By Rosemary Horvath
Ron Bushong leaves the Clare County Road Commission at month end following 25 years of service but Hayes Township Supervisor Terry Acton does not buy that his departure is of his own accord.
Acton filed a Freedom of Information request with the CCRC for details on Bushong’s severance package on the suspicion Bushong was fired and bought off by his employer to avoid a lawsuit.
Both Bushong and CCRC board chair Richard Haynak dispute the accusation. Bushong said in an email in July he “decided to end this employment relationship” and has taken a position in the private sector.
CCRC Commissioner Mike Duggan said by phone Friday management changes occur anytime you have employees and staff.
Acton said it doesn’t matter whether Bushong quit or was fired. What matters is what he received to go.
In an email, Acton estimated by adding five years to Bushong’s retirement through Michigan Employees Retirement System has cost the road commission $60,000.
“That with the $34,000 in pay comes close to a $100,000 grand. When did at-will employees start walking away with any kind of package when they quit?” Acton wants to know.
He added that Bushong had no contract “calling for anything. He did not quit. He was fired and hired an attorney. Rather than risk a court case they bought him out,” he charged.
Minutes from all road commission board meetings are available to read on the CCRC website.
At the June 4 meeting, the board had a closed session. Returned to open session, Bushong offered his resignation effective July 31 and the board approved giving him accumulated unused vacation, sick and floating holiday time, 50 percent reimbursement for non-participation of insurance, sixth monthsseverance pay. The road commission purchased five years of service credit through MERS.
At the June 18 meeting, the minutes indicate the additional credited service of five years for Bushong is according to the MERS Plan Document.
“…the employer understands this is an estimated cost, calculated using actuarial assumptions approved by the Retirement Board. Any difference between the assumptions and actual experience will affect the true cost of the additional service.
“For example, changes in benefit programs through adoption or transfer of the affected employee to a division with ‘better’ benefits; increases in wages other than 4.5 percent per year; and changes to the anticipated date of termination, will affect the actual cost of the additional service (increase or decrease).
“Thus, actual future events and experience may result in changes different than those assumed, and liability different than that estimated. The Employer understands and agrees that it is accountable for any difference between estimated and actual costs.
Responding, Duggan said the retirement is not unusual and that “teachers do it all the time” when they are short of retirement and the district is willing to make up the difference.
This has been a common practice in Michigan for school districts offering to buy out highly-paid teachers to be replaced with recent college graduates at lower salaries.
Duggan said Bushong had enough time into retirement and the board gave him an additional five years.
Bushong also replied.
In an email he said, “Being paid for unused sick and vacation hours at departure from the Road Commission is standard practice… always has been. It is also common for senior management personnel to receive a severance package at departure
Continuing, “I did not give myself this departure package. The terms of my departure were granted by the Road Commission Board. I have accepted those terms and am moving on to another chapter of my life… working back in the private sector.”
Bushong had a busy two years.
At the July 2 board meeting according to the minutes, approval was given to Bushong’s organizational structure. Transfer of authority for various duties had been assigned to the staff. At the June 24 meeting Attorney Michael Kluck, who specializes in employment practices, and representatives with MERS and the CIC Benefit Consulting Group met with road commissioners to discuss union contract negotiations.
Bushong’s request for second step wage increase for the engineer-technician was approved in April as was an as-needed engineering consulting services agreement.
Early in the year, commissioners began meeting with employees individually as union contract negotiations began.
The road commission initiated the process of administrative staffing and organizational restructure back in February.
Now that the top position is empty, the road commission began advertising for candidates to fill the manager spot.
Bushong’s predecessor the late Steve Stocking had an engineering background. Bushong did not but worked his way up through the organization under the tutelage of Stocking.
Last week Duggan said commissioners are leaning toward hiring a person with an engineering degree but admitted the salary “may not be feasible in today’s world.”
If an engineer were to be employed, the road commission would continue to seek outside professional engineering services when certain projects are too big to handle in-house.
A manager-engineer can do township projects, Duggan said, but major ones like bridge reconstruction and old 127 that “has tons of hours of engineering are too big of a project. Small counties don’t have the expertise. Large counties have an engineering department. Having an engineer on staff saves a ton of money for small township projects,” Duggan explained.
He added, “As far as I’m concerned everything is running fine. We are doing the best we can with the money we have.”