Committee hearing uncertain for LARA appointee with potential conflict of interest

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
State Sen. Peter Lucido

Lansing — The Republican senator responsible for reviewing Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s appointments is unsure whether he’ll hold a hearing regarding a potential conflict of interest for the state's new licensing director.

A conflict of interest, when it arises, should be handled according to department policy and procedure, said Sen. Peter Lucido, not necessarily in a committee hearing to confirm the appointee.

“I don’t think it’s an appointment that needs to be questioned just yet,” said Lucido, the Shelby Township Republican who chairs the Senate’s Advice and Consent Committee.

Lucido’s comments come as Whitmer voiced support Tuesday for her cabinet members, including Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs appointee Orlene Hawks, whose husband, Michael Hawks, is a Lansing lobbyist.

Michael Hawks’ company, Governmental Consultant Services Inc., assists clients in several areas overseen by his wife’s department, including licensing approval, liquor control and regulatory items, according to the GCSI website.

He was named the second most effective multi-client lobbyist in the state by a 2017 MIRS/EPIC-MRA Insider Survey.

Licensing and Regulatory Affairs houses more than a dozen bureaus including the Michigan Occupational and Safety Health Administration (MiOSHA); the Michigan Public Service Commission; Corporations, Securities & Commercial Licensing; the Liquor Control Commission; Community and Health Systems; Professional Licensing; and Marijuana Regulation.   

The former director of the Office of Children’s Ombudsman, Orlene Hawks said she is not a shareholder of GCSI and would comply with civil service rules and protocols to ensure the department’s laws were “administered fairly, efficiently, consistently and transparently.”

“Throughout my entire career in state government, I have served the people of Michigan with the utmost honesty and integrity, and will continue to do so as LARA director,” Hawks said in a statement issued by a LARA spokesman.

Michael Hawks did not return a phone call and email seeking comment.

Orlene Hawks will comply with all LARA rules, which enforce civil service rules, agency spokesman Jason Moon said. That includes rules that require LARA employees to submit forms within 14 days of hire that disclose potential conflicts of interest. 

Department rules also specifically prohibit employees from exercising "any decision-making authority of the state regarding any regulation, enforcement, auditing, licensing, or purchasing with respect to any business or entity in which the employee or a member of the employee’s immediate family has any financial interest or management authority."

Whitmer has confidence that her cabinet members “will be ethically conscious, serve with integrity and are committed to putting Michigan residents first," according to a statement from her spokeswoman Tiffany Brown

“The governor's expectations for her administration and state employees are clear, as witnessed by the executive directive she signed just days after taking office, focused on assuring a good, ethical state government,” Brown said.  

Advice and Consent Committee meetings, when needed for an appointee, would instead focus on experience, background and what makes the appointees “uniquely qualified to do the work for the people,” Lucido said.

All evidence so far indicates Orlene Hawks matches that description, he said. 

"She has an impeccable background for public service," Lucido said

The Hawks dilemma is not the first in state government, nor will it be the last, he said. Lucido noted that another lobbyist, Deb Muchmore, helped Nestle during its fight to gain water withdrawal permits from state government after her husband, Dennis Muchmore, served as Snyder’s chief of staff.

Likewise, last week, former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley registered as a lobbyist with the Small Business Association of Michigan, where he will be able to lobby his own wife, Rep. Julie Calley of Portland.

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