2016-09-22 / Local News

County hires court official

By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff


CAROL STOCKING, right, 86th District Court administrator, answers a question from the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners at its Tuesday night meeting. To her right are Chief Judge Michael Stepka and Judge Thomas Phillips. CAROL STOCKING, right, 86th District Court administrator, answers a question from the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners at its Tuesday night meeting. To her right are Chief Judge Michael Stepka and Judge Thomas Phillips. Two judges and the 86th District Court administrator didn’t get exactly what they were asking for, but they did end up getting some help from the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners at this week’s County Board meeting.

In a 5-1 vote the board agreed to let court administrator Carol Stocking become a Leelanau County employee for 11 months to solve a problem that Chief Judge Michael Stepka and Judge Thomas Phillips said could seriously hurt operations of the court, which serves Grand Traverse, Antrim and Leelanau counties.

Stocking is technically a Grand Traverse County employee. However, Grand Traverse County budget issues have required that employees begin paying far more into their retirement and health insurance benefits than they previously did. The change would cut Stocking’s take home pay by about 30-percent and could force her into retirement because her retired pay would exceed her pay as a county employee.

The judges said they needed two years to find and train a replacement for Stocking. An amendment to an operating agreement between the three counties would allow Leelanau County to become the fiscal agent for Stocking’s pay, and would allow her to collect both her retired pay as well as her salary for working as court administrator. The move would save Leelanau County about $2,000 per year, officials said.

The Leelanau County Board balked at a proposal the judges brought to the board last month and again last week because of the possible impact a two-year agreement could have on Leelanau County’s own account with the Municipal Employees Retirement System (MERS). Last week, the County Board voted 3-3 on a motion that might have allowed Stocking to become a Leelanau County employee for her final two years in the job. Tie votes result in failure of the motion.

Judge Phillips said last week that he and Judge Stepka were “begging” the County Board for their cooperation. Their plea did not fall on deaf ears, however. District No.2 Commissioner Debra Rushton suggested the County Board might consider allowing Stocking to become a Leelanau County employee for up to 11 months – before she could become vested in the county’s MERS program.

Last week’s tie resulted from the absence of District No. 6 Commissioner and County Board Chairman Carolyn “Peachy” Rentenbach who was out of town on a family emergency. Commissioners learned this week that Rentenbach’s mother had just passed away, and the board chairman was absent from this week’s meeting as well. The meeting was chaired by Vice Chairman and District No. 3 Commissioner Will Bunek.

District No. 7 Commissioner Melinda Lautner, who had opposed the judge’s initial two-year request, moved Tuesday night to make Leelanau County the fiscal agent for Stocking’s employment for 11 months, from Jan. 1 through Nov. 30, 2017. The motion carried 5-1.

Bunek voted alone in opposition. He said he was concerned that the move could set a precedent that could cause trouble in the future.

“I also think we may be somehow undermining what Grand Traverse County was trying to do with its own budget,” Bunek added.

Stocking and both judges thanked the Leelanau County Board for taking the action even though it fell short of their two-year request.

“It’s a lot better than nothing, and we thank you for your consideration,” Judge Phillips told the board.

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