Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel filed a lawsuit in March against the Macomb County Board of Commissioners over the creation of a new senior advisory committee.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel filed a lawsuit in March against the Macomb County Board of Commissioners over the creation of a new senior advisory committee.

File photo by Erin Sanchez

Hackel, Board of Commissioners file opposing lawsuits regarding county’s charter

By: Joshua Gordon | C&G Newspapers | Published July 25, 2018


MOUNT CLEMENS — Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and the Board of Commissioners are back at debating the county’s charter, as a lawsuit by Hackel was met by a countersuit from the board in Macomb County Circuit Court.

Hackel filed a lawsuit against the Board of Commissioners in March, arguing that the board did not have the authority to create the Macomb County Older Adult Advisory Committee, and even if it did, the power to appoint members to the board should have been held by Hackel.

The commissioners created the committee last fall and picked members from each of the 13 districts, as well as four at-large members. Board Chair Bob Smith also serves as chair for the committee.

At the end of May, the board filed a countersuit against Hackel and the Executive’s Office after an overage cost was approved on the $65 million renovation project of county buildings in Mount Clemens that is related to a 2013 fire. 

According to the countersuit, any amendment and change order of over $35,000 are to be approved by the board as settled in a legal battle from six years prior between Hackel, and the board and the overage approved by the Executive’s Office was for more than that.

Smith said the board has also been denied access to the county’s financial software so the board can properly do its job. Smith said they are looking for read-only access to review documents.

Despite the second court battle between Hackel and the board in six years, both Hackel’s office and Smith said this is expected following the addition of a county executive in 2011. The form of government is modeled off of Wayne County, which Smith said had nearly 100 lawsuits in the first five years.

“This dispute is about what the charter says and that is pretty much it,” Smith said. “The biggest thing is the interpretation of the charter, and both sides agree if we cannot figure it out and find some kind of middle ground and understanding, then we would take it to the court to be the interpreter. We are working to come to some kind of resolution, and that will continue until the day the court case starts.”

Deputy County Executive Al Lorenzo agreed that this is a matter of interpreting what Hackel and the board can do under the charter, and he said he expects issues like this to continue for a while because it has only been seven years since a county executive was established.

“The suit that was originally filed has nothing to do with the senior citizens or services to senior citizens, but it has to do with the authority under the charter to create new advisory bodies and who makes appointments to those bodies,” Lorenzo said. “This could have been about anything. So both the original claim and the counterclaim deal with issues of charter interpretation as we continue to flesh out what the charter means.”

Lorenzo said the Executive’s Office believes the board did not have the authority to create the committee in the first place. Having too many advisory committees can create confusion in the government, according to the original suit.

On the board’s side, Smith said that by working through issues like this, it will help define and evolve the county government.

“This is more of where do we go from here, and once we come up with that, or the judge comes up with that, it is one more piece of the charter that is settled for future boards and executives,” Smith said. “The crux of this is which parts of our ordinances are enforceable and what is not.”

Lorenzo said Smith and Hackel met and decided that putting the issues in front of the court was the best way to have the duties and roles defined.

“There is no hostility here and no need to have it become a personal battle or contest of wills,” Lorenzo said. “In my opinion, this is a very healthy way to solve a difference of opinions and that is where it stands. This is still a fairly new form of government, and it takes time to understand what our constitution means.”