Prosecutor asks commissioners to recoup a year’s service

Paul Garrod -

    PAW PAW - It took two voting sessions on Tuesday afternoon for  Van Buren County Board of Commissioners, meeting in the Committee of the Whole, to approve Van Buren County Prosecutor Michael Bedford’s request to purchase service time toward his MERS retirement.
    In his initial request, Bedford asked the county to recoup one year of his service time toward his Municipal Employees’ Retirement System (MERS). That resulted in a 3-3 tie, with COW members Paul Schincariol, Mike Chappell and Richard Godfrey voting against the measure. Voting in favor of it were COW members Don Hanson, Kurt Doroh and Gayle Patterson-Gladney.
    The approximate cost to the county for the year’s time of service would have been $23,000.
    In a second vote, the COW unanimously approved Bedford’s request for him to purchase seven months of service time toward his MERS retirement.
    Ryan Post, Van Buren County Director of Financial Services, who attended the meeting on behalf of absent County Administrator John Faul, presented a memo to the COW from county administration which stated, “The county does allow service credit purchases, but is not obligated to do so. I do not believe the county has contributed to payments. It does allow employees to purchase up to five years subsequent to board approval.”
    It further stated, “I cannot recommend to the board that you comply with the request. Since years of service are critical portion of the defined benefit calculation, I believe gaps in service should not be the county's obligation. The reasons of the prosecutor's gap are laudable but they are not material. Also, our long term financial liability is already significant, and I cannot recommend adding to that. Finally, I believe this would be precedent setting, which I also recommend that we avoid.”
    In a memo to Jennifer Fitzpatrick, Van Buren County HR Supervisor, Bedford said he will turn 55 on Dec. 9, 2019. At that time, he will have  24 years and five months of service.
    In  December of 2011, Bedford was terminated by then- County Prosecutor Juris Kaps. Bedford said he was terminated because “I openly supported then- candidate for re-election to the State Senate, Tonya Schuitmaker.
    According to Bedford, Kaps and Senator Schuitmaker were on opposite sides of a very “nasty and public dispute” relating to the elimination of Judge Kathleen Brickley’s judicial seat, which at the time was vacant as a result of Judge William Buhl’s retirement.
    Bedford said in the memo that he too was at odds with Kaps regarding his public insistence to remove a judicial seat.
    If the one year of service time had been approved, Bedford said he would be eligible for retirement on Dec. 9, 2019. “Buy no means am I stating that I am planning my retirement for that day,” Bedford said in his memo.
    Bedford  told the COW that he plans to retire in December of 2020.
    The  Board of Commissioners  is expected to take up the issue  for a final vote in two weeks.

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