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On Wednesday, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution amending the County's Responsible Contractor Policy passed in 2020. Modeled after the Federal government's False Claims Act, this amendment strengthens the Responsible Contractor Policy by offering protections for whistleblowers, enhancing its enforcement mechanisms—and allowing whistleblowers who report violations of the Policy or overbilling to share in any recovery by the County.
"It's imperative that those who are doing work on behalf of our County are honest, scrupulous, and reflect the County's values," said Eli Savit, Washtenaw County Prosecuting Attorney. "The amendment passed by the Board of Commissioners will help safeguard taxpayer dollars. Just as importantly, it will help ensure that contractors are treating (and paying) their workers fairly, are not engaged in discrimination, and taking the appropriate steps to protect our health and environment."
The new amendment passed defines a "false claim" as including payment for any work done that violates the Responsible Contractor Policy, or any health and safety standards. Among other things, the Responsible Contractor Policy prohibits contractors with the County from engaging in employment discrimination, and misclassifying workers as “independent contractors.” The new amendment specifies damages for contractors who present false claims to the county, and rewards and protects any whistleblower who brings evidence of the false claim.
"Prosecutor Savit and I were deliberate in the timing for the amendment and worked hard to get this amendment in place for the August meeting before any American Rescue Plan money is spent," said Katie Scott, Commissioner for District 9. "I know that the Prosecutor and I both want to see working people and families protected here in Washtenaw County, and that was what motivated both of us to create this amendment and bring it to the BOC. I am so pleased that my fellow commissioners saw the value in how this amendment will help us be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and passed it unanimously."
The amendment empowers either the Prosecuting Attorney or the County’s Corporation Counsel to litigate cases alleging false claims. Alternatively, if neither the Prosecuting Attorney nor Corporation Counsel chooses to litigate the case, whistleblowers can litigate the case directly and seek damages on their own behalf and the County’s.
Washtenaw County has received approximately $71 million dollars as part of the American Rescue Plan Act. These dollars will be used in a variety of ways to help the county continue to respond to the effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic and create a more equitable community moving forward. Some of these dollars may end up flowing to contractors who would be subject to the Responsible Contractor Policy and the new amendment.
Local labor groups have already expressed support for the passage of this amendment, including Laborers Local 499: "We commend the Washtenaw County Commission and the Washtenaw County Prosecutor in their efforts to strengthen the County's Responsible Contracting Policy (RCP) enforcement mechanisms," said Laborers Local 499 Business Manager Dan Minton. "These steps will help ensure that workers who report a violation of the RCP are protected against workplace retaliation. This policy will go a long way in ensuring that all County contractors act in an honest fashion and treat their employees as they should be treated."