Amid Controversy & Criminal Probe, Veterans Committee Delivers Report
October 16, 2018
The Livingston County Veterans Services Committee delivered a report to the Board of Commissioners Monday night that was related to finances but failed to address accusations of mismanagement and improper handling of donations.
The report from committee members and Treasurer Jennifer Nash detailed expenditures of the Veterans Services Department for the years of 2016 through 2018, as well as the Committee’s plans for revenue received as a result of the millage levied for veterans’ relief. Concerns have been raised about the amount of millage money being generated but not spent, roughly $1 (m) million annually, as well as turnover in the department. The department has had turnover with directors and staffing the last couple of years. In general, the report revealed there was money in a previous account prior to the millage being approved that had to be being spent down to be closed out. A small balance remains to cover potential contingencies related to overall county budgeting. The account designated for the millage funds is separate and wasn’t used until 2018, hence the large surplus of more than $1 (m) million.
What was not addressed was the Michigan State Police investigation into the Committee launched in August after a woman was unable to get documentation of a $400 donation she gave to Chairman Hansel Keene. That investigation is continuing and WHMI reported Monday that the Michigan Attorney General’s Office is now involved. The department is currently in the midst of trying to hire a director following the firing of former Director Adam Smiddy, who maintains it was due at least in part to his wanting answers as to why Keene had cashed the donation check into his personal account, violating not only county policy, but also potentially the law.
Several Democrats running for the county board spoke out during call to public after the presentation. District 8 candidate Kristina Drake of Hamburg Township said she’s “totally mind blown” with what is happening in the department and came out to hear a report on what she believed were the discrepancies being raised. Drake says no one brought up the MSP investigation but feels the allegations need to be addressed, which was why she came. Instead, she says everyone glossed over those critical issues, made excuses for other discrepancies while none of the commissioners addressed, "the elephant in the room" namely the criminal investigation. Howell Township resident Mike Tipton commented that many in the community don’t have the same level of support that was being shown for the committee during the meeting. He supported the millage but said it has been two years and some members didn’t know how much money was in the bank last month. He said no one is addressing the mishandling of the donation and unless action is taken, he feels there are a lot on the community who would be hesitant to support a new millage.
Commission Chairman Don Parker clarified that the board does not typically respond to questions during call to the public and does not comment on ongoing criminal investigations but stated that the purpose of the report was to look at the department’s finances.
A handful of veterans offered support for the committee and members, their integrity and the work they do to help local vets. Among them was Dale Brewer, unit commander of the Disabled American Veterans Auxiliary in Howell. He told the board local veterans are very satisfied and concerns with the committee are unfounded and unfair. Brewer said he sees how diligently the committee works. With 12,000 veterans in Livingston County, he agrees the key is outreach. He says the local veteran community it reaching out to others but it’s tough and he thinks it’s a shame the way local media has treated the situation. Brewer said he thinks the reporting is off-balance and needs to look at all sides, not just the negative, and avoid sensationalism. He did not address the criminal probe into the misappropriated donation by Keene nor revelations of questionable spending by the committee, including $4,900 in expenditures to fellow committee member Kevin Nagle for legal services.
Committee members noted that there have been a lot of staffing changes in between, which account for funding discrepancies because the same level of staffing and salaries were not being expended. Committee member Joe Riker said the services and funding are there, they just need to get the word out but need a pro-active office. He says they need to keep moving forward and try different things but in reality, "the key is having a great staff, a great director and great committee who all back each other." Riker feels if they build good outreach, the vets will come, they just need to reach them. Riker and other members further stated a need to address the population of homeless veterans, which is currently done though motels as there is no county shelter. Renderings drafted a few years ago for a possible transitional housing facility and new office for Veterans Services was shown, which carried a $1.6 (m) million price tag and was met with criticism from some in the audience. (JM/JK)