Spranger argues her case against Macomb officials

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit – Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger said Tuesday in federal court that she has faced “big-time resistance” from other county officials in trying to do her job.

Spranger, who took office last year, represented herself during a hearing on a motion to dismiss her lawsuit, which alleges that Macomb County’s chief judge, other county officials, a union president and news reporters have colluded to prevent her from carrying out her official duties.

The 23-page lawsuit seeks in excess of $100,000 in damages and requests several actions to undo court-ordered legal actions taken in recent months against Spranger.

U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh asked Spranger to explain why she felt her constitutional rights were being violated as she alleged in the lawsuit she filed last month.

“There’s a lot of nonagreement,” Spranger said. “We tried to negotiate ... big-time resistance. It caused hardships to do what I need to do as county clerk.”

Spranger said she faced obstacles from other county officials in in trying to get another facility to house county records.

But Macomb County’s lead counsel, John Schapka, said Spranger’s lawsuit was “very, very vague” and lacked constitutional references relating to her job.

“Her complaint makes no mention of policy and practices,” Schapka told Steeh.

Spranger countered that the “law is very clear” about careful record keeping.

“(The law) gives us statutes to follow,” she said. “We need to keep records. This (issue) has caused a big dysfunction in the office.”

Spranger later added, “I’m struggling to do what is right,” adding that one of her fights against other county officials involves getting overtime approved for her office staff to complete work.

Steeh told Spranger, “Tell me what you think your constitutional violations are coming from.”

Spranger answered the judge’s question with a complaint that she isn’t able to keep track of the budget for her department.

The county clerk filed a motion for summary judgment Tuesday. Steeh said he would not rule on motions from either side for another month.

Besides Schapka, others singled out in Spranger’s complaint include deputy Macomb County Executive Mark Deldin; Karen Bathanti, the county’s human resources and labor relations director; Donna Cangemi, president of AFSCME Local 411 union; Macomb Chief Circuit Judge James Biernat Jr.; Jason Colthorp, a reporter for WDIV-TV (Channel 4); and Jameson Cook, a reporter for the Macomb Daily.

The federal lawsuit is the fourth piece of litigation involving the Macomb County clerk.

Two suits are pending before Judge Daniel Kelly of St. Clair County Circuit Court after the entire Macomb Circuit bench recused itself from hearing matters involving Spranger.

Another pending federal whistleblower lawsuit was brought against Spranger after she fired two county employees.

Since taking office a year ago, Spranger has been embroiled in a series of political fights with other county officials and has clashed with the county workers’ union over work rules for the 85 employees she supervises.

Mike Martindale contributed.

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