IONIA — Several members of the Ionia County Board of Commissioners got together for a discussion with employees and management of the county Road Department for an impromptu gathering at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
That gathering, as well as previously discussed issues surrounding payments made to contractor Patricia “Patty” Loosemore, were discussed by the Board of Commissioners at its regular meeting at 3 p.m. on Tuesday.
As previously covered by the Daily News, commissioners on Aug. 22 discussed not paying the Road Department’s $1,227,307.75 payroll and accounts payable due to reservations about payments to Loosemore, the former business manager of the Ionia County Road Commission before commissioners dissolved it in 2019 in favor of creating a Road Department. Loosemore resigned from her job at the end of 2019, now resides in Wisconsin and continues to perform accounting, human resources and payroll duties remotely for the Road Department.
Commissioners in June 2022 heard a financial services consultant request from Road Department Managing Director John Niemela, which was unanimously approved by commissioners at that time.
Tuesday’s discussion began with the reconsideration of the Road Department’s payroll and accounts payable for July. While commissioners finally approved it 5-1 on Tuesday, with Commissioner Phillip Hesche voting “no” and Vice Chairman Larry Tiejema absent, debate about the county’s arrangement with Loosemore continued.
“There is still chatter about signing a contract with this person,” Hesche said.
“It may come to that, that may be how this thing is resolved,” replied County Administrator Patrick Jordan. “But if it is a contract with her, it’s going to be approved by this board and signed by (Hodges).”
“We’re hoping that it will progress and be taken care of at our next meeting,” Hodges added.
“We’re still not looking at any other options to replace her,” Hesche noted. “We need to have somebody we can trust, like we trust (Finance Director) Tim (Dame). There is a lot of cash flowing through down there, and nobody seems to know where it’s going.”
“That’s wrong. That’s incorrect,” Niemela responded.
County Treasurer Judith Clark then said she would like Niemela to begin physically signing or initialing vouchers for outgoing payments instead of printing them out with a computerized signature.
“I ask that there be a signature (indicating) that somebody has reviewed the checks ahead of time before they get to me,” Clark said. “Because I don’t know what needs to be paid, you know what needs to be paid … The voucher itself wasn’t being signed by anybody, so said, ‘I’m not going to put my signature on these checks if nobody’s approving these checks.’ Then it turned to, I’m still getting the same voucher but it’s just a printed signature. Not an e-signature, just a fancy font saying ‘John Niemela.’”
Niemela agreed, and said the practice will begin immediately.
Road Department gathering
The 12:30 p.m. gathering between about 30 Road Department employees, management, Jordan and three commissioners (Hodges, Jack Shattuck and Terence Frewen) was broached by Hodges near the end of Tuesday’s meeting.
“We met with quite a large crowd of the Road Department,” Hodges said. “There was a good turnout and there was some good conversation. I think it was productive.”
“I thought it was very important to have that dialogue with the employees and management in the same room,” Shattuck agreed. “The reasoning behind me wanting to get the employees and the management together was because of some of the things that the employees had concerns about, to get some of them addressed.”
However, Commissioner Gordon Kelley disagreed with the concept of the meeting.
“It’s not our job to be doing this,” Kelley said. “We’ve got a man (Jordan) and we’ve got a process, we’ve got to follow them. If we keep stepping into these departments, they’ll never be on their own. He’ll never have the authority he needs and the next group up here is going to be fighting this again.”
Frewen also didn’t believe the gathering was effective.
“If you want to eliminate problems with employees and their concerns with the supervisors, you can’t have them sit in the same room as the supervisors,” Frewen said.
“(The gathering) was to get the employees and management together to air out if employees had complaints or problems with the way the managers and the job duties that were going out,” Shattuck told the Daily News after Tuesday’s meeting. “Some of the employees were going to commissioners without going through the process of going through management to try and get some of those answered. One of the things I tried to stress at that meeting was to start going through that process.”
In Other Matters …
Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the Ionia County Board of Commissioners:
• Approved 5-1 (with Commissioner Phillip Hesche voting “no”) a $47,000 request from Central Dispatch Director Lance Langdon to purchase a surveillance camera system and door access controls for the building from Johnson Controls.
• Approved 5-1 (Hesche voted “no”) a second request from Langdon, to increase the budget by $17,000 for the purchase of two new workstations and four new Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) stations due to an updated quote and additional maintenance costs, making the total for that project not to exceed $45,000.
• Approved a third request from Langdon for $3,175 from the county’s 911 fund, half the $6,350 cost to replace the HVAC unit in the radio tower. The cost will be split with Ionia Dial-A-Ride and the work will be performed by Wilson Heating and Cooling. The new system comes with a seven-year parts warranty and a two year labor warranty.
• Approved a fourth request from Langdon for $5,139 to have Equature/DSS Corp. record all of their phone and radio calls for the next year, the final annual installment of a five-year agreement.
• Approved a fifth request from Langdon for $3,200 to provide state-mandated training for staff.
• Approved a request from the Ionia County Health Department to renew a $103,324 grant from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. The money will be used to fund environmental health programs, including groundwater and drinking water safety, septage disposal, campground inspections and pool inspections.
• Approved a $10,300 increase in the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Emerging Threats grant, increasing it from $451,829 to $462,129, to provide water filtering systems to Ionia County residents whose water was sampled by the state and found to have high levels of PFAS.
• Accepted a $2,875 bid from Clean Team to recondition the courthouse floors and stairs.
• Approved renewing an agreement between the Health Department and the Ionia County Intermediate School District for speech therapy referral services for the 2023-2024 school year.
• Reappointed Edna Albert to another three-year term on the Commission on Aging Board.
• Tabled a request for a $50,000 donation to the Ionia/Montcalm Secure & Friendly Environment (I/M SAFE) Child Advocacy Center in Fenwick from Executive Director Lori Kirkhoff.