Friday, June 8, 2012

Foreclosure Fraud, Employee Negotiations, Dep't of Roads and Transportation, Health Department and CMH Co-Location, Campaign Update

This week, we had a very busy committee in County Services. We led off with discussion about the resolution to contract with legal aid of central Michigan to take client referrals from the Ingham County Register of Deeds and Ingham County Treasurer. Register of Deeds Curtis Hertel, Jr. presented about the importance of the program. Ingham County and its residents have been hit especially hard by the foreclosure crisis and Register of Deeds Hertel has uncovered potential fraudulent documents that call into question the legality of thousands of foreclosures in his office. The foreclosure crisis has directly impacted the county budget by lowering property values across the county and increased the counties tax foreclosure costs. Last year, Ingham County contracted with Legal Aid of South Central Michigan, who has served over 130 Ingham County Residents in the last year based on the county’s funding. There are 39 active cases being adjudicated using Ingham County Grant dollars currently. Legal Aid and the Register of Deeds Office have held a dozen town halls across the County, helping to explain the problem foreclosures present to our communities, and to find victims of illegal foreclosures. Legal Aid has helped uncover cases of notary and foreclosure fraud that have been referred to the Attorney General’s office and FBI for investigation. This resolution continue the county’s contract with Legal Aid of South Central Michigan to refer clients who have been effected by this crisis in the amount of 60,000 dollars to be taken from the delinquent tax fund. Additionally, we were told that 145 people were helped since July 1 of last year. These people have no help, and this program provides a unique opportunity for reliable and accessible help. These people have no resources and this is one of the few resources available. The resolution passed unanimously.

The second big resolution that we considered was a bit more controversial. It was a resolution to change the 2012 managerial and confidential personnel manual to match changes negotiated in collective bargaining agreements with the managers. The changes proposed included:
- recognition of the earlier implementation of the 1.8% increase in employee’s pension contribution.
- change in employee contribution toward retirement: Employees hired prior to the effective date of this agreement would contribute an additional 1.8% of gross wages to the employee retirement, increasing the total contribution for Managerial employees to 8.19% and Confidential employees to 7.16%
- add a new retirement plan: Employees hired on or after the effective date of this agreement would be covered by the Municipal Employees’ Retirement System’s Hybrid Plan - consisting of a Defined Benefit (DB) component with a 1.0% Benefit Multiplier and a Defined Contribution (DC) component with an employer match of the Employee’s contribution in an amount up to 2.5% of the employee’s payroll.
- change in the language under Compensation Plan: 2. Step increases would be subject only to the approval of the immediate supervisor with the exception of those positions reporting directly to the Board of Commissioners or Judges. Those positions include but may not be limited to the Health Officer, Animal Control Director, Veterans Affairs Director, Friend of the Court, Circuit Court Administrator, District Court Administrator and Magistrate, Probate Court Administrator, and the Controller, and must be approved by the appropriate presiding Judge or liaison committee Chairperson of the Board of Commissioners.
- Change in the language under Compensation Plan: upon justification by the department and approval of the Human Resources Director, a new employee would be able to be started at step 2. At the discretion of the Ingham County Health Department and with the approval of the Human Resources Director, Primary Care Physicians and Dentists may be started at step 5 based on applicable experience.
- Employees hired after the effective date of this agreement would not be eligible to receive longevity bonus.
- decrease sick time accruals for employees hired on or after the effective date of this agreement as follows: Each full-time employee hired on or after the effective date of this agreement would earn 3.69 hours per pay period. Three quarter-time and part-time employees shall earn 75% and 50% of that amount, respectively.
- change the donation of sick time to read: A total of 16 sick hours may be donated by an employee under this manual in any department, irrespective of the employee group affiliation or bargaining unit membership.
- change to Section J (2) regarding if the request for donated sick time is approved by the County Services Committee under the 6 step procedure outlined in the agreement and that the Sick Leave Donation Policy may be terminated by County Services Committee, in its discretion, after the expiration of this manual: New language - Any decision by the County Services Committee shall not be subject to the Complaint Procedure.
- change in Retiree Health Insurance: Employee hired on or after the effective date of the agreement shall not be eligible for single retiree health insurance coverage until after they reach 60 years of age, subject to the scale based on years of service. Retirees that purchase dental and vision insurance at group rates and subsequently choose to discontinue the coverage, may not re-enroll.
- change in vacation leave earned: New employees hired on or after the effective date of this agreement shall be subject to the reduced accrual of vacation based on years of service.
- change in Other Specific Managerial Benefits (Appendix A): Elimination of dry cleaning and laundering allowance and elimination of clothing reimbursement. Addition of “on-call” language: In accordance with Ingham County Board of Commissioners Resolution #03-042, physicians employed by the County under the Managerial and Confidential Employee Personnel Manual would participate in “on-call” coverage and shall be paid an “on-call” bonus. The “oncall” bonus shall be paid on quarterly.
- provide salary increases as follows: There will be no change in the compensation levels reflected in Appendix D for the duration of this agreement.

This resolution was proposed to be effective only until the end of the year (December 31, 2012). We had a very lively debate. These terms were agreed to by the managerial staff, but many of the labor unions were upset with it because they believe that it would create terms that they would have to abide by as well. Our unions are now in negotiations, though, and collective bargaining sessions are still happening.

In discussion, I expressed opposition to the automatic Step 5 provision. I also expressed concerns about creating all of these conditions without having all bargaining units involved. Our Controller said that the managers feel they should provide leadership in agreeing to these conditions. They also specified that these conditions are only until the end of the year, so any changes with the employees can be reflected with the managers next year. Commissioner Grebner expressed what he thought are the positives of the hybrid defined contribution plan, including eliminating the corruption possibilities of the defined benefit program. We had a long discussion and, ultimately, the resolution was defeated 3-3. The same resolution came up in Finance, though, and but I am not on that committee and don’t know if it passed that committee.

We next had a long conversation about our first ever resolution consideration actions regarding the Department of Roads and Transportation. We approved permits that were presented to us. These are regular permits that were routinely approved by the Road Commission. Because the County Commission is now the Road Commission, we approved these permits. There were long discussions, though, about the processes and questions to the Executive Director of the Road Commission about how things work. We will definitely have more discussion and training about how to be road commissioners! We then talked about the conversations that the townships had regarding creating an advisory committee that will recommend which road projects are done. The townships seem skeptical of their role, but they proposed a 16 member Advisory Board that would meet four times per year.

We had a few things left on the agenda at that time, but I had to leave because it was my daughter’s birthday that day. The meeting had gone 2 ½ hours and I needed to get home to wish her a happy birthday before she went to bed. The most important resolution to be considered was a discussion about how our Information Systems department accidentally deleted all of the clerk data and information. My understanding is that there was an attempt to delete old Register of Deeds data, but this inadvertently deleted all the Clerk data as well. They are trying to re-create that information. I am very upset that there were not backup protocols and redundancies, and plan to discuss this with our staff. I am also disappointed to have missed this discussion after 2 ½ hours of meeting, but my daughter had to come first.

In Human Services the day before, we talked at length of co-locating a Health Department clinic within the Community Mental Health building. CMH and the Health Department both said that this would be a great thing for the county and our services. This is a way to help people get access to those that can provide the health care. Health care access is a growing challenge, especially for the seriously mentally ill. Coordination of these services will allow for each to bring assets to the table that have not been available previously. There is a 25% less life expectancy for those with mental illness. The mentally ill face depression, which results in higher blood pressure, asthma, diabetes, stroke, etc. They also cost society more money because they are more likely to use the emergency room (46.7% vs 30.5% for others) and to be hospitalized (20.4% vs 11.6% for others). The seriously mentally ill usually don’t seek care and are a disenfranchised population. The Health department can’t do the full range of services for the mentally impaired, and the co-location brings in level of resources that are needed to have proper patient services and keep federal funds – psychiatric, residential, other pieces. We expressed support of the concept. There were details that needed to be worked out, though. The Health Department proposed to have a new provide hired, but wants to move support staff from other facilities. I expressed concern that this will reduce service and care in those facilities, and will result in other workers having to pickup more of those duties. There were other questions about startup costs, which will be paid for by a federal grant, and operational costs which the Health Department will pick up. We were also told that CMH is an at-risk provider, so they get paid as if they are an insurance company and can spread the money around for services. Other details, like hours of operation, will be worked out as the plan is moved forward. But because there are a lot of approvals that are still needed, we agreed to move this forward for now with the details still needing to be worked out.

As for my campaign for State Representative, it continues to go very well! If you are in Lansing or Lansing Township and you vote, you have probably received a knock on your door and have spoken to someone from my campaign or had a piece of literature left at your door. I have done a few thousand doors myself, and my campaign team have covered the district and start over on Monday! Fundraising also continues to go well, and we will have our next event on June 19th. You can go to to volunteer or to contribute. Thanks everyone for all your help. Two more months until Primary Election day!

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