Talks ease dispute between Macomb Co., clerk over move

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger and the county appear to have resolved some of her concerns about the relocation of two offices, a subject that prompted the county to file a lawsuit and the clerk to call the county’s action a “political power play.”

“There was progress made,” said Spranger’s attorney, Frank Cusumano Jr., on Tuesday night. “We’ll see if we can get it all put down in writing.”

The talks between Spranger and the Macomb county executive’s office took place Tuesday, hours after the county filed a lawsuit asking a judge to order the clerk not to block the relocation.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said he’s confident the judge will side with the county’s plan to move into the Talmer building, which he said is 21/2 years in the making. He said Spranger may still find fault with something to object to the move.

“Unfortunately, Karen keeps talking in circles,” he said. “She has always something that’s bothering her ... We’re certain we’re solid grounds on who can determine what goes where.”

Hackel said Spranger informed his office Tuesday that she wants a wall erected in certain storage areas to protect records. The county agreed to her request, he said.

A hearing initially set for Tuesday over a temporary restraining order against Spranger was scheduled for Wednesday morning before Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Kathryn A. Viviano.

In the lawsuit, the county said Spranger has given “bizarre reasons” for objecting to a move of the Register of Deeds and Vital Records offices to the Talmer Building at 120 N. Main, which underwent $1.5 million in renovations. The county also alleges that the clerk was caught on video hiding packing boxes.

Spranger responded to the lawsuit Tuesday, saying the executive’s office is shutting her out and the action is part of a drive to remove her from office.

The county in the lawsuit said Spranger, who was elected in November, gave numerous reasons to prevent the move including the location of the bathrooms, which she said were “unworkable.” She also objected to moving the Vital Records employees and materials “to prevent fraud and abuse.”

The move is part of a $65 million project after a 2013 fire forced the relocation of several county departments into the cramped court building on a temporary basis, according to the lawsuit. The previous county clerk had provided input into the design of the new office space, officials said.

“Regardless, the Clerk/Register of Deeds has no authority to determine at which county facility her department will be located,” the county wrote. “... the County Executive has such authority.”

The county alleges that at 7:12 a.m. Thursday, Spranger was captured on video hiding the packing boxes that were delivered to the Clerk’s Office and said that she later left a note on boxes saying: “Please do not use or move, County Clerk Karen.”

“Despite all of the preparations for the move, Clerk Spranger has publicly stated that she will not move and directed her staff not to cooperate with any such move,” county officials said.

Cusumano said Tuesday Spranger did not hide the boxes, but instead was moving them from a public area.

“She does it right in front of the security guards,” he said. “If you’re trying to hide something, you don’t leave your name on it. She didn’t want (contractors) putting debris in it. There’s no surreptitious behavior. That’s her getting them out the way for the day’s business.”

In a written response to the suit, Cusumano said in the response to the lawsuit that the County Executive’s Office is “staging another political power play and is setting the stage to blame any cost overruns and mismanagement by its or its contractors on the clerk.”

The shut out is “part of a drive to remove Spranger from her office and reverse the results of the election,” Cusumano wrote.

Spranger is no stranger to controversy since she took office in January.

Last month, the county ethics board fined her $100 for ethics violations while acting on complaints from one of two top appointees the clerk fired in March. She was found in violation of the county’s ethics ordinance when she allowed non-county employees to access county computer equipment. The fine follows county officials revoking her computer access in January. The former appointees filed a lawsuit in March claiming that Spranger harassed them, and that the firings violated their First Amendment rights and the Michigan Whistleblower Protection Act.

Hours after receiving the ethics violations fine, Spranger was cited by Roseville police for a crash while driving a county-owned vehicle. She told police that her foot slipped off the brake pedal onto the gas, causing her car to accelerate. Spranger was cited for failure to stop within a clear assured distance and for having no proof of insurance.

In the affidavit, Spranger contends the assignment of the workers in the department to the Talmer building as described by the County Executive’s Office is “an intrusion in the management, supervision and control” of her public office at the clerk/register of deeds.

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