Local Democrats are pushing for accountability within the Livingston County Veterans’ Services Committee after questionable payments and relationships that raise conflict of interest concerns.
A Michigan State Police investigation was launched in September after a woman was unable to get documentation of a $400 donation. WHMI reported on Tuesday that a letter from the donor names Committee Chairman Hansel Keene as the recipient of the missing donation. It was further learned that seven disbursements were made from the Veterans Services Relief Fund to another committee member, Brighton Attorney Kevin Nagle, or his law firm between May of 2016 and February of 2017 totaling $4,900.
The Livingston County Democratic Party and some party candidates running for the County Board of Commissioners issued a press release yesterday that says local voters approved a tax increase to take care of veterans’ needs but now they find out new programs are not coming on line, that a committee member did not turn over a donation from the public, and another committee member is receiving payments approved by the committee he sits on. Party Chairwoman Judy Daubenmier says the county needs to restore trust in the committee because of the recent scandal, the MSP investigation and failure of the committee to use millage funds approved by voters. In an effort to restore trust, she says the county could reassure the public that everything is above board by starting with a detailed audit and some new polices, as well as more oversight by commissioners.
Democrats suggest a forensic audit covering the entire period that Hansel Keene and Kevin Nagle have been on the board, looking for cases of conflicts of interest or misappropriation of donations, followed by regular audits of that fund that go into more detail than the county’s annual audit. They also suggest a conflict of interest policy barring committee members from receiving payments from the Veterans Relief Fund for services provided to veterans. In addition to the detailed audit, new policies and more training provided for committee members, Daubenmier says the committee should lay out a formal plan for how they are going to spend the millage money that voters approved and expected would be spent on veteran services, rather than being stockpiled in a bank account for the county. Daubenmier added she would also like to see more diversity on the committee, perhaps a commissioner who is a veteran, as well as some women and younger veterans who have served in the more recent conflicts the nation has been involved in.
Daubenmier says the committee is a unique part of county government. The committee is set up under law to spend money for veteran’s relief but is not totally under county government control like some other agencies are. That’s why she feels commissioners need to take some extra steps to make sure the oversight is there. Daubenmier says the current board also has close ties to some of the committee members, and she thinks that gets in the way of being objective about what needs to be done to have good business practices and so forth on the committee. If commissioners don’t do anything, Daubenmier feels the future of the Veterans Service Millage is in doubt, and would be very hard for voters to approve an extension of that millage and that would be too bad for the services veterans need in the county. Daubenmier feels the current board is very much wetted to a kind of a “good ole boy” network and won’t change unless they have to. She says the only way voters can force change is to put some new faces on the board in November.
Daubenmier noted to date the Board of Commissioners has not had much discussion, other than during call to the public. She says no committee of any kind has been formed for an internal investigation, which is of concern, and the Veterans Services Committee has also not taken any sort of action or addressed the issues. At this past Monday night’s board meeting, Commissioner William Green stated it was his opinion and he is only one member, but the board needs to get more answers out to the public and felt it would be wise to put it on an agenda. Commissioner Bob Bezotte commented he attended the recent Veterans Services Committee meeting and felt the board was receptive when asked about information about financials and the numbers of veterans being served. He indicated some committee members would be making a report to the board during a future meeting.
The press release is attached. Requests for comment to Commission Chair Don Parker and County Administrator Ken Hinton have gone unreturned. (JM)