Under former city administrator Roger Fraser, the amounts paid out in tax dollars for cell phone allowances increased almost 95 percent between 2009 and 2012. By 2012, 196 of the city’s 693 full-time employees had been given cell phone allowances. Likewise, between 2009 and 2012, according to information from city officials released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, taxpayers shelled out $323.512.74 in car allowance money.
In 2009, under Fraser, 27 city employees (including himself) were given car allowances totaling $70,357.56. By 2011 the number of employees with car allowances grew to include 36 staffers and the allowances paid out that year totaled $85,06.06, a 15 percent increase. One of those staffers with a car allowance was City Attorney Stephen Postema, an Ann Arbor resident who can frequently be seen walking to City Hall from his home on the West Side.
At the moment, the Ann Arbor City Attorney is on vacation. No doubt he’s taking a needed break after narrowly avoiding getting tossed out on his keister for being caught charging taxpayers $1,038 for mileage at the same time he’d collected $15,840 in car allowance funds since 2009. The city’s new auditor dinged Postema in June 2012 as a double-dipper, scamming taxpayers for mileage while collecting a car allowance. Then, Postema was quietly allowed to accept a new contract by means of a November 8, 2012 resolution offered up to Council members by the City Council’s Administrative Committee (John Hieftje, Ward 4 Council members Margie Teall and Marcia Higgins, outgoing Ward 2 Council member Tony Derezinski, and Ward 3 Council member Chris Taylor). This was done without mention of the auditor’s findings, and the resolution brought to Council stated the City Attorney was “willingly giving up” his monthly car allowance, as opposed to losing it because he’d been caught gaming the system.
New City Council members Sumi Kailasaphy, a Ward 1 Democrat and a Certified Public Accountant, and Sally Hart Petersen, a Ward 2 Democrat with an MBA and ample business experience, both of whom now sit on the City Council Audit Committee, pushed for more details about Postema’s violation of city policy as identified by the auditor from Rehmann Robson.
While City Council members on the Audit Committee decided how to best revisit the June 2013 audit and investigate the double-dipping violations, Postema, according to information released by the city, had multiple discussions with the auditor about his own double-dipping identified in the 2012 audit report. As Audit Committee members decided how to ferret out the details surrounding the City Attorney’s “double-dipping,” Postema offered legal guidance to Council members on the matter until he was rebuked, told that doing so was a conflict of interest, and instructed to stop.
Nonetheless, documents released by the city show that together with CFO Tom Crawford, Postema pressed the city’s new auditor by phone and by email to reclassify the City Attorney’s double-dipping transgression as something other than a “violation” based on the fact that Postema’s “executive” contract allowed for travel and thus his mileage was claimed as an allowed expense. The auditor, in issuing his revised opinion make a point to reaffirm that “… from a business practices standpoint, our conclusion (with or without the existence of a policy) was it would be illogical and, therefore inappropriate, to make mileage reimbursements to persons having a car allowance.”
CFO Tom Crawford, dressed as Mr. Magoo, came bravely forward and told the Audit Committee members Postema couldn’t possibly have violated city policy concerning simultaneous collection of a car allowance and mileage reimbursement for the simple reason that the city’s internal controls and mileage reimbursement policies are so vague that it would have been impossible for the immediate past president of the Michigan Association of Municipal Attorneys to understand that receiving a monthly car allowance and then collecting over $1,000 in mileage reimbursement might be, well, “inappropriate,” to quote the auditor.
In response to an A2Politico request for comment about the amount of money the City of Ann Arbor is spending on cell phone allowances, new City Administrator Steve Powers included this in his comment justifying cell phone allowances for a third of the city’s full-time regular employees: “….I have eliminated vehicle allowances for service area administrators.”
In 2013, according to records from the city, the following 16 staffers receive a car allowance:
- Colin Smith, parks and recreation manager — $200
- Jeff Straw, parks and recreation deputy manager — $200
- Ralph Welton, chief development officer — $150
- Susan Pollay, DDA executive director — $315.63
- Annette Weber, city assessor’s office — $200
- Michael Courtney, city assessor’s office — $200
- David Petrak, city assessor’s office — $200
- Amy Balogh, city assessor’s office — $200
- Ryan Doletzky, city assessor’s office — $200
- Patricia Forner, city assessor’s office — $200
- Matt Warba, acting field operations manager — $300
- Dennis Crum, fleet and facilities supervisor — $300
- Matt Kulhanek, fleet and facilities manager — $300
- Earl Kenzie, wastewater treatment manager — $300
- Ellen Taylor, assistant fire chief — $375
- Greg Bazick, deputy police chief — $375
In April 2012, when Powers assumed his position, the following 33 staffers were receiving car allowances (the names of those staffers still receiving allowances in 2013 are bolded):
- Sumedh Bahl (2009-2012 total paid: $13,200)
- Amy Balogh
- Gregory Bazik
- Matthew Bedner (2009-2012 total paid: $540)
- Martin Brosnan (2009-2012 total paid: $1,150)
- Robert Cariano (2009-2012 total paid: ($14,400)
- Tom Crawford (2009-2012 total paid: $16,800)
- Dennis Crum
- Ryan Doletzky
- Patricia Forner
- Seth Garner (2009-2012 total paid: $1,320)
- Ammar Hamamy (2009-2012 total paid: $1,980)
- Kenneth Harris (2009-2012 total paid: $1,620)
- Craig Hupy (2009-2012 total paid: $12,300)
- Earl Kenzie
- Matthew Kulhanek
- Thomas Lentner (2009-2012 total paid: $1,010)
- Steven Lowe (2009-2012 total paid: $2,250)
- Roger Meyer (2009-2012 total paid: $610)
- David Petrak
- Susan Pollay
- Jared Post (2009-2012 total paid: $870)
- Stephen Postema (2009-2012 total paid: $15,840)
- John Seto (2009-2012 total paid: $16,125)
- Gary Shivley (2009-2012 total paid: $1,500)
- Colin Smith
- James Sobetski (2009-2012 total paid: $910)
- Jaime Solis (2009-2012 total paid: $1,310)
- Jeffrey Straw
- Ellen Taylor
- Matthew Warba
- Annette Weber
- Ralph Welton (2009-2012 total paid: $5,100)
While the remaining $48,000 per year paid to city managers each year for car allowances is a significant savings over the $79,786 paid out in 2012, it should be pointed out that Christmas tree collection was discontinued to save some $36,000. While Ward 3 Council member Stephen Kunselman was quick to come to the conclusion that he didn’t think anyone had been trying to “game the system,” according to coverage of the Audit Committee meeting by AnnArborChronicle.com, Kunselman, unlike Ward 1 Council member Kailasapathy, “indicated little enthusiasm for delving into the wording of Postema’s contract or existing city policies.” Setting policies, however, is a Council member’s job, and Kunselman’s “lack of enthusiasm” for doing it is disappointing, particularly given the fact that his Ward 1 colleague has the necessary education and professional experience to understand gaming of a system when she sees it.
Than again, Kunselman recently announced he is planning to challenge John Hiefje in 2014, should Hieftje run again, and the Ward 3 Council member might be afraid to delve into existing city policies or to criticize city staff who are obviously gaming the system, according to the city’s previous and current auditors. In the 2008 Council election, Kunselman’s criticisms of city staff were effectively used against him in a scathing Ann Arbor News editorial:
Two years ago, we endorsed Stephen Kunselman for his first term on Ann Arbor City Council, and he went on to win that seat. We liked his pragmatic approach, viewing the council’s role as giving voice to people who might not otherwise be represented. He describes himself as a blue-collar Democrat who advocates for working-class residents, and has supported projects like the proposed skatepark and the ordinance allowing residents to raise backyard chickens.
However, Kunselman sometimes approaches his job in a way that we feel is inappropriate for a council member, tending toward micromanagement rather than policy-setting….As one example, earlier this year Kunselman met with some of the city’s unionized public services employees, where he used an expletive to criticize their performance in the winter’s snow removal. When asked by an employee about the automated compost pickup, Kunselman said, “You guys are getting lazy,” according to a letter of complaint from the union president to City Administrator Roger Fraser. That letter ultimately led to a formal apology from Kunselman.
Comparing the 2012 and 2013 lists of city staffers receiving car allowances shows that City Administrator plucked off the low-hanging fruit, city staffers whose monthly allowances were relatively low. On the other hand, it’s difficult to justify perks for city staffers while cutting services to city residents. Furthermore, it has become even more difficult for any Council member to justify having “little enthusiasm” for doing her/his job. Jack Eaton ran for Council in 2012 and came 18 votes from unseating a 5-term incumbent Margie Teall. In response to a piece posted to AnnArborChronicle.com about Postema’s double-dipping, Eaton, a lawyer, writes:
It is my understanding that prior audits have identified similar problems with employee reimbursements and that staff previously promised to address the problems. More troubling, the fiscal year ended June 30, 2012. Likely, this issue came to light in July or August. The City Attorney was offered a contract without a vehicle allowance and Council was not informed of this issue when it was asked to approve that contract.
I understand the desire to focus on the application of policies in the future rather than dwelling on past actions. I fear that simply accepting this behavior will send a signal to City employees that there will be no accountability. I applaud Council Member Kailasapathy for insisting on higher standards than “business as usual.”