Snyder appoints Bolger to state employee commission

Jonathan Oosting

Lansing – Gov. Rick Snyder on Thursday appointed former state House Speaker Jase Bolger to serve on the Michigan Civil Service Commission, a bipartisan board that oversees employment rules, pay rates and other regulations for most state workers.

Bolger, a Marshall Republican, served three terms in the state House and had a tumultuous relationship with state employee labor unions before term limits forced him out of office at the end of 2014. He currently runs Tusker Strategies consulting firm in Grand Rapids.

“Jase has many years of public service experience that will serve him well on this commission,” Snyder said in a statement. “I am confident he will do a good job ensuring we have the right rules in place to help dedicated state employees excel while providing good oversight for taxpayers.”

Bolger replaces Thomas Waldrop, an independent appointed by Democratic former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, and gives Snyder a majority of appointments on the board for the first time since taking office in 2011.

The Michigan Constitution prohibits more than two members of a single political party from serving on the four-member board, but Snyder has now appointed three members, including former state personnel director Janet McLelland, who serves as an independent.

Bolger told The Detroit News he looks forward to serving and appreciates the governor’s confidence in him. The unpaid position comes with an eight-year term.

As a commissioner, Bolger said he wants to focus “on the citizens and these state employees who work so hard in the civil service, to make sure those who perform are rewarded for that work and that problems can be addressed when they arrive.”

But by appointing Bolger, the governor is continuing “his assault on organized labor and public employees,” said Nick Ciaramitaro of Michigan AFSCME 25.

Bolger often butted heads with state employee unions during his run as speaker, which included approval of a controversial right-to-work law that prohibits mandatory dues or shop fees as a condition of employment. Unions sued, but the Michigan Supreme Court ruled the Civil Service Commission never had authority to require agency shop fees for state workers, regardless of the new right-to-work law.

“I think Bolger has a misunderstanding of what unions are all about, and I hope we can have better communication than we did when he was in the speaker’s chair,” said Ciaramitaro, who described Bolger’s work on the Detroit bankruptcy “grand bargain” as a notable exception. “I wish he’d be more open to that.”

Bolger said he does look forward to “maintaining open communication,” but said his sense from talking to state employees is that many feel they can’t be rewarded for their hard work or are frustrated by peers who are not performing at the same level.

“This shouldn’t be about politics,” he said. “This should be about a couple of things: Serving Michigan citizens, making government more efficient and effective, but also rewarding state employees who step up and do the right thing.”

Outgoing House Speaker Kevin Cotter, Bolger’s successor, had proposed a controversial constitutional amendment to reform the state Civil Service Commission. Cotter said he wanted to make it easier to fire “bad actors” in the state employee ranks, but the Mount Pleasant Republican’s potential ballot proposal this year did not advance in the Legislature.

Bolger said he agrees Civil Service Commission reform is needed but wants to “focus first on what is possible today.”

He called the new job “a different and another way to serve and a way to do real reforms that help Michigan citizens.”