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Rich Baird, the enigmatic “transformation manager” for Gov. Rick Snyder, continues to take on a more public role in the administration after years of working behind the scenes.

The former PricewaterhouseCoopers executive showed a playful side of his private-sector past Tuesday as he addressed more than 400 state workers during a “talking transformation” event featuring Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.

Baird began the event with an Oprah-like surprise, telling state employees seated in the front row of the auditorium to look under their seats for an “extra bonus,” which turned out to be gift cards taped to the bottom of a few chairs.

When he traveled the world for the global accounting firm, Baird said “nobody wanted to sit in the front row, so I got in the habit of putting five or 10 Euro notes, or Won notes or Francs or whatever we had” under seats.

Forum sets policy priority

In a rare public address, Amway President Doug DeVos announced that attendees at the West Michigan Policy Forum ranked restructuring government employees’ retirement benefits as the No. 1 priority in Michigan policy.

In the past, the powerful DeVos family and others have helped persuade the Republican-controlled Legislature to make Michigan a right-to-work state and reform the state’s business tax system.

“And we take these (votes) very seriously; we move them forward with all of our might,” DeVos said. “Obviously all of you felt that we need to go in a different direction.”

Grand Rapids policy forum attendees on Monday voted in favor of restructuring government employees’ retirement benefits to a 401(k)-style plan, which takes financial burden from the government employer and requires employees to contribute more money to their plans.

Groups will likely lobby GOP lawmakers to make that happen.

“I think you can kind of get a good feel from there about where we’re going,” DeVos said.

“And our group is pretty simple,” he continued before introducing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican, and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat. “We can only have about five topics we can deal with” at a time. “What this does, is it sends a message to all of our elected officials. It helps clarify the issues.”

The DeVos family is a major donor to Michigan and national and Republican causes. In the months leading up to the August primary, the DeVos family funded two of the state’s top six most active political action committees, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. That’s $1.45 million in contributions to state candidates, PACs and Republican organizations.

Trump’s sniffle ‘distracting’

Donald Trump’s sniffle throughout the first presidential debate Monday was “distracting” and added to an appearance that he was “unprepared” to take on seasoned debater Hillary Clinton, according to a University of Michigan debate analyst.

The 70-year-old Republican businessman’s sniffing was pronounced throughout the first debate at Hofstra University and may be the one thing voters remember about it, said Aaron Kall, director of debate at UM-Ann Arbor.

“It was very distracting,” said Kall, who watched the debate in a massive media center adjacent to the debate hall. “It’s not the right time to not be at 100 percent when the stakes are so high, and it hurt him.”

Democrat Clinton looked more prepared, Kall said, countering recent doubts Trump has cast about the 68-year-old former Secretary of State’s stamina to be the nation’s commander-in-chief.

“She looked like she could go another two debates at the end, and he looked like if this debate went another half hour that he might not make it,” Kall said.

Trump denied Tuesday that he had a head cold or even sniffled.

It’s Novi, not Novey

A robo call featuring Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka mispronounces Novi while inviting people to attend the businessman’s 5 p.m. Friday rally at the Suburban Collection Showcase.

In a message paid for by the Donald J. Trump for President Inc., Ivanka Trump urges people to register for the event.

“This is Ivanka Trump calling on behalf of my father, Donald J. Trump. I’m incredibly excited to invite you to a campaign event in your area. For more information and to RSVP, stay on the line.”

An unidentified female voice then gives information for attending the campaign rally while identifying the showcase’s location as being in Novey.

Contributors: Jonathan Oosting, Michael Gerstein, Chad Livengood and Richard Burr

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