August 18, 2019

Commissioners question VA director’s near 30 percent pay raise

Raise approved by veteran’s board


MIO — The Oscoda County Board of Commissioners is questioning a $6 pay raise and increase in allotted work hours for the county veterans affairs director.

The discussion happened at the Jan. 22 commissioners meeting after commission Chairman Kyle Yoder asked the board members for a motion to acknowledge the pay raise and allotted hour increase for VA Director AJ Welser. The board members remained silent after Yoder’s request, and after it became clear no board member would make the motion, he did so himself.

Yoder said the commissioners were not voting on whether or not to give the Welser a raise, but simply to acknowledge that the raise happened. The Veterans Affairs office operates under a millage, and therefore its board of directors decides how to compensate its employees, not the board of commissioners. However, according to board Secretary Brenda Moore, it is county policy that any wage increase for a county employee is to be acknowledged by the board of commissioners before the county clerk signs off on it.

Once the motion had been made, Commissioner Chuck Varner asked why this had not been brought up before, as the decision was originally approved in October of last year.

“I don’t understand why this was done last year, and not at budget time,” Varner said. “We had five meetings where the last board let that go by without mentioning it.”

While the Veterans Affairs board did make the decision to give the director the raise last year, it did not go into effect until January of this year. Veterans Affairs board member Roger Stitt, who was in attendance, said his board chose to wait until January to make the raise official in order to dispel speculation.

“Instead of having the old commissioners approve this, we waited to have you approve it,” Stitt said. “We wanted to avoid looking shady by having the previous board do it (on their way out).”

Welser was not in attendance at the meeting to answer questions, as he left following the county workshop to attend a funeral.

Stitt said he believes Welser deserves the raise, mentioning that he puts in more hours than he is paid for. He said the VA board was even considering hiring a second part-time employee at the office in order to assist him. When asked why the VA board decided a $6 raise was appropriate, he said he wasn’t sure, and that it was simply the number they felt was right.

As discussion came to a close, Commissioner Jackie Bondar made a motion to table the discussion and acknowledgement of the pay raise and increased hours. The board unanimously approved that motion, mentioning it would be scheduling a time to talk with Welser about the situation.

In an interview after the meeting, Welser said the VA board gave him the raise; he did not give it to himself. He said the first suggestion was for a $5 raise, but after discussion the board decided $6 was more appropriate.

VA board Chairman Rick Landry said one reason Welser deserves a raise is because he hasn’t had one in a long time, adding that the decision was unanimous to approve the raise, not the orchestration of a single person.

“He really works hard over there at the veterans office,” Landry said. “He does a lot of stuff outside of his hours. … He doesn’t always get the credit he deserves.”

Even if the board of commissioners does not acknowledge the pay raise and increased hours, Welser said it will not negatively affect his performance.

“If I don’t get the raise, I’m still here working every Monday and Tuesday,” Welser said. “I do a lot of volunteer work (for veterans) outside of the hours I work here. I am fully committed to the veterans.”


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