Traverse City News and Events

County Commissioners Approve $5M Mental Health Agreement, Per Diem Policy, Early Voting Plan

By Beth Milligan | Dec. 7, 2023

Grand Traverse County commissioners Wednesday approved a $5 million funding agreement with Munson Healthcare for a new regional mental health center, adopted a new per diem policy meant to address past spending controversy and increase public transparency, and approved an early in-person voting plan for Grand Traverse County.

Munson ARPA Agreement
County commissioners voted unanimously to make Munson Healthcare the fiduciary for $5 million in county American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for a new regional mental wellness center, replacing Northern Lakes Community Mental Health Authority (NLCMHA) as the project fiduciary.

NLCMHA still remains involved in the project with Munson, along with the Northern Michigan Regional Entity, Northwest Michigan Community Health Innovation Region (CHIR), Grand Traverse County, and United Way of Northwest Michigan. The mental wellness center is planned to be located at 410 Brook Street, a Munson Medical Center building now housing outpatient behavioral health services (pictured). Those services are being relocated to Copper Ridge, with Munson Healthcare Chief Operating Officer Laura Glenn estimating the move will be complete by mid-January. Renovations will then start at Brook Street for the mental wellness center, with services to be provided by both Munson and NLCMHA.

Glenn told commissioners the first two phases of services should be operational by the end of 2024. Phase one includes bringing existing access and crisis services under one roof and adding outpatient therapy, peer support services, and care coordination with 24-7 access. Phase two will add nursing and psychiatric assessments. Glenn said the goal is then to roll out phase three – adding crisis residential beds for youth and adults – in 2025. In addition to the $5 million in ARPA funding, Munson secured $5 million in state funding to expand pediatric services at both the center and within the Munson system. NLCMHA received a $1.8 million federal appropriation to support phase three and another $3 million state appropriation for adult and youth crisis stabilization units. NLCMHA is in the process of hiring a director for the new mental wellness center, according to Munson.

Per Diem
Commissioners voted 8-1 Wednesday to adopt a new per diem policy for county commissioners, with Chair Rob Hentschel opposed. The policy change was driven by questions raised earlier this year about rising costs for per diem payments, public transparency around payments, and whether commissioners were following the rules of the per diem policy.

Commissioners Ashlea Walter, Brad Jewett, and Scott Sieffert met five times as an ad hoc committee to review the policy and then bring back proposed changes to commissioners. The new policy now refers to “meeting” instead of “per diem” compensation to reflect the fact commissioners can be paid for multiple meetings in the same day. Compensation is set at $65 for meetings under four hours or $110 for meetings over four hours.

The new policy removes previous language that said the commission “defers the judgment of per diem qualification to the individual commissioners,” which created a gray area that allowed commissioners to decide for themselves whether their meetings qualified for compensation even if the policy stated they did not. Commissioners will be eligible for compensation for attending meetings of local units of government, special county board meetings/study sessions/committee meetings, and other meetings and seminars of “an informational or educational nature.” They are not permitted to receive compensation for attending regular board meetings, ribbon cuttings, grand openings, or one-on-meetings with constituents. However, the new policy still appears to leave the door open to commissioners being compensated for other one-on-one meetings, such as with the county administrator or other commissioners – a past point of contention.

One provision of the new policy initially stated that commissioners would have up to 183 days to file their compensation requests – a significant increase from the policy’s current 90-day limit. Walter objected to that language as an ad hoc committee member, saying it was “way more than necessary and goes against our desire for increased transparency.” Other commissioners agreed it was too long, effectively keeping receipts out of the public eye for over half a year after meetings took place. Such a delayed filing time could impact the finance department and county books, according to staff, who noted most county employees must file reimbursement requests within 30 days. Commissioners agreed to lower the filing deadline to 93 days (essentially three months, accounting for some months having 31 days). Under the new rules, all meeting compensations will be required to be publicly posted on the county’s website within 30 days of payment effective January 1. “It’s not perfect, but it is better than it was before,” Walter said of the updated policy.

Early Voting & Elected Officials’ Salaries
Commissioners approved a resolution of support Wednesday for the county’s plan to handle early in-person voting starting in 2024. Under a 2022 constitutional amendment in Michigan, voters have the right – starting with the February presidential primary – to cast their votes early and in person at least nine days before all state and federal elections at a designated early voting site (some local elections will also offer early voting).

Several townships in Grand Traverse County will be partnering to offer a joint early voting site, according to a plan presented by County Clerk Bonnie Scheele. East Bay, Acme, Peninsula, Union, and Whitewater townships will all use East Bay Township Hall as their early voting site (with hours of 8am-4pm). Green Lake, Long Lake, Grant, and Mayfield townships will all use Green Lake Township Hall (9am-5pm). Paradise and Fife Lake townships will use Paradise Township Hall (8am-4pm). Blair Township and Garfield Township will each hold their own early in-person sites at their own respective township halls (Blair: 8:30am-4:30pm, Garfield: 8am-4pm), while the City of Traverse City will host its site at the Governmental Center (8am-4pm).

Staff and commissioners agreed voter education should be prioritized to ensure residents understand the rules and rights of early in-person voting. Commissioner TJ Andrews pointed out it might not be “intuitive” for Peninsula Township residents, for example, to know they’re supposed to go to East Bay Township Hall for early voting. Scheele said mailers would be going out to inform voters about early voting procedures. Michigan.gov/vote also allows voters to put in their information to confirm their polling location and view a sample ballot.

Also related to elections, commissioners discussed adopting a policy recommended by legal counsel that outlines how compensation will be set for elected officials and chief deputies. Michigan law requires county commissioners to set the salaries of county officers no later than November 1 each year (which then go into effect in January). However, the deadline to set those salaries can be earlier than November if desired. Multiple commissioners felt it’d be ideal to set the deadline toward the beginning of the year – such as February 1 – before filing deadlines for races so that candidates know the salaries of the positions they’ll be running for prior to committing to an election. That early deadline would also prevent “shenanigans,” Andrews noted, such as some commissioners losing an August primary race and deciding to lower the salary for the next board in retaliation. Commissioners asked for some additional clarification on the policy from legal counsel and will take it up again at their December 20 meeting.

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