Civil rights director rejects secret bonus

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Michigan Department of Civil Rights Director Augustin Arbulu said Tuesday he will turn down a $24,740 bonus approved by a state panel in a controversial closed-door vote.

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission likely violated the state’s Open Meeting Act when it approved the bonus in secret, which a spokeswoman said was done “inadvertently” during a busy Sept. 18 public meeting.

“I appreciate the vote of confidence from the Commission in my work,” Arbulu said in a statement. “As a public servant, I believe these taxpayer dollars can be put to better use in programs that directly benefit the people of this state.”

Arbulu, appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder in 2013, earns an annual salary of $152,250.

The civil rights panel voted unanimously to give him a 16.25 percent bonus during a closed-session after a motion from Commissioner Linda Lee Tarver, according to meeting minutes made public and first reported by the Lansing City Pulse.

The closed-door session was called in the midst of a contentious, four-hour public hearing on potential anti-discrimination protections for gay and transgender residents. The meeting ended without action as the panel requested a legal opinion from Attorney General Bill Schuette.

“We had a very large crowd of people waiting for the commission,” said spokeswoman Vicki Levengood. “They inadvertently held the vote during the closed-door meeting instead of coming out in the public meeting to hold the vote.”

The commission is expected to re-do the bonus vote at its next open meeting on Nov. 13, which will “nullify the violation of the Open Meetings Act,” Levengood said.

While bonuses are not customary for the civil rights director, she said the commission had established performance metrics for Arbulu in 2015 and determined his work warranted the reward. But “the director has made the decision not to take the one-time bonus,” Levengood confirmed.