Oakland Co. officials demand DIA return bonuses

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A bi-partisan group of Oakland County commissioners is demanding that bonuses given to the two top executives at the Detroit Institute of Arts be returned to taxpayers.

If that does not happen, several commissioners said they are prepared to move forward with a resolution dissolving the Oakland County Art Authority, which sends $11 million in taxpayers money to the DIA to support operations.

In separate caucus meetings for Republican and Democratic commissioners Thursday morning, board members pressed DIA chair Gene Gargaro for a plan to return $50,000 bonus given in 2012 to both DIA director Graham Beal and COO Annmarie Erickson.

Several commissioners also told Gargaro they did not want the money "switched" and for bonuses to be paid from other accounts.

Commissioner John Scott, R-Waterford Township, told Gargaro the 21-member commission answers to taxpayers who are very unhappy about executive compensation at the DIA.

"We are getting heat from taxpayers. Is the money coming back or not? I need a yes or no answer. Is it going to happen or not?" Scott said.

Gargaro, who sits on the DIA compensation committee, said he first had to report the request back to the DIA board and executive committee before he could answer.

"I can't make a commitment without the consensus I hope to get," Gargaro said.

After the bonuses and double-digit raises were reported by the Detroit News on Oct. 9, Oakland County Commissioner Dave Woodward, D-Royal Oak, said he would seek to dissolve the Oakland County Art Authority if the DIA didn't return the bonus money.

Gargaro, who repeatedly apologized to commissioners and promised greater transparency going forward, invited commissioners to attend the DIA's next board meeting in mid-November.

Scott said he would be there, with a proposed resolution to dissolve the Oakland County Art Authority in hand, just in case the DIA board did not have a plan to return the money.

After the meetings, Gargaro said he was "optimistic we can make a resolution."

Commissioner Gary McGillivray, D-Madison Heights, said he has gotten so many emails from residents angry about the bonuses.

"You need to get a reality check. A large bonus at taxpayer expense?" he told Gargaro. "$50,000 bonuses aren't happening in the real world."

Oakland County deputy executive Robert Daddow said the most logical way to return the bonus money would be to deduct the $50,000 from the pay of Beal and Erickson going forward, so all the money is returned to the right places.