GENESEE COUNTY — In a sterling example of citizen government in action, local veterans and their advocates were successful on Monday in forcing the Genesee County Board of Commissioners to reverse its decision to take $50,000 from the voter approved 2012 tax millage to co-sponsor a golf tournament.
The commissioners voted 7-1 on April 2 to partner with the Ally Challenge, a senior Professional Golf Association (PGA) tournament coming to Grand Blanc this fall.
Drew Shapiro, Commissioner of District 6, cast the dissenting vote. Commissioner Martin Cousineau was absent for April 2 vote.
Shapiro then posted on his Facebook page, saying, “This morning I voted NO on a resolution entering Genesee County in to a partnership with Ally Bank for the upcoming PGA event returning to Warwick in September. Although I am happy to see this event return to the community, I do not agree with the funding mechanism for the partnership. The board authorized in a 7-1 vote to use $50,000.00 from the veteran’s millage fund to sponsor this event. It is my opinion that the voters who approved this millage intended the funds be used to assist veterans struggling financially, and to assist with head stone, and burial expenses. While the partnership will include free admittance and refreshments for veterans and their families, I firmly believe that the money in this fund was intended to honor veterans with more than hot dogs and soda.”
Shapiro was successful in mobilizing veterans to attend the April 9 board meeting, which featured several speakers against the measure.
Among them were Josh Barrett, founder of Odin’s Outcasts (www.odinsoutcast.org), a veteran-based organization which works to get veterans off the streets and John Tuohy, a local veteran and member of the Marine Corps League .
According to the original ballot language, the veterans millage funds are to be used for “providing support and assistance to veterans and their dependents. The Ally sponsorship would have allowed free admission for veterans to the week-long event Sept.10-16, which is reported to be a $95 value, as well as a concert by the band Big and Rich.
According to board documents, part of the funds would have covered a “Patriot Pavilion” on the 18th fairway which is purported to be an area featuring outreach to active, reserve military, military retirees, veterans and their dependents, according to board documents.
One veteran said the PGA should have enough money to fund this outreach as a service to veterans.
“Have our veterans not served enough that they don’t deserve a free place and a hot dog at the golf tournament? This is despicable!” Ron Beree said.
Barrett, who served in the Marine Corps and the Army, said his group spends money out of their own pockets and have gotten six veterans off the streets in the last year who were denied services by the county Department of Veterans Services.
“This is flat-out wrong. Every one of you should be ashamed of yourselves,” Barrett said. He said they should be giving the money to the organizations who are actually doing the work of supporting the veterans, including the VFW, Marine Corp League, and other service organizations he says are doing the work the county should be doing.
Martin, a veteran himself, said there are places for veterans to get help with homelessness. There are other greater issues facing veterans in Genesee County right now.
“We do not have an epidemic of homeless veterans on the streets,” said Martin in response to the criticism, while he addressed the Davison City Council, April 9. “But a problem of mentally ill and addicted veterans on the streets.”
Helping those individuals, said Martin, is what the county truly needs to do.
The county seems to be relying on veterans to approach them for help, but Shapiro says too many still don’t know the services are there. And many statements made on both sides of the table, indicated veterans still get denied services on a regular basis.
Jeanne Thick, Director of the county Department of Veterans Services said she was “shocked” by the golf funding proposal and had not been consulted about it ahead of time. However, it was said she had been given an opportunity to speak at the meeting where the vote took place and declined at that time.
Josh Freeman, Coordinator for the Genesee County Board of Commissioners said the board is the authority for spending decisions on the millage.
“We’re really good at reaching out to older veterans but…lacking at reaching out to younger vets… in current conflicts who could use those services,” Freeman said. “The board is trying to think out of the box to attract them,” he added.
Statements at the meeting indicated that the millage fund has currently over $1 million. Reports indicate the $50,000 is about 5.6 percent of the estimated millage amount.
Shapiro created an online petition to force a reversal of the commissioners’ decision which he said at the April 9 meeting had 500 signatures.
Two men, John Freeman and Ron Smith, spoke at the meeting in favor of the decision. Henry initially abstained from the vote rescinding the resolution, and Brenda Clack and Bryan Nolden initially voted no, but then reversed their votes, and Henry, too, eventually voted yes, passing to rescind the resolution 9-0.