Emergency Managers, Mark Schauer, Rick Snyder — October 18, 2013 at 12:29 pm

Michigan governor Snyder tries to avoid the transparency he lauds, adds Rich Baird to payroll


Not so fast, governor

[Caricature by DonkeyHotey from photos by Anne C. Savage for Eclectablog]

It’s common knowledge that one of Michigan governor Rick Snyder’s top advisors, Richard Baird, is being paid from a secretive slush fund called the NERD Fund. Because Snyder continues to refuse to disclose the donors to the NERD Fund, there’s no way to know what conflicts of interest are at play. Indeed, the very fact that he won’t disclose them, despite his claim that it’s simply to save taxpayers money, suggests that he’s hiding something. There’s simply no other explanation. If the NERD Fund is such an asset to the state, the donors should be happy to have their identities known. They should, in fact, be proud to proclaim their involvement.

Facing whithering criticism from the left, from media op-ed boards across the state, and from others, Governor Snyder added Baird to the state payroll this week. It was so important for him to avoid further scrutiny that he compelled Baird to renegotiate a contract with a previous employer so that he could do it.

Gov. Rick Snyder added a close confidant to his government payroll this week after coming under political fire for paying him with a secretive private fund, The Detroit News has learned.

The Governor’s Office confirmed late Thursday that Snyder aide Richard Baird became a state government employee on Wednesday, retaining his ambiguous title of “transformation manager.” […]

[Snyder spokeswoman Sara] Wurfel said the reason Baird has been working under a contract for the NERD Fund is because his retirement agreement from the corporate accounting firm prohibited him seeking full-time employment.

But, at Snyder’s request, Baird recently renegotiated his agreement to allow him to become an unclassified state employee, Wurfel said.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer calls the decision “long overdue” and continues to call on the governor to reveal who funds the NERD Fund which also pays expenses for Detroit’s Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, including his $4,200 per month luxury suite in a posh Detroit hotel.

“This decision was long overdue, and is a clear admission that it was inappropriate for Gov. Snyder to pay his right-hand man with private donations from a secretive fund for nearly three years,” said Schauer. “Taxpayers still deserve to know which individuals and special interests are trying to influence Snyder’s administration by donating to this secretive fund. If Snyder truly has nothing to hide, he should simply clear the air by disclosing his secret donors. However, if Snyder decides to close the NERD Fund, as he has suggested, it will send a clear message that he cares more about shielding his secret donors than being open and transparent with Michigan taxpayers.”

Rick Snyder based his 2010 campaign on metrics and transparency in government. By continuing to hide the donors to the NERD Fund, he’s making it very clear that transparency is dispensable when it comes to achieving his corporatist goals. Schauer made this point in my interview with him earlier this week. I asked him if he believed Snyder’s claim that he “doesn’t know” who the donors are:

Let me be clear, I think the governor knows. Certainly people in his administration know. People that are in the inner circle of his team know. The group that’s missing, and that is pretty darned important, is the public doesn’t know.

Not only is he paying for his right hand confidant who works in the governor’s office in Lansing, he’s also paying part of the compensation of the Detroit Emergency Manager. For his $4,200 luxury hotel suite, for his trips back and forth to be with his family. Those things are part of his compensation package which was negotiated by Governor Snyder.

Again, what are the potential conflicts of interest? People give for a reason. They want support. They want access. And, in some form or fashion they’re probably getting some sort of access. So I think it’s a no-brainer. As governor, I’ll be very clear, any of these kinds of funds or whatever tools I use to administer the office of governor, everyone will know where those dollars come from and who has a connection.

It’s time for Governor Snyder to come clean. Let the people of Michigan decide if there are conflicts of interest involving the NERD Fund. THAT is transparency.