Mich. governor vetoes bill that would have let local government officials serve in public safety

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said the bill would create conflicts of interest in chain of command and budgetary oversight


David Panian
The Daily Telegram, Adrian, Mich.

LANSING, Mich. — One of two bills introduced by state Sen. Dale Zorn recently became law, but Gov. Gretchen Whitmer voted the other.

Whitmer on Wednesday signed the Ida Republican's measure to increase flexibility for transferring rental property, but she vetoed another bill that aimed to allow certain local government board members to serve their communities in public safety roles, a news release from Zorn's office said.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (left) vetoed a bill that would have allowed local government officials in more municipalities to also serve as first responders.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (left) vetoed a bill that would have allowed local government officials in more municipalities to also serve as first responders. (Photo/Michigan Office of the Governor via AP)

Zorn's Senate Bill 17 sought to help more local communities fill first responder and public safety positions, the release said. A public servant of a Michigan township, city, village or county with a population of 25,000 or more cannot serve that community as an EMT, firefighter, police officer or public safety officer. Zorn's bill would have expanded the population limit to 40,000.

In a letter to the Senate explaining her veto, the Democratic governor said Michigan's law addressing "contracts of public servants within public entities is an important safeguard of responsible and accountable government. It prevents public servants from enriching themselves at public expense by prohibiting most contracts between public servants and the communities they serve."

She noted there are narrow exceptions, including for part-time firefighters. She said Zorn's bill "proposes to significantly expand that exception" and would create new conflicts of interest.

"For example," Whitmer said in the letter, "it would allow a city commissioner serve concurrently as a police officer or even police chief, which would create obvious and thorny problems around chain of command and budgetary oversight. This would run the risk of having public servants determine their own pay, set their own standards, or interfere with disciplinary proceedings. That's unacceptable."

"It is disappointing and frustrating that the governor rejected allowing more local elected officials who have the necessary training to also serve their communities in lifesaving roles," Zorn said in a news release. "This option is already allowed for small local units, so this wasn't a new idea. It was simply about providing more flexibility to more communities struggling to find enough first responders to protect their families — an issue that has become more difficult during the pandemic."

Senate Bill 17 passed the Senate on a 24-12 vote on May 5. The House voted 61-49 in favor of the bill on April 28. The Legislature could override Whitmer's veto if at least two-thirds of each of the House and Senate votes to override the veto.

Zorn's other bill, now Public Act 14 of 2021, allows rental property owners more flexibility when transferring property between entities.

"I want to thank the governor for finally helping us end this form of double dipping," Zorn said. "Before this reform, Michigan rental properties were subject to unnecessary and costly reinspections when they were transferred from one type of entity to another — even if the owners of both entities were the same people. With the governor's signature, that extra red tape has been cut for these limited situations."

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(c)2021 The Daily Telegram, Adrian, Mich.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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