County board rejects Hackel’s choice for chief legal counsel

Former Shelby supervisor also replaced as interim attorney

By: Jeremy Selweski | C&G Newspapers | Published August 20, 2013

MACOMB COUNTY — In the latest dustup between Macomb County’s legislative and executive branches, the Board of Commissioners shot down Executive Mark Hackel’s appointment for the county’s top attorney.

The board conducted an extensive interview with Gabriel Orzame Jr. at its Aug. 8 meeting before voting 7-4 to reject him as the next Macomb County corporation counsel. Commissioners Joe Sabatini, R-Macomb Township, and Toni Moceri, D-Warren, were not present for the vote.

Orzame, who currently works as a management analyst for the U.S. District Court in Detroit, was Hackel’s choice to replace longtime Corporation Counsel George Brumbaugh, who recently retired after serving in the position for more than two decades. However, Board Chairman Dave Flynn, D-Sterling Heights, pointed out that he and other board members had two major problems with Hackel appointing Orzame to the corporation counsel seat.

“The board was seeking some level of participation in the selection process, but we were denied that request by (the county executive’s) office,” he said. “The corporation counsel reports to both the executive and legislative branches, so we thought that we should be included in selecting our own attorney.”

As Flynn explained, the board also took issue with the fact that Orzame — who has spent the past 13 years working for courts in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, including five years as a research attorney for the Macomb County Circuit Court — has never before served in city or county government.

“There were some concerns about his qualifications because he has no prior municipal or management experience,” he said. “It was also evident during his interview that he had a real lack of vision for the office of the corporation counsel and how he would settle disputes between the legislative and executive branches. The entire interview process lacked specific answers, especially with regard to how he would improve management out of that office.”

Orzame could not be reached for comment by press time, but Hackel stated that he was confused by the board’s decision. He called Flynn’s assertion that the board had requested to be part of the selection process “an absolute lie,” adding that he was under no obligation to include them anyway.

“The board had every right to deny my appointee, but I think their rationale for doing so was way off base,” Hackel said. “Everything always comes back to the (Macomb County) charter, and that is what I have to follow. I appoint; they confirm. It’s as simple as that. All you have to do is read the charter.”

Hackel also contended that Orzame’s lengthy résumé should have been more than enough to earn him the job. “Not only does he meet every single qualification that was set forth, but he exceeds all of them,” he said. “Once again, the board is just trying to prevent me from doing my job, which is following the charter that voters approved.”

The corporation counsel selection process included a six-person panel consisting of Hackel, Assistant Executive Al Lorenzo, Deputy Executive Mark Deldin, Sheriff Anthony Wickersham, Chief Circuit Court Judge John Foster, and Human Resources and Labor Relations Director Eric Herppich. The panel received 47 applications for the position, interviewing four finalists before ultimately agreeing on Orzame as their top choice.

“My process was very intensive and thorough,” Hackel said. “There were numerous interviews conducted by some of the most qualified, educated professionals in Macomb County.”

Following Brumbaugh’s retirement on July 26, Hackel hired former Shelby Township Supervisor Ralph “Skip” Maccarone to serve as interim corporation counsel until Orzame could be confirmed by the Board of Commissioners. One week later, a meet-and-greet event was held to honor Brumbaugh and welcome Maccarone and Orzame to the fold.

But things did not turn out as Hackel had planned. After Orzame’s rejection by the board, Hackel announced on Aug. 13 that he had replaced Maccarone with John Schapka, who for the last year has served as an assistant Macomb County corporation counsel following 18 years with the city of Detroit’s Law Department and nine years with the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps.

Hackel explained that Maccarone, who has his own private legal practice, was only able to fill the position on a part-time basis, while Schapka can handle it full-time.

“Skip’s appointment was only meant to be for a very short time period,” he said. “So we needed to make a change once the board denied my candidate. Mr. Schapka already has some great experience working in that office, so he has a strong understanding of how to run it. I am very comfortable with him as our interim corporation counsel.”

Flynn praised the work that Maccarone did during his limited time serving Macomb County. “Skip was extremely attentive to all the requests made by the Board of Commissioners, and he attended every meeting held by the full board and all of our individual committees,” he said.

At this point, the selection process for a new corporation counsel must begin again at square one. Flynn said that there was no definite timeline in place right now, but he hopes that the board could confirm a successor to Brumbaugh within the next six months. In terms of working together with the county executive on the appointment, he noted that he had briefly met with Hackel’s staff but that “no specific plans” were made.

“We hope that the county executive’s office starts this whole thing over again and decides to include the Board of Commissioners this time,” Flynn said. “That will ensure a more inclusive selection process and give the board a lot more confidence in confirming Macomb County’s next corporation counsel. Obviously, by charter, the executive has the right not to include the board in this process, but that would not be the smart or fair way to do it.”

Hackel, though, asserted that he is “in no hurry” to appoint a new attorney if it means compromising his role in the process. He said that he is unwilling to allow the board to be part of selecting appointees of the executive branch unless they are willing to surrender their power to confirm them.

“I’m not flustered by this setback in the slightest,” Hackel insisted. “I’m not really worried about how long it’s going to take to appoint someone new — this job will get done when it gets done. I will continue working to move Macomb County forward. None of the roadblocks that this board or anyone else puts in front of me is going to stop me from doing what I need to do.”