In wake of controversy, 17 seek to be next Macomb clerk

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News
Macomb County seal

Mount Clemens – Among the 17 candidates vying to be the next Macomb County Clerk is one hopeful who believes his combat and military experience would be a good fit for the job.

He may have a point.

Steve Bieda

More than a year of controversy has flared surrounding the post and its former occupant, Karen Spranger, who battled the county court over office operations.

Spranger's tumultuous tenure ended after 14 months in March when a judge removed her from office, ruling that she was not a county resident when she ran for office in 2016. Kathy Smith, who was appointed interim clerk, is not running for the permanent post.

 In that wake, vitriolic mailers have gone out to voters on who is best qualified to take over the job. Even County Executive Mark Hackel has weighed in on the Aug. 7 primary race, which will decide who will face off in the November general election to complete the final two years of Spranger’s term.

The field is large: six Democrats and 11 Republicans. Some are familiar to Macomb County voters. Some are new faces.

Macomb County Commissioner Fred Miller

The best-known Democrats are state Sen. Steve Bieda of Warren and former county commissioner and state lawmaker Fred Miller, of Mount Clemens, who is making his second run for the clerk's job. 

Bieda and Miler have openly criticized each other and been the subject of news articles prompted by Bieda’s complaint that Miller has been improperly supported by bingo games run by the Philip A. Hart Democratic Club. Bieda has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission over what he believes are election campaign violations. 

In its quarterly filing with the IRS, the Building a Better Michigan Group, an advocacy organization, reported it received $250,000 from the  Macomb County-based Hart Club. But Bieda says that contrary to state election reporting requirements, the Hart Club has never disclosed to anyone how it spent about $100,000 in ads criticizing him and supporting a fellow Democrat, Miller.

Geoffrey Varga, candidate for Macomb County clerk.

“I am the only candidate who can return ethics and integrity to the Macomb County Clerk's Office,” said Bieda, who has been endorsed by Hackel and Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith.

“As a state legislator, I've sponsored many bills making it easier to vote and authored the only major piece of ethics legislation signed in the last 10 years, the law requiring politicians' legal defense funds to disclose their donors following the Kwame Kilpatrick scandal.”

Miller who lost to Spranger by 635 votes in November 2016, said he has the “right skill-set to get the Macomb County Clerk's Office back on track and have a proven track record of working for reform and taking on powerful insiders. “

“As a Macomb County commissioner, I authored the county's first Ethics Ordinance and voted three times against pay raises for elected officials including myself,” said Miller. “As clerk, I will refuse the perks of a county car and free gas because no one, no matter their title, deserves special treatment."

Ralph Lambert, candidate for Macomb County clerk

Chesterfield Township Republican Lisa Sinclair promised to provide “fair and efficient service to all 870,000 people in Macomb County.”

“I want to be there to serve the residents during their best/worst days to support and guide them through all the services offered by the clerk's office,” said Sinclair. “As the clerk, I will provide the most well-run office ever in history.”

Another candidate, Shelby Township Democrat Geoffrey Varga, described himself as “a U.S. combat veteran with experience working in military offices equivalent to the Macomb County Clerk’s Office."

“With leadership skills and the ability to adapt to any task, (I have) what it takes to be a successful Macomb County Clerk,” Varga said.

Another candidate with military service, Ralph Lambert, stressed how he had served in the U.S. Army Reserve for more than eight years and the U.S. Navy for more than 30 years. 

Lisa Sinclair, candidate for Macomb County clerk

“While the military may be done with me, I am not done serving the American people,” said Lambert, a Clinton Township Republican. “Specifically, I saw a need here in Macomb County and I can do it and do it well.

“I served nearly half of my time in the Navy very successfully doing administrative duties,” Lambert said. “I am more than qualified and can do this job well."

Cindy Konal, a St. Clair Shores Democrat, is a director of clinical services, quality and training for Macomb County Community Health and said she will “ensure citizens receive efficient and effective services.”

Cindy Konal, candidate for Macomb County clerk

“Transparent governmental processes are necessary for voters to become more knowledgeable about their elected officials and the decisions that those officials make,” Konal said.

Warren Republican Alan Shepperd is making his third attempt at public office, having fallen short a few years ago in races for Warren City Council and Macomb County sheriff. Shepperd, who is a commercial and residential real estate inspector, believes the county clerk’s office needs a “new, positive direction.”

“The last clerk messed it up,” said Shepperd. “I want to work with Republicans and Democrats to improve service and eliminate waste.”

Jaxon Goodman, a Clinton Township Republican who's completing work for a law degree from Thomas Cooley Law School in Auburn Hills, said he is a lifelong Macomb County resident who is “devoted to serving the Macomb community with the efficiency and courtesy this county deserves."

Jaxon Goodman, candidate for Macomb County clerk

“I have been raised by lifelong public servants that value a hard-working community over a  community plagued by political smokescreen,” Goodman said. “As the judicial system transitions into the technological era, the clerk's office needs progressive leadership in addressing the problems with e-filing/Truefiling systems.”

Trese Servitto-Smith, a Romeo Republican, is employed as an accounting clerk and controller's assistant with 30 plus years of working experience.

“As a lifelong resident of Macomb County, it would be an honor and privilege to serve the community,” she said.

Trese Servitto-Smith

Julie Williams, a Republican who has worked in the county clerk's office, is touting her experience.

"The clerk's office needs an administrator familiar with the needs of those in the title industry, legal profession and can provide excellent service to the general public," she said. "The office cannot make new laws, but must follow the laws enacted by the legislature.The integrity of the vote is (a) critical component, and I have previously worked as an election inspector."

One candidate, Chesterfield County Democrat Eva Tkacyk, declined to be interviewed for this story. 

Several other candidates’ phones had been disconnected or had recordings that reported their voice mails were full.

Those who could not be reached included Democrat Carol Shumard Diehl and Republicans Nicholyn Brandenburg and James Perna, both former county commissioners; plus GOP candidates Sylvia Grot, who ran for clerk in 2016; Randell Shafer and Paula Verticchio.

County executive race

Hackel, a Democrat, is being challenged by one Democrat in the primary, while two Republicans also covet his $139,773-a-year job.

In a recent interview, Hackel – who won re-election in 2014 with 69 percent of votes cast – expressed so much confidence in his re-election chances this year that he noted while he had sent out a mailer encouraging voters to support Bieda for county clerk, he hadn’t bothered to mail out a campaign flyer on his own behalf.

His rivals all indicated a belief that reform is needed in county government.

Arnold Simkus of Warren described himself as a “Trump Democrat” and “small business owner” running for county executive.

“I run to be the voice of the common law-abiding American citizen,” he said. “… My campaign is to do great things for Macomb County like fix our roads now, bring in great paying jobs and in the process unify Democrats to support our president.”

Simkus would like to “establish new curriculums to teach good paying job skills to residents” and “create a Golden Groesbeck ‘New Jobs Alley’ that will rival California’s famous ‘Silicon Valley.’”

Norbert Golembiewski, a Sterling Heights Republican, said he is running for the county’s top elected office, because he “wants to clean up the Macomb County swamp.”

“Let’s get rid of corruption, e.g. The 15 Mile Sewer Collapse,” Golembiewski said. “Ethics – honesty must be reintroduced to County Government. Respect and cooperation between county labor, Board of Commissioners and county executive. Taking action on needed projects now instead of later.”

Joseph Hunt, a Warren Republican, said: “If elected, I will use my years of marketing and networking communications skills to reorganize the charter, replace bureaucrats, budget for a public defender, and eradicate the internal government abuses.”

Hunt, who has run unsuccessfully for several elected offices in the county and also in Warren government, was the 2016 campaign manager for Spranger.

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