Candice Miller: Legacy of firsts in public service

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Hours before her first day in office as Macomb County’s elected public works director, Candice Miller hit the ground running.

A sewer collapse created a giant sinkhole in Fraser that threatened to swallow homes and perhaps cause an environmental catastrophe. While her predecessor was vacationing in Florida, Miller, 63, was calling in the troops.

Candice Miller: “There was a whole culture here that had to be changed. ... Some people responded that was the way things had been done for decades in Macomb County. I told them ‘Not anymore.’”

Several million dollars and several weeks later, the crisis was addressed — the repair of the 15 Mile Interceptor completed on time and under budget. She is perhaps as proud that not one gallon of untreated wastewater ever made its way into the Clinton River or Lake St. Clair.

But there wasn’t much time for celebration. After that emergency, the feds came knocking, subpoenaing 10 of her 65 employees to appear before a grand jury investigation looking into possible corruption concerning the public works office. Dino Bucci — a Macomb Township trustee and former public works operational manager  — was eventually indicted on 18 offenses of wrongdoing, which if convicted, may ultimately result in 20 years in prison.

“I formally took office at 8 a.m. on Jan. 1 and he (Bucci) was out in 20 minutes,” she said. “There was a whole culture here that had to be changed. We had several people here who pretty much did whatever they wanted to do — from snowplowing the driveways of their family and friends to using county equipment and manpower for various inappropriate tasks.

“Some of them are gone now and some of them are out cleaning drainage ditches — which was and remains one of this department’s most valuable and needed duties,” she said.

Her career began, she recalls, when — as a 20-something Harrison Township resident and part-time boat saleswoman — she battled local officials over an issue affecting her family-owned marina.

“I didn’t think it was right, who were these people?” said Miller, who decided to run — and eventually won — a spot on the trustee board in 1979.

When the township supervisor was recalled, Miller — with less than nine months of newly acquired political experience — took a run for the vacated spot. And was elected — the youngest and first woman to ever hold the office.

In 1992, she was elected to the countywide post of Macomb County treasurer, again the first woman at that job and the first Republican to win a countywide office in Macomb County in more than 60 years. Two years later, in 1994, she was elected the first female secretary of state and served two terms before running for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2002 in Michigan’s 10th District.

In March 2015 Miller announced she would not seek another term in Congress. Instead, she ran for county public works director and defeated the six-term incumbent, Anthony Marrocco, a Democrat.

Along the way, Miller has found encouragement from unlikely corners, including Democrat Mark Hackel, Macomb County executive.

“We had breakfast one morning and she broke the news to me she planned to run for the public works office,” Hackel recalled. “I was excited. I had no communication or cooperation with Marrocco and was glad to support her for the job.

Another Miller admirer is Hackel’s counterpart, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson.

“A rare individual,” Patterson said. “When she takes on a job, she masters it. I’m glad she is on our side.”

Miller said when she ran for her current job she had two guiding goals: clean water and clean government. She continues to work on both, she said.

Her name has been brought up in conversations concerning potential candidates for governor. She smiles at the suggestion but responds: “Not by me. I’m happy where I’m at. I’m passionate about my work.”

“There remains a lot of work to be done,” Miller said. “I plan on running for re-election and glad to be involved in keeping our water clean. It's hard work, but that’s life. Life is challenge. Life is conflict and resolution.”

Candice S. Miller

Occupation: Macomb County public works director

Education: Attended Macomb Community College

Family: Husband, Donald; one adult daughter

Why honored: Nearly four decades of public service in Michigan including most recently managing a potential environmental crisis after inheriting a county department that is the focus of possible corruption

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