Spranger responds to county board on staffing, backlogs

Sarah Rahal, and Christine Ferretti

Mount Clemens — Macomb County’s clerk appeared before the board of commissioners on Thursday to address questions involving the operations of her office from budgeting to backlogs and employee management.

The meeting, much like Spranger’s appearance in Circuit Court the day before, seemed a combination of confusion and frustration — this time for Spranger and for the commissioners — that have marked her time in office.

“You’re way off,” said an impatient commission Chairman Bob Smith, D-Clinton Township, referring to comments he felt did not answer a board member’s question about her management style. “I don’t know where you’re going with all this.”

At the end, the board was not satisfied with her responses about when her office’s backlogs and staffing issues would be addressed.

But, said Smith, “it was good to get her under oath because now she can’t change her answers.”

The board earlier this month invoked a state statute requiring Karen Spranger, who is also the county register of deeds, to provide a report under oath in response to dozens of questions that commissioners said are necessary to determine if the Clerk’s Office is operating effectively.

Why is there a backlog of 4,400 people not uploaded to the Law Enforcement Information Network, a statewide database that which compiles an individual's criminal records? they said.

Spranger said she had only one person trained to handle the LEIN and e-filings. She said she understood the consequences of not keeping the LEIN database up to date. After the meeting, she said she only recently had been aware of the backlog after a supervisor left the office.

“There are 4,400 people who have not been reported to the police departments (in Macomb County) for crimes, who have not got their driving suspended,” said Commissioner Kathy Tocco, D-Fraser. “Of all the problems that we have with you, this should be the most important. This isn’t about your shenanigans in here. Now you’ve put the public at risk.”

Similarly, court filings through the e-filing system for civil cases are a month behind from the Clerk’s Office, commissioners said.

Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger appears before Macomb County's Board of Commissioners at Macomb County building in Mount Clemens , Michigan on November 30.

Spranger said she couldn’t give an estimate on when either system would be caught up, how much it would cost in overtime or when vacancies for workers who do those filings will be filled. Meanwhile, the county filed a lawsuit Monday seeking a court order to compel Spranger to perform her duties as clerk, including the use of the LEIN and the e-filing system.

Spranger had earlier vowed to improve operations and has said she was trying to fill essential vacant positions and hoped to accomplish the tasks by the end of January.

Still, board members clearly were frustrated with her answers Thursday.

“She was elected by the people to keep the train moving and not to be here and play games,” said Commissioner Robert Leonetti. “She’s endangering the public.”

The Republican clerk has been embroiled in controversy and lawsuits since taking office in January. The costs are adding up for Spranger and she has sought the cost of her counsel from the county. The board unanimously voted Thursday to provide her independent legal representation, a provision she did not have Wednesday when she acted as her own counsel and questioned her own witnesses in the worker dismissal issue.

One commissioner was concerned about the legal wrangling and her battles with officials over how she handles her office. In the past, they have balked at her choice of chief deputy clerk. She objected to the no firearms zone for her two county offices. They’ve accused her of falsifying her residency; she said county officials have undermined and acted against her. The county executive accused her of a “lack of compliance with her office’s budget.” (Her lawyer countered that she did submit a budget and she asked for an audit of certain expenditures and “they didn’t cooperate ...”)

On Thursday, Commissioner Victoria Klinefelt said: “You disagree on everything. You want a lawyer for every disagreement to fight everybody. Is it possible that you are the one that’s wrong?”

Spranger replied: “You have an opinion and I have an opinion.”

When she was asked if she had any regrets about any mistakes she may have made, Spranger said she wished that there was a smoother transition period when she took over as clerk.

Smith said after the meeting that the board would continue to seek answers.

"We saw that she couldn’t find anything she’s done wrong,” he said. “She blamed other people and departments but didn’t look in the mirror.”

Spranger said her office was always understaffed and that she was recently made aware of the backlogs.

Spranger spent Wednesday in Macomb Circuit Court over whether she violated a court order that forbids her from retaliating against or harassing union employees.

After the 5 1/2 -hour hearing, Judge Richard Caretti said he would issue a written opinion this week.

After Wednesday’s hearing, Spranger said the dispute involving the employee has “escalated to a level that’s out of control.”

The clerk has clashed with the county workers’ union over work rules for the 85 employees she supervises. She also came under fire when she attempted to block the moving of her offices and workers into another building — a plan that had been in the works before her election. Her spat with the county prompted it to file a lawsuit against her that was eventually settled.

Spranger fired her deputy and another at-will employee three months after taking the job and was subsequently sued.

She was fined by the county Ethics Committee for violating provisions of the use of the county computer system by non-county workers.

In June, Spranger sued Macomb County to have the “no firearm zone” status removed from the two buildings that house her county offices. She’s also seeking redress and an injunction against perceived wrongs by county officials against her.

The county filed a counterclaim on Aug. 1, seeking to remove Spranger from office because she allegedly falsified her residency in paperwork filed in her bid for public office. A judge this week ruled the county’s counterclaim against Spranger may proceed in court.

About a dozen positions in the department are currently unfilled, she wrote.

Spranger identified that 40 grievances have been filed against her, 22 by the AFSCME local and another 18 by a UAW local. But she wrote that she didn’t believe any of them are justified.

Despite that, Spranger contends that morale in her office “is great” with a vast majority of the employees.