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Chad Selweski

Chad Selweski

Will Replacing Macomb Clerk Spranger Create Another Circus?

March 30, 2018

So, wacky Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger was removed from office by the courts, ending 15 months of chaos in the clerk’s office, and now county judges will decide who replaces her – until a special election is held in November.

What could go wrong?

The 14 county Circuit Court judges — eight Democrats, six Republicans — will gather in the coming days to choose an interim clerk. If you think that’s a routine matter, you know nothing about Macomb County’s pugilistic politics.

The political volatility exists in part because Spranger is one of the few elected officials in Michigan history ever removed from office without a recall election or evidence of blatant malfeasance, such as embezzling taxpayer dollars.

The upcoming appointee, who serves through the end of the year, would enjoy a huge leg up on the competition in the fall election. This appointee could publicize their stamp of approval as the choice of Macomb’s top jurists and, more importantly, the chosen one would be someone who carries the all-important designation of incumbent clerk at the ballot box.

Until then, the internal political battles will be intense.

Already, numerous names have been tossed about by political insiders speculating about the ultimate outcome. At stake is a county clerk post that represents a big prize and a long-term presence in county government. Prior to Spranger’s bizarre election win in 2016, Macomb had just two county clerks over a period of more than 50 years — Edna Miller and Carmella Sabaugh.

Inevitably, the traditional Macomb County name-games in politics likely will rise to the forefront. We may see a Switalski, a Miller, a Rocca or a Viviano enter into this competition – maybe even two of each. (Watch for GOP state Sen. Tory Rocca of Sterling Heights to throw his hat into the ring not with a whisper, but with a big thud.)

In addition, we may witness the remnants of the runaway train known as “Clerk Spranger’s service” enter the fray. Spranger’s deputy clerk, Jackie Ryan, an oddball political activist from Sterling Heights, might emerge as the most comical candidate. Ryan previously has failed miserably in running for office but, beyond her bizarre behavior and disturbing loyalties to Spranger, her actions over the past week should disqualify her.

 

Former Macomb County Clerk Spranger

At a meeting of the county Ethics Board, Ryan repeatedly claimed, in a headache-inducing manner, that she was not a county employee. Though her paycheck came from the county, Ryan clumsily insisted that she was a Spranger appointee and worked exclusively for the clerk. This morning, after Spranger was summarily removed from county office, Ryan showed up at work and maintained that she was a rightful county employee. Sheriff’s deputies escorted her from the premises.

As for the Democrats, former county commissioner and state representative Fred Miller of Mount Clemens—the candidate who embarrassingly lost to Spranger—appears to be toying with the idea of a second shot. But Miller’s failure to win an election that should have been a no-brainer, plus his ethically challenged effort to secure Sabaugh’s endorsement, may present a taint that cannot be erased.

Chief Circuit Judge James Biernat, a former Republican county commissioner and a level-headed jurist who endured countless head-spinning moments during Spranger’s reign as clerk and register of deeds, must now pause and determine a way that this process can proceed that is best for the county.

A majority of the 14 judges could sway this whole process by appointing Todd Schmitz, Sabaugh’s deputy clerk, giving him frontrunner status heading into the November vote. Yes, Schmitz is a Democrat but, if truth be told, nearly every county official of every stripe knows that Schmitz was the high-tech brains behind Sabaugh’s long reign as county clerk and her many innovations, leading to dozens of “good government” awards from the National Association of Counties (NACo).

On Wednesday, Biernat’s first verdict was to appoint Kathy Brower — a longtime county civil servant who rose over 25 years from a secretarial position to overseer of the circuit court caseload at the Clerk’s Office — as the temporary county clerk for the next several days. A smart, nonpartisan choice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chief circuit Judge James Biernat

Meanwhile, the circuit judges would be wise to embrace the process that emerged in 2000 after longtime Democratic Sheriff Bill Hackel was convicted of rape, removed from office, and sent to prison for three years. During that traumatic moment in county history, officials agreed to appoint Undersheriff Ron Tuscany, a Hackel friend but also a stand-up guy, as the disgraced sheriff’s interim replacement – mostly because Tuscany announced that he had no interest in running in the impending election.

The subsequent 2000 campaign produced about two dozen candidates, Republicans and Democrats, and the voters chose the ex-sheriff’s son, Mark Hackel. The younger Hackel went on to serve 10 years as the county’s top lawman and then was elected as Macomb’s first county executive.

To the judges, I say, despite all the drama of the past 15 months, choose an interim appointee, perhaps a former nonpartisan city clerk, who vows not to run in the election. Let the voters, feeling a bit shameful for their 2016 choice, scan a clean slate and make their decision in the fall. They can’t possibly do worse than the tragic choice of Karen Spranger.

A freelance writer from Macomb County, Chad Selweski was the political reporter at The Macomb Daily for nearly 30 years. At the Daily he earned 50 journalism awards and in 2014 he was named by Politico as one of the “Media Stars” in seven political battleground states. He can be reached at chad.b.selweski@gmail.com.

March 29, 2018 · Filed under Chad Selweski

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mark Miller // Mar 30, 2018 at 8:56 am

    “…the all-important designation of incumbent clerk at the ballot box.” Check your facts concerning this, please. Google “Michigan Ballot Production Standards”

  • 2 Mary Mataczynski // Mar 30, 2018 at 10:54 am

    May we please learn from this experience and research our candidates better and vote only for qualified people at the local, state and federal level?

  • 3 John Q. Public // Mar 31, 2018 at 1:32 pm

    Qualified for what, Mary? In my non-Macomb County district, the people who win everything at every level are generally qualified to win elections. Qualified to do the day-to-day work, not so much.

    I’ll bet more than 95% of the ballots cast for any office are on a basis other than technical ability. See, e.g., political party, sex, military or paramilitary sevice, gregarious personality and a nice smile, etc.

    A 60-year-old wonk with a Ph.D and decades of relevant and outstanding policy experience usually doesn’t stand a chance against a 25-year -old cop who spent four years in the Marines.

  • 4 Mark Miller // Apr 6, 2018 at 9:55 am

    “…the chosen one would be someone who carries the all-important designation of incumbent clerk at the ballot box. ”

    This error still has not been corrected a week after my first post!

    Do you have any standards at Dome for making corrections to errors in your articles?

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