Michigan county commissioners who handed themselves $65,000 bonuses say they will return the money

Personal loans can help fill the void while waiting for coronavirus relief. (Stock)

Elected officials from a conservative Michigan county who handed themselves $65,000 bonuses with federal COVID-19 aid said they would return the money after days of criticism.

Shiawassee County commissioners acted after the prosecutor said the payments were illegal, The Argus-Press reported.

Michigan’s Constitution prohibits additional compensation for elected officials “after services have already been rendered,” Attorney Scott Koerner said Friday.

The commissioners, all Republicans, voted July 15 to award themselves $65,000 as part of a plan to give $557,000 to 250 county employees as ‘hazard pay’ to deal with the pandemic of coronavirus.

The smallest amounts for beneficiaries were $1,000 to $2,000. But County Council Chairman Jeremy Root received $25,000. Two other commissioners received $10,000 each, while four others received $5,000 each.

The vote was 6-0 with an absent commissioner.

The commissioners awarded money to other elected officials, including the district attorney, sheriff and county clerk, all Republicans. They too said they would return it.

“Since these payments were made, confusion over the nature of these funds has become widespread,” said a statement from the commissioners. “(We) deeply regret that this gesture was misinterpreted and have reached the unanimous decision to voluntarily return the funds to the county, pending further guidance from the State of Michigan.”

RELATED: Michigan county officials used COVID-19 money for bonuses

Commissioner Marlene Webster insisted she had no idea she had voted to pay herself and returned the money last week, even posting a copy of the check on Facebook. She criticized the latest statement, saying there was no misinterpretation of the payments.

“This is an insult to the citizens of Shiawassee County,” Webster said.

Two Michigan congressmen, a Democrat and a Republican, said federal virus aid was not intended to reward elected officials.

Separately, a judge has scheduled a hearing on Monday in a lawsuit seeking to cancel public servants’ bonuses. It was filed before the last action.

Eleanor C. William