Commissioners approve raises at meeting that exposes the real political divide in Livingston County

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After Monday’s meeting of the Livingston County Board of Commissioners — which felt a lot like a Seinfeld-inspired Festivus “airing of the grievances” — it’s apparent that the political divide in our community isn’t between Republicans and Democrats.

Nope. The political divide is clearly between women and the good old boys.

Bless their hearts.

The Livingston County Board of Commissioners voted 5-4 Monday to give themselves a raise. Though not as large a percentage as what had originally been sought, it’s still over twice the 2.25% other elected officials and county employees are getting in 2021.

The commissioners — the only part-time county employees who receive health care coverage — had originally considered a raise of 8.4%, which drew sharp commentary from me (in this column last week); as well as Meghan Reckling, chair of the Livingston County Republicans; and Judy Daubenmier, chair of the Livingston County Democrats.

The raise, which ended up being in the 5% range, got approved amid a flurry of whining and allegations of “threats” and “double standards”; there were fingers pointed at unnamed commissioners who don’t “deserve a raise” and are an “embarrassment,” and weird segues into the pay of some county officials — women, by the way — referred to as the “millionaires’ club” and slammed for going out to lunch together, and the need for a forensic audit of the presidential election, and “fake news” (of course), and how God is the answer to the political divide.

Whew! The meeting covered a lot of strange ground.

New Commissioner Jay Drick took time during the meeting to call out the three women by name who apparently really ticked him off this past week — me, Reckling, and Daubenmier — for having the audacity to criticize the originally proposed 8.4% raise.

“I take offense at the unprofessional behavior,” Drick said. “I don’t appreciate being bullied or threatened.”

Talk about “unprofessional behavior”: There was actually a point in the meeting at which Chair Carol Griffith had to ask Commissioner Bob Bezotte to “show decorum” and quit yelling at Commissioner Gary Childs, the only Democrat on the board, who, not coincidentally, opposed the raises.

I told you that the meeting was far from pretty, folks, and it was also long and winding; but when the whining stopped and the smoke cleared, the commissioners got their raise, albeit a smaller one than what they had originally pursued.

Bless their hearts.

And that political divide in Livingston County?

After reading Bob Bezotte’s well-crafted Facebook post this morning, there is another deep political divide in Livingston County, and it’s between Bezotte and Reckling, who ran against him for term-limited Hank Vaupel’s state rep seat in August’s Republican primary.

“Never in the entire time I have been involved (in the Livingston County Republican Party), have I seen a county GOP chair go after Republican elected officials in such a mean-spirited manner, with the obvious intent to embarrass and bully them into voting as she directed,” read Bezotte’s post — which also accused Reckling of handing the “local Democrat Party an early Christmas gift.”

Reckling’s time, Bezotte’s post read, would be better spent “recruiting candidates to run against one of the many elected Democrats in the county.”

Now, I am not sure how many Democrats have been elected in the county; this is, after all, a notoriously red, red community. But Bezotte’s post claimed there are “elected Democrats serving on city and village councils … elected Democrats serving on county school boards,” but I’m not sure how he would know that because those posts are non-partisan.

But I digress.

After sitting through last night’s meeting and reading the post on Bezotte’s Facebook page, I can’t figure out who the winners were. It’s certainly not the commissioners.

Think about it: Despite the percentage, the raises weren’t all that much money in the end: $674 a year for the board members.

All that durm and strang for $674 hardly seems worth it.

While I really can’t figure out what last night’s meeting was all about, the one thing I know for sure is that the optics of the five elected officials voting for the raise — Bill Green, currently a county commissioner who is not returning to the board in January; Jay Gross; Bob Bezotte, currently a county commissioner who is moving on to Lansing as a state representative in January; Jay Drick; and Doug Helzerman — remains terrible.

In fact, if you can believe it, the optics after last night’s meeting are even worse than had these commissioners kept their whiny grievances to themselves and either took the 8.4% or no raise at all.

If you’re whining, you’re not winning. And if you’re whining, you’re certainly not paying attention to the small business owners in our community.

Let’s be clear: These are treacherous economic times for the hard-working small business owners in our community. And sadly for us all, there is no help coming from the feds yet, and there will apparently be no help coming from the county.

Just imagine how valiant, how heroic the five commissioners who voted for the raise would have looked to the entire community had they said “We’ve listened to the points against the raise, and we agree that we can’t take it at this time when so many of our friends and neighbors are suffering.”

Especially since it ended up smaller in percentage and amounts to so little money, this raise looks to me like a petty move to get back at the girls who said they shouldn’t take it. It’s the only way this raise makes any sense, as a show of power and authority. And that’s just too, too bad because it came off as anything but.

These commissioners need to understand that there are restaurants in this community opening in defiance of Executive Orders because people need to pay their mortgages and feed their kids. They’re posting Facebook videos explaining what they’re going through. That they are taking such risks at this time speaks to the severity of their predicament.

The suffering across our entire small business community is great. And it’s real.

But after last night’s commission meeting, it’s apparent the only people who think they are suffering are the five commissioners who voted for a raise because they could, not because it was the right thing to do, because it wasn’t.

The right thing to do, in fact, would have been for the commissioners to reach into that $27 million they keep talking about having in the bank and at least match the $900,000 state grant for small businesses announced at the meeting last night.

That these five couldn’t do. And imagine how heroic they would’ve seemed to the community if they had.

Instead, they retreated and whined when the situation we’re all in right now calls for action.

They’re the ones who handed the Democrats an early Christmas present.

Bless their hearts.

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