Agreement made in partial move of Clerk’s Office

By: Brian Louwers, Julie Snyder | C&G Newspapers | Published May 11, 2017

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MACOMB COUNTY — After weeks of dispute and a court injunction, Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger agreed to a May 10 court order that ultimately means a partial move, as planned, of her office from the Circuit Court building to the former Talmer Bank building at 120 N. Main St.

The Register of Deeds and Vital Records were slated to be moved the weekend of May 13-14, after press time.

Macomb County Chief Deputy Executive Mark Deldin said before the court order was made that he was “cautiously optimistic,” since the design of the clerk’s building was overseen by Clerk’s Office heads with two dozen years of experience.

Former Clerk Carmella Sabaugh, who held the elected position for 24 years, was instrumental in creating the design of the new location.

“This plan to move was made two and a half years ago,” Deldin said. “This is the culmination of two and a half years of procurement, design, construction and $1.4 million. Now (Spranger) doesn’t want to move.”

The renovations are part of the ongoing $65 million county government redevelopment project.

Spranger stated through her attorney that she felt there had been an overreach by the Macomb County Executive’s Office and that, as the elected clerk, she has a say in which of her departments go where.

Since taking office in January, Spranger has been embroiled in several controversies, including losing access to the county network after it was reported that she gave a non-employee computer access. She was ultimately fined $100 by the Macomb County Ethics Board for her actions. Spranger, as well as the county, is also named in a whistleblower lawsuit filed by two top deputies that she appointed and then fired for reporting her behavior. Spranger has called the accusations a result of miscommunication.

She could not be reached by press time for comment on the impending move.

However, in a letter to Deldin on May 2, Spranger’s independent counsel, Frank Cusumano Jr., said Spranger “has been wrongfully excluded from any input as to the move of her office to which spaces in the new buildings, that the plans are flawed and will be over time shown as such, and that her requests to improve the result — an optimal and functional workplace — are not requested and are ignored.”

“There is not even a ‘take it or leave it’ choice,” Cusumano states in his letter. “There is no choice, only directives which she must obey despite her misgivings and contrary opinions. Ultimately, she assumes that if there are problems with the new space, those problems will be spun and directed back at her in the effort to further delegitimize, recall and/or remove her from office.”

Through Cusumano, Spranger expressed concern that the move is not in the best interest of the staff and Macomb County customers.

Regardless, county officials were determined to go ahead with the move, with the Executive’s Office ordering the injunction.

The Register of Deeds and Vital Records, which process birth, death and marriage certificates, was scheduled to open for business May 15.

Another recent issue that Spranger has yet to address with the media is in reference to a home she owns in Warren. She listed the home on Hudson Avenue as her primary residence when she filed to run for office, but there, has been speculation about whether or not she lives there as the home is reportedly unkempt and the landscaping has not been maintained.

Deldin said the matter is not a county issue, unless a resident stands up to contest whether or not the home is Spranger’s residence.

“We’re focusing on this move,” he said.

According to city of Warren records, water service was turned off at a home in Spranger’s name in the 7500 block of Hudson Avenue, near Nine Mile and Van Dyke, on April 1, 2014.

The records show repeated, unsuccessful attempts to change out the water meter at that address, with included notes indicating that the meter was “inaccessible.” Notes in a report for the address, obtained by C & G Newspapers, further indicate that the meter was tagged for shutoff after the change could not be completed.

Records going back to 2003 show persistent questions about whether the home was occupied, based on low water consumption. In December 2003, a neighbor reportedly told a city employee that the owner was “not home much” but that the house was not vacant. Notes for August 2007 indicate that the water customer “lives alone” and “is very conservative,” and “also has a machine to dispense” water.

Questions about occupancy and water consumption lingered into 2011, and notes indicate that the home “looks like it is occupied” at that time. After that, notes detail continued attempts to change the meter extending through 2013.

In 2015, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the city of Warren’s denial of a Principal Residence Exemption for Spranger during the 2012 tax year at the Hudson address. According to court documents, the city found “that she did not occupy the property” and the Michigan Tax Tribunal concurred. In the appellate ruling, the court found that the tribunal’s decision to deny the exemption was “based on competent, material and substantial record evidence” and that the denial was “within its authority.”

The Michigan Tax Tribunal referee previously ruled with respect to the case that “water usage is considered a reliable and reasonable indicator for determining occupancy of a residence.” It was also noted that the records show that the minimum chargeable amount for water billing was never exceeded at the address between January 2008 and June 2012, and that the referee found Spranger’s assertion “that she conserves water and uses alternative water sources to be unpersuasive.”

It was noted in the ruling that the water was turned off because Spranger objected to the installation of a “smart meter.”

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