, who expressed great concern in the article about others’ “excessive spending,” has certainly been no stay-at-home commissioner. Commissioner Judge, in addition to charging pre-election-year per diems (including for multi-meeting days), has additionally racked up – so far — over $8,000 in County travel expenses, attending conferences in, among other places, Reno Nevada. This in the first term after she was elected! To her credit, she posted an item on her blog page wondering whether it was appropriate to spend County money on trips like the one she was taking. The fact that she was actually in Reno on the county taxpayer’s dime when she made the post, though, might tend to lessen its credibility somewhat.
Even all of that travel was not enough, however, because Commissioner Judge also secretly asked at least one other commissioner to transfer unused travel funds to her expense account, further asking that her request not be made a “public issue.” Only when the other commissioner told her that the transaction needed to be “transparent” and had to be requested in a public meeting, did Commissioner Judge relent and withdraw the request to divert extra taxpayer expense monies to herself.
Later, perhaps for unrelated reasons, Commissioner Judge even threatened to file a workforce harassment complaint against this other commissioner.
- Commissioner Wes Prater has compiled an even more impressive travel record. Since 2005, he has spent almost $12,000 [actually, $11,988.76] of County funds on travel outside the County (and he was not even in office in 2007 or 2008).
- Commissioner Conan Smith almost matches Commissioner Prater’s record, having spent $11,889.45 over the same time period.
- The nine Democrats now serving on the County Commission have spent at an average rate of $8,681 per term in office, over the past three county commissioner terms, on out-of-county travel expenses.
- During the same time period, Commissioner Ouimet has charged nothing ($0) for out-of-County travel.
To summarize: the Democrats who are complaining about Commissioner Ouimet’s driving expenses, all of which have been focused on attending meetings in Washtenaw County on Washtenaw County business, conveniently ignore the fact that many Democrat County Commissioners have (unlike Commissioner Ouimet) been less than shy about incurring (and charging the County for) many thousands of dollars in airfare, hotel, and conference expenses outside the County – and most additionally have collected per diems and mileage to boot. People in glass houses should not throw stones.
Even apart from the dishonesty of the allegations, the more one thinks about these rather bizarre charges, the more one has to wonder whether they don’t reveal something fundamental about how clueless the Democrats are about the world of work in general and the private sector in particular. Wonder why Michigan has lost 630,000 jobs over the past eight years of Democrat rule? Maybe this Democrat attitude that publicly proclaims hard work to be is a bad thing has something to do with it!
One final note: We’re glad to see that County Clerk Kestenbaum has disavowed last Sundays’ report that quoted him as saying that the issue being raised “looks bad for Ouimet.” While we expect underhanded attacks from Democrats like Stuart Dowty and Tom Wieder (who admittedly is working on Mark Ouimet’s opponent’s campaign), elected officials should adhere to a higher standard, and we commend County Clerk Kestenbaum for setting the record straight.
Now, it turns out that this baseless attack on Mark Ouimet apparently is yet another brainchild of the Michigan Democratic Party Chair, Mark Brewer. Brewer is best known (even among mainstream Democrats) for his utter lack of scruples, and for his willingness to lie and deceive the public. Brewer apparently enlisted his spokesperson – the Communications Director of the Michigan Democratic Party, John Tramontana of Okemos – to selectively FOIA Mark Ouimet, and Brewer then turned to his equally ethically challenged minions in Washtenaw County to distort the truth into another pack of lies.
People are sick and tired of the kind of dishonest, underhanded, and 11th hour “gotcha” political attacks from Democrats like Mark Brewer, Stuart Dowty and Tom Wieder. As County Clerk Kestenbaum has acknowledged, the County has had no clear standard for which meetings may qualify for per diem charges. The County should either abolish them entirely or set a standard that is clear, that is not made up after-the-fact, and that is applied — not selectively and retroactively — but instead equally to all County officials – Democrats and Republicans alike.
One thing is clear: It has been Washtenaw County’s great good fortune to have had as fine a public servant as Mark Ouimet serving on the Board of Commissioners, and the citizens of the 52nd State House district would be similarly lucky to have him represent them in Lansing.
Mark T. Boonstra, Chair; and Wyckham Seelig, Vice-Chair
Washtenaw County Republican Committee