Ousted Macomb clerk seeks job back, claims ‘rebellion’

Mike Martindale, and Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Mount Clemens – The recently ousted Macomb County clerk is asking officials — from county leaders to President Donald Trump — to investigate whether her removal by a judge last week violated her rights and state law.

In an 11-page letter dated Monday and sent to Gov. Rick Snyder, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI, Trump and others, Karen Spranger asked for an audit of what she called criminal activity by other county officials. She also asked for her job back.

“My request is for an immediate investigation and audit to detect these possible crimes against the clerk of courts office and the return of my elected position and the return of all illegally removed files by those public officials who are in insurrection and rebellion and who have gone on strike against the constitution,” Spranger wrote.

Neither Spranger nor her attorney could be reached for comment Tuesday but Macomb County’s chief corporation counsel, John Schapka, dismissed Spranger’s claims — filed in federal court — as “meandering gibberish” and something out of a comedy film.

“It is delusionary and without any merit,” Schapka said. “I can’t imagine anyone reading it and taking it seriously. It’s gibberish … a series of unrelated events run together and combined with about seven cut-and-paste pages of the state constitution with no explanation on how or why they apply to her case.”

The letter is titled “Administrative Claim Notice of Administrative Overthrow of a Constitutional Office Clerk of Court of Macomb County by Rogue Agents.”

In it, Spranger requests an immediate probe of her removal from office, claiming she had been illegally pushed out of office partly because of her promise to “clean up the corruption and misuse of public funds that come into this court…”

“I can hardly get past the title of the letter,” Schapka said. “It reads like a Marx Brothers comedy, like the one where Groucho played the ruler of some nonexistent country.”

Spranger, a Republican, was elected clerk in November 2016, took office in January 2017 and soon became embroiled in battles both inside and outside court with office employees, their union and county officials over ethics, hiring and how the office should be run.

Following a residency challenge, Spranger was removed from office March 27 after St. Clair Circuit Judge Daniel Kelly determined she had improperly listed a Warren address as her primary residence in election affidavits to run for office. Spranger has adamantly insisted she lived at the house on Hudson Street, which she co-owns with a relative.

But the county conducted an investigation that found the address had gone months without electricity, heat or water and was filled with trash. Neighbors also said Spranger did not reside there. The county determined she had a Bridge card that she used to make purchases almost exclusively in western Wayne County suburbs.

Her deputy clerk, Jackie Ryan, was fired this past week by temporary Clerk Kathy Brower, who was appointed by Judge James Biernat of Macomb County Circuit Court. A longer-term replacement will be appointed by the Macomb County Circuit bench to fill the office until the November election, Schapka said.

“(Spranger) can run again if she wants,” Schapka said. “I just hope this time she puts down her correct address.”

The Spranger filing has a letterhead that lists Rodney Dale, “Private Attorney General and Constitutional Bounty Hunter.” Dale, from North Carolina, is part of an anti-government corruption group.

Spranger’s letter mentions county officials she believes should be investigated, including Treasurer Lawrence Rocca and Sheriff Anthony Wickersham, for perceived roles in her ouster.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said Brower has stabilized the office since being appointed interim clerk March 28, a day after Spranger was removed.

“Simply, (Brower) understands what’s going on with the employees,” Hackel told The Detroit News. “Not only did Karen not understand the function of the office, but what the effect was on the employees. With (Brower), the tension is gone. She understands the challenges, hiring new employees and dealing with the backlog.”

Hackel said Macomb County officials believe Brower should maintain the office until the next election cycle. If Brower is replaced by another temporary clerk by the 14-member circuit court bench, that person would be the third clerk the county has had this year, with the potential for a fourth clerk, depending on who is elected in November.

“Our wishes are to allow (Brower) to maintain that office until the public can make that decision, one that should have been made 15 months ago in a more fair manner,” Hackel said.

Hackel said Brower, a county employee since 1992, is not interested in running for office and “could help run a fair election cycle.”

In a statement Tuesday issued by Macomb County Circuit Court, Biernat said he and the other judges “are planning on conducting a public meeting to discuss the selection of a new clerk in an open and transparent manner.”

That meeting is scheduled for April 13.

“I can assure you that the judges have not yet made a decision regarding this appointment,” Biernat said.

In the same statement, Brower said: “I have been very busy with this new role, and I’m trying to focus all my attention and energy on the tasks in front of me. I have no interest in running a political campaign, and I just try to stay away from politics and do what is needed.”

Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith said the sheriff’s office continues to investigate allegations that Spranger lied under oath about her residency, as well as reports that the ousted clerk made inappropriate travel expenditures.

“In the 25 years I’ve been in the office, we’ve processed zero perjury cases,” Smith said. “They’re extremely difficult to prove. When Tony (Wickersham) and his guys do an investigation, we do want to feel confident we are able to prove, convict, with any case in general.”

Wickersham said an investigation into allegations that Spranger kicked a court clerk while trying to force her way into an office has been closed.

Candice Miller, Macomb County public works commissioner, said Republican and Democratic officials are unified in restoring stability to the clerk’s office.

“Macomb County has gone through so much turmoil in dealing with the county clerk’s office … a very critical component of countywide government,” Miller, a Republican, said during a press conference Tuesday. “The court made the right decision but going forward … if (Brower) could remain in there, bring stability to that office, while you simply let the people decide. If you are actually a legal resident, we encourage you to think about applying.”

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