Payouts to past officials questioned
Former Plymouth Township Treasurer Ron Edwards
Aug. 10, 2017 PLYMOUTH EAGLE.
Plymouth Michigan News
Plymouth Township Clerk Jerry Vorva has discovered records showing unauthorized payouts made by former Township Treasurer Ron Edwards that officials say undermine the township health care compensation commitment and could be illegal.
Vorva said the payments totaling nearly $20,000 were authorized by Edwards and the funds were deposited into four individuals’ respective health savings accounts and labeled as “Retiree Health Care Contributions.”
According to accounting records and check receipts obtained by The Eagle under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), former Supervisor Shannon Price, Clerk Nancy Conzelman, Deputy Clerk Michelle Lozier and current and former Deputy Treasurer Amy Hammye were recipients of the questionable benefits.
The township practice of offering health insurance benefits to eligible retired full-time elected officials is based in part on their respective years of service, Vorva explained. In addition, Vorva said a program for supplemental health savings accounts (HAS) governed by Vantagepoint Benefit Administrators, is also available to employees and subject to eligibility rules.
According to Vorva, the subject transactions were posted Nov. 18, 2016 after the General Election in which both Price and Conzelman were defeated. Township records reveal a check issued by Edwards payable to Vantagepoint Transfer Agents, LLC, dated Nov. 17, 2016, was dispersed just days before his required exit. Price and Conzelman received a combined deposit of $7,550.00 while Lozier and Hammye received a combined total of $11,850. The plan, allows employees to accumulate assets tax-free for medical needs when they retire. The township contributes a set amount monthly and employees are also allowed to make deposits.
“There has been no authorization for this (enrollment) and we can’t find any justification. This program is for only qualified employees, and they also made it retroactive to their eligibility participation dates,” Vorva said.
Township Supervisor Kurt Heise said the distributions made in Edwards’ final two days in office did not meet established protocols and did not have board of trustees’ approval.
Heise added he believes past practices likely allow for the deputies to accept the distribution benefits in accord with the HSA – the same plan offered to union employees -but said there was no policy or approval in place to entitle Price and Conzelman to receive the funds.
“The township has been working with our benefit administrator and attorneys to understand if any further action is required and should the funds be returned or are they legally entitled,” Heise said.
Just months earlier, in September 2016 after his loss in the primary election, Edwards pushed the board of trustees to lower the retirement age and revise the current vesting period for officials’ participation in the defined contribution plan.
His proposal called for employees with 5 years of seniority to be considered 100-percent vested or eligible for full pension benefits calculated on salary contributions during their employment.
Edwards argued the municipal Employees Retirement System (MERS) Defined Benefit Plan had a 10-year vesting schedule and used the used the Police, Dispatchers and Fire officers’ contracts as an example.
If the board members had approved Edwards’ proposal, it would have rewarded him by reducing the retirement age in the township to 60 from 65 and early retirement would be permitted at age 55. Under Edwards’ proposed plan, Conzelman with 4-years seniority would have received $60,846 and Price $33,416 upon leaving office. The trustees postponed his motion indefinitely, without a set date for further review or vote.
Vorva would not say what action, if any, would be taken regarding the payouts.
Photos © Don Howard Associated Newspapers