Benzie County’s Deisch leader given 2 percent raise

By Patti Randt Urgess
The Record-Eagle

BEULAH — Discussions to forge an employment contract for Benzie County Administrator Mitch Deisch began in a December closed session, but ended in an open meeting after county residents levied complaints.

Deisch said at Tuesday’s Benzie County Board of Commissioners meeting that he would abandon his right to discuss his “employment contract evaluation” in closed session and asked that the terms be placed on the agenda as an action item. His request was made despite being told by county attorneys that he was within his rights to ask for a closed session, he said.

DEISCH

DEISCH

“The last thing I want is another lawsuit filed against the county for an OMA (Open Meetings Act) violation,” said Deisch, who did not sit in on the closed session.

But while the Michigan Open Meetings Act lists employee evaluation as a legitimate reason for a public body to go into a closed session if the employee requests it, discussion of an employee’s contract is not.

“The OMA does not allow the discussion and terms of employees’ contracts,” said Karen Mallon, a Homestead Township resident. “I’m glad the board decided not to do that because it would be a blatant violation.”

Benzonia resident Eric VanDussen also objected to the closed session, saying the language of the OMA is “plain and unambiguous.”

VanDussen, who has sued the county for OMA violations several times, said he wasn’t bashing the board.

“This is a learning experience,” he said.

The issue originated at the board’s regular meeting on Dec. 19, when commissioners entered a closed session to discuss Deisch’s evaluation, which was completed in October.

His three-year contract was also opened as Deisch was asking for more money for mileage reimbursement, as well as for more of his vacation time to be carried over from year to year.

Both requests were granted, with Deisch given an automobile reimbursement of $275 per month, or $3,300 per year. Commissioner Coury Carland said he looked at Deisch’s monthly reimbursement from the past year and said he was paid between $150 to $180 per month. He did not say why the reimbursement was increased.

Deisch’s carry-over vacation days will be increased from 20 to 30 per year.

In the second year of his contract, Deisch also will be given a 2 percent raise, bringing his annual salary to $72,828. He also will be given a one-time bonus of $1,143, as the salary increase should have been effective in October and his salary increase is not retroactive, said Carland, who was board chair for the past year.

The restated contract, which expires in Dec. 2019, was approved by commissioners on a vote of 6-0.

“We went back and forth on compensation,” as Deisch is underpaid compared to other nearby counties, Carland said.

Leelanau County Administrator Chet Janik is paid $83,922 per year; the county has a population of 21,765, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Antrim County Administrator Peter Garwood is paid $78,433; the county’s population is 23,144.

To compare, Benzie County has a population of 17,572. Nearby Kalkaska County does not have an administrator.

Grand Traverse County Administrator Vicki Uppal, who was hired in August, is paid an annual salary of $130,000; there are more than 92,000 people in that county, according to Census numbers.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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