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Three Grand Traverse County Pension Advisory Board Members Resign

A shake-up in Grand Traverse County. Three members of the Pension Advisory Board resigned Monday morning.

They say county commissioners weren’t listening to their recommendations about how to solve a pension debt problem plaguing the county.

 For months now the county has been trying to deal with nearly $60 million in unfunded pension liabilities.

 That’s meant cuts to county departments and tighter budgets.

 But more still needs to be done.

“We could kind of see the way the tide was turning and it wasn’t flowing in the direction that was fiscally appropriately for Grand Traverse County,” said Michael J. Gillman who resigned from the board.

Michael Gillman says the pension board was looking at three options to solve the debt problem — pay $5 million to extend the life of the debt, put a millage on the ballot or use bonds to cover the debt.

“MERS has agreed to take $5 million of our money in return for spread the debt over the next 16 years. The bonding issue seems to the 3 citizen members to impose an additional level of cost, because with a millage every dollar that is paid by the tax payers will go towards pensions,” said Gillman.

But when they brought those ideas to commissioners, Gillman says it appeared commissioners were already leaning toward bonds and ignoring their recommendations.

“All of us resigning at once, I think made very clear that the people they solicited opinions from, had a recommendation that appears on the verge of being ignored,” said Gillman.

Christopher Radu joined Gillman and another member in resigning.

“We found that the board of commissioners seemed less than receptive to the ideas that we were bringing and found that some members of the pension advisory board were working behind the scenes to coordinate a bond offering,” said Radu.  

County administrator Tom Menzel called resignations surprising, but says commissioners must move quickly on the recommendations.

“The challenging thing is they will now own this. This is this board’s actions on how we get out of our pensions problems so they will hold full responsibility for that,” said Menzel.  

They’ll be a meeting May 10th to discuss bonds.