County Board To Get Laptops, Some Commissioners To Buy Their Own

Andrew Trzaska | June 28, 2011

After two tries, Muskegon’s County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to buy themselves laptop computers, a vote that spurred much debate at the meeting and another earlier this month.

At issue was what money will be used to pay for each of the 11 county commissioners to receive a laptop to use for county work, and the lines in the votes were not exactly clear cut.

As voted today, money for the devices will be coming from what is informally called the “flower” fund.  The dollars that go into the fund come out of each commissioner’s paycheck and are used for miscellaneous purchases like meeting supplies, board outings and flowers for family deaths.

The fund is continuous, even as board members come and go. If not used, money collects in the fund, and dollars from past commissioners remain after they leave; also, new commissioners can benefit from the fund even if they have not contributed much to it.

At the previous full board meeting on June 14, commissioners voted 6-5 to not use the fund.

This week, District 3 Commissioner John Snider motioned to bring the vote back up, citing discussions with the county’s attorney. This time around, they voted it through 8-3.

Overall, most commissioners were in agreement that the board would be more efficient if they had laptops to work and communicate.

Plus, legal opinion and multiple board members stressed a need to keep the county’s work separate from personal computers.

Snider commented during the further public discussions at the meeting:

“Based upon the recommendation of [County Board Attorney] Mr. Williams, and the fact that there are some people that need dedicated computers who sit on this board… if we’re going to effectively function and bring us into the 21st century, we have to have the ability.”

The issue stood with the use of the specific “flower” fund to pay for them.

Some commissioners saw the money as worthy of the purchase, since it has been used for things like parties before.

Others like District 9 commissioner Rillastine Wilkins took issue with relatively new commissioners, including herself, using the fund they haven’t paid much into yet.  Five of the 11 current commissioners joined the board in January.

Other concerns that no-voting board members at the last meeting were repeated Tuesday, including District 2 Commissioner Alan Jager’s suggestion that it was not serving the most needed interests in the county.

“I have a lot of townships out there [in my district] who can’t afford to buy lawnmowers to mow their cemeteries.”

District 4 Commissioner Jim Derezinski asked but did not receive a response as to what additional costs beyond the purchase of the laptops would become.

“This piecemeal is not becoming of this county,” said commissioner Wilkins, emphasizing that plans were not in place to deal with the upkeep.

In the end, commissioners Jager, Wilkins and Collins voted against the laptop proposal.

In addition, commissioners Snider, Jager and Derezinski all noted that even as the vote passed, they would be footing the bill for their own and not exercise the “flower” fund dollars.

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst