UPDATE: Shiawassee County officials to give back COVID-19 bonuses

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SHIAWASSEE COUNTY, Mich. (WLNS) — The Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners is being sued after voting to give themselves COVID-19 relief funds.

According to Prosecutor Scott Koerner, Shiawassee County officials who received large COVID-19 bonuses have agreed to return the money.

Koerner says that after discussions with County Administrator Dr. Brian Boggs, and County Attorney Ryan Painter, a request was made to all elected officials receiving COVID hazard pay to return it.  He says as of Friday evening, all elected officials including Boggs have agreed to return their hazard payments.

“While COVID-19 certainly threw wrenches into all aspects of my job, it was part of my job to perform those duties and I did so willingly,” Koerner said, “Not only am I not entitled to this money because of the Michigan constitution, but me giving the money back is just the right thing to do.”

Attorney Phillip Ellison filed a lawsuit on behalf of Shiawassee County resident and plaintiff Nichole Ruggiero alleging the county Board of Commissioners violated the open meetings act on July 15th.

“The board went into closed session to discuss how to spend public money and that is the quintessential thing that has to be done at a meeting open to the public,” Ellison said.

Commissioner Marlene Webster says she objected to the closed session.

“I did voice that I felt like what our printed agenda said they wanted to go into close session for a reason and then the items that were listed to be discussed did not fit what those reasons were,” she said.

The vote to give employees hazard pay was made in an open session, but she says what ended up happening is not what she voted for.

“Someone asked me today why I voted for this and then changed my mind, Webster said. “That’s not what happened, what I voted on was not the same thing that was implemented. I never would have voted to give myself this money.”

Ellison says legally the lawsuit looks to do three things. First a penalty of a couple of hundred dollars for every board member for violating the open meetings act, also a court order against the board to not do this again.

“We’re asking a court to invalidate the decision to distribute money to anyone who got 5 thousand or more dollars from that decision to spend the COVID-19 dollars.”

Dr. Brian Boggs the county coordinator says all elected officials have agreed to place the money on hold until they get guidance from the state.

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