MOUNT CLEMENS, Mich. – Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger has found chaos wherever she goes since she was elected to her position.
On Monday, she went to the county commission for a simple budget-progress report, but it turned into a highly complicated and heated event.
Spranger gave the Macomb County commissioners fits when she gave long-winded answers that were difficult to follow in response to their simple questions.
The clerk is also having a difficult time figuring out how many jobs are open in her department.
Spranger was visibly shaken as she began her presentation, saying that a move to new offices she didn't want to make has hamstrung her.
"There seems to be not enough space for everybody," Spranger said. "Security (is) not in a timely manner, so with these items that caused havoc, it's really havoc. (We're) still working through them."
She needed an assistant to tell her how many employees she was down right now, and the number she gave was five. But the human relations department said the real number is 11, including her most important deputy clerk.
Spranger said she's trying to hire, but it's difficult, especially when a judge rejected her first two choices.
But commissioners were fed up.
"This is not a mom and pop store with three people in it selling candy bars to someone walking through the door," Commissioner Andrey Duzyj said.
"Your first and most important function is to maintain a level of service so that our citizens are getting what they need," Commissioner Robert Leonetti said. "That's what we're all paid to do, and you are failing at that completely."
"You've been doing this for six months, and you want to know something? There's a whole lot of room for improvement," Duzyj said.
Spranger admitted she is paying an attorney to advise her out of her own pocket, which she said sometimes prevents her from making decisions she feels could put her in legal jeopardy.
"I decided to take it under advisement," Spranger said.
"You don't get to take that under advisement," Chair Bob Smith said. "You have to sign the minutes."
The final dispute was over the signing of the minutes to make them official. Spranger said she can't do it, and commissioners told her she had to. So far, the minutes aren't signed.
There's also concern that the vital work of Spranger's office isn't getting completed. The union is grieving left and right, and the issue of getting to a budget number for the commission to vote on isn't even close to being resolved.
Spranger answers claims that her office is 'hostile work environment'
Spranger's first five months were marred with several controversial events. She had her computer privileges suspended, fought a lawsuit against county officials, totaled a county car and faced ethics violations.
Last month, a second ethics complaint against Spranger was dismissed.
Spranger didn't gain much with the dismissal of the second complaint, because she'd already been found in violation for the first complaint. The second complaint was just a continuation of the first.
But Spranger hoped the small victory would right the ship. Her allies circled the wagon at her ethics hearing in mid-May.
"We have a county clerk who is like the mother of Macomb County now," Macomb County Register of Deeds Jackie Ryan said. "All the employees work very hard for the county clerk because they do care about her very much."
It was those comments from Ryan that prompted two union presidents to allege the clerk's office is a hostile work environment that's in chaos.
"You've got a lot of disarray down there, and you've got a lot of unhappy employees down there," said Jerry Witt, of UAW 412.
"I'd say things are in disarray in that office," said Donna Cangemi, of AFSCME 411. "Is it because of Karen Spranger? I'd have to say so. That's what I'm hearing from my members."
Spranger declined to speak at the hearings, but she told Local 4 her office is running smoothly.
"Oh, definitely," Spranger said. "It's just, we don't have the security in place yet."
But her victory was dulled a bit as she left the meeting, as she was served with a lawsuit filed by former Deputy Clerk Paul Kardasz, which most people involved seemed to think had already happened.
"I do have a responsibility to be in compliance with record-keeping standards, and that's where I'm at with the executive branch, reaching the highest standard possible," Spranger said.
Spranger and Ryan said any disarray in the clerk's office is because that's how the former clerk, Carmella Sabaugh, left it -- specifically unsecured vital records sitting in a basement next to maintenance, and that's a security issue Spranger said she's trying to fix.
Officials said they've received complaints about the alleged dysfunction from citizens. At the Board of Commissioners' meeting, one person said they waited an hour and a half for something that normally took 10 minutes.
Employees said the reason for that is they don't have keys to access certain records because Spranger confiscated them for security reasons.