County commissioners seek bids on classification/compensation study, then vote 3-2 to forget about it

By Ralph Echtinaw

After forming a work group last November to pick a firm to do a classification/compensation study of Gratiot County employees, commissioners rejected the committee’s recommendation Tuesday on a 3-2 vote.

The back story is that the last time such a study was done in Gratiot County was 20 years ago, and the current environment of job classifications and pay is chaotic for the county’s 140 employees with no system in place to ensure fair compensation across the board.

County Administrator Tracey Cordes received eight bids from companies that perform such studies ranging from $36,000 to $100,000.

The work group comprising Commissioner Jan Bunting, Human Resources Director Sheila Barnaby, Court Administrator Jennifer Wood, District Court Administrator Charlie Perkins and Cordes met thrice to compare the proposals and emerged with a recommendation of going with MGT because that company has extensive experience with courts and Gratiot County has worked with it before with good results.

Commissioner John Lemmermann proposed hiring MGT and had the support of Commissioner George Bailey, but commissioners Bunting, Chuck Murphy and Sam Smith voted against, and the proposal died. But not before a good half hour of discussion.

“When we’ve waited 25-30 years to do this study it’s critical that we get what we need from the vendor,” Court Administrator Wood said. “And I know for a fact that MGT will be able to deliver what we need. This is desperately needed. We have to find a way to have competitive pay and opportunities for staff in order to fill and keep people in our positions. With the shortage of workers right now it has become increasingly difficult to fill positions.”

Commissioner Bunting, who was on the committee but missed at least one meeting, spoke extensively: “In the last few years it seems like we’re constantly doing studies or trying to fix one department over another department, give them more raises or a title or you know it just doesn’t seem like,” she said. “It seems like nobody’s happy with what they’re getting paid. I think we pay pretty good in the county considering what a lot of people are getting paid.”

Cordes replied: “What you described, Jan, is the very reason to do a classification and compensation study.”

Bunting suggested doing the study in house. “Maybe we can do it ourselves,” she said. “When you look around our county and you see all the people that need money to fix. Like the fire department. Like Alma. Or like St. Louis has a problem right now. There are so many parts of our county that are in serious trouble in trying to get things fixed. We have money to do a study but don’t have money to give to the fire department or to Alma. Or maybe give to St. Louis. And there are townships that haven’t had a chance to ask for money. As I’m out and about I have a lot of people stop and ask me why can’t you give us some money. We have wind turbine money that has come in for how many years now and we have not put one penny of that into our community. We used it to put back into the courthouse and things connected to the courthouse.”

Cordes came back with this: “That is incorrect. You just know that isn’t correct.”

Bunting noted that the county has not shared its wind turbine money with cities and townships in Gratiot County. 

Cordes pointed out that wind turbine money also goes to cities, townships and school districts where the turbines are located.

“There’s a sheet right behind you, and you’ve seen it,” Cordes told Bunting. “Greater Gratiot has given it to you. I believe I won’t engage you anymore.”

Bailey pointed out that the county takes in almost $2 million a year from wind turbines, and that money is spent every year. There’s nothing left to give to cities, townships, etc.

See the exchange between Cordes and Bunting in the You Tube video of the meeting. It begins at the 51-minute mark.

Commissioner Lemmermann soon made a motion that MGT be given the contract. “We should trust the people we handed this decision off to,” he said.

Bailey seconded the motion, but it failed with Smith, Murphy and Bunting voting no.

Where the county goes from here on classification and compensation was not addressed.

Bunting offered to visit other counties to see what system they use. Cordes said that would be like her setting out to build a bridge. She doesn’t have the expertise for that. And Bunting lacks the expertise to do a classification and compensation study.

Through the roof

Cordes told commissioners that the bids she’s getting for various projects are high: “We are really challenged this year because the cost of everything has not just increased; it’s gone through the roof. The numbers we are going to bring you for projects are just going to be out of sight. We’ve gotten bids back on a very large project. It is an eye-popping number.”

Regarding a Health Department project, Cordes said “We sent a bid packet out. We got two bids back. One was awful. The other was worse.”

She plans to negotiate with bidders to see if there’s any way to reduce the price.

ARPA clarifications

Finance Director Chris Oosterhoff asked commissioners to clarify their prior allocation of American Recovery Plan Act funds to the Gratiot Fire Chiefs Association and the city of Alma.

The fire chiefs association requested $1.2 million to be divided six ways so each department in the county got $200,000 to help pay for new fire engines. But commissioners gave them just $460,000 last month. Oosterhoff’s question was how to distribute that money. Commissioners went with $77,000 for each of the six departments.

Regarding the gift of $274,000 to Alma for lead pipe replacement and parking lot rehabilitation, the finance director asked if commissioners would specify which item that money will be used for.

Oosterhoff noted that “the restrictions (on how ARPA funds can be spent) are lifted, so if (Alma) wanted to spend the money to bring a circus to town that would be allowable.”

Alma City Manager Aeric Ripley was in the audience and said he will notify Oosterhoff on how the money is spent.

Bailey then quipped: “Raise your right hand and swear you won’t bring a circus to town.”

Pickle ball courts

Commissioners voted 4-1 (with Murphy voting no) to authorize the Parks and Recreation Department to send $75,000 Ithaca’s way to pay half the cost of four pickle ball courts adjacent to the senior activity building in Ithaca.

Construction is expected to begin after May 15 and be finished by Aug. 30. Freed Construction of Alma will build the courts for $108,000. C&M Fencing of St. Louis will install the fence for $16,500. Pro Surfaces of Clare will put the acrylic all-weather surface on four pickle ball courts for $25,500.


George Bailey, Dan Carley, Sheryl Dixon and Tina Hicks were reappointed to Gratiot Integrated Health Network board of directors with terms ending March 31, 2025.

Mary Lee Mull was reappointed to the Jury Board.

Full disclosure

This reporter is a candidate for county commission in District 2 and will face off against Bunting in the Aug. 2 Republican primary. Furthermore, this reporter is treasurer of the Gratiot County Republican Party, on which Murphy is chair. Smith, Bailey, Bunting and Lemmermann are dues-paying members. See this reporter’s campaign blog here.

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