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State law may allow Commissioners to remove Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger from office

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

Enough is enough, Macomb County Commissioners say.  It's time for County Clerk Karen Spranger to go.

Before she was elected, Spranger was a political neophyte known for odd forms of protest, such as showing up at a Warren City Council meeting wearing a silver track suit, sunglasses, and two hats, to protest DTE smart meter installations.

It's not clear why Macomb County voters chose someone with no qualifications as their next County Clerk, but most county officials believe she was elected solely by virtue of straight-party ticket voting, and won the office on Donald Trump's coattails.

Spranger's tenure has been a whirlwind of one scandal after another, with lawsuits, employee grievances, a car wreck, allegations of perjury, and chaos in the day-to-day workings of a crucial county department that touches the lives of citizens, businesses, and the courts.

"She refuses to hire new employees," says County Commissioner Robert Leonetti, "so now we're down 11 or 12 employees, in her department, not to mention the ones that are on administrative leave because of harassment."

People are waiting in line for up to an hour to request a copy of a birth certificate, says Leonetti.  E-filings for court cases are a month behind.  Most alarming, he says, is the backlog of Law Enforcement Information Network or LEIN entries.  More than 1700 haven't been entered.

"People's lives are in jeopardy," he says.  "People's lives are on hold, businesses don't have access to vital information, people can't get their vital records."

The County has sued Spranger for allegedly lying about her address when she filed to run for County Clerk, which would likely disqualify her from the office, but the case is taking longer than expected. 

So commissioners are turning to an unprecedented use of MCL 46.11, which lists as one of the powers of a county board of commissioners the right to demand a report under oath on any subject connected with the duties of the office.  From the statute:

An officer who neglects or refuses either to make a report or give a bond within a reasonable time after being required to do so may be removed from office by the board by a vote of 2/3 of the members elected or appointed, and the office declared vacant.

Leonetti says his interpretation is Spranger can be removed from office if she is evasive or unresponsive to even a fraction of the more than 80 questions in the report. 

Some of the questions Spranger must answer relate to the findings of a November 7th internal audit report of the county clerk's office, which found "grossly deficient" financial controls throughout the office, including people's credit card numbers and expiration dates being stapled to paper receipts. 

From the audit:

We believe that without immediate corrective action, the operations of the Office of Vital Records and the Clerk's Court Office have an imminent risk of fraud as well as an imminent risk of causing expanded liability to the county.

The list of questions in the demand for a report also appears to indicate that Spranger has failed to pay a contractor that helps Macomb County conduct its elections. 

"Is it possible to conduct elections without those services?" reads one of the questions. 

Spranger must answer the written questions under oath and submit them by November 28th, and she must testify under oath before the Commission on November 30.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled the last name of Robert Leonetti.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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