MACOMB COUNTY, Mich. - Macomb County officials said they can no longer pretend there's not a problem with embattled new clerk Karen Spranger.
Spranger was asked Monday if she committed a crime when she filed to run for clerk, and it's all happening amid lawsuits and an ethics violation.
When a candidate files paperwork to run for clerk, they have to put down their primary address. Now neighbors are saying the home Spranger listed hasn't been lived in for awhile.
According to Macomb County officials, the home on Hudson Avenue in Warren is Spranger's primary address. Assessment records list Spranger as the owner, but a quick look at the home shows overgrown foliage outside and huge stacks of boxes and clutter inside.
Neighbors said Spranger gets the mail every few weeks, but not much more than that.
Now the house has become a problem.
"I was in the backyard and noticed raccoons coming out of the house, and I called the city," neighbor Dayton Hood said.
Spranger said she stays at the home occasionally and is in the process of selling it. She said she wasn't lying on the original affidavit. Even if she was, that's not the concern for the county right now.
"Many people have realized there is a problem," Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said.
At this point, the county's concern is making sure Spranger and her office can process the daily legal requests from judges and citizens.
"What's the solution?" Hackel asked. "Well, we're going to continue to help as necessary."
Technically, lying on the initial affidavit carries a five-year jail sentence if a person is convicted, but the secretary of state and the elections board are not investigating. Local 4 has learned a local lawsuit would have to be filed. If it is, it won't come from the county.
Spranger wouldn't say where she lives right now, but she said she's currently looking for a new place.
Spranger crashes county car
Officials said Spranger was driving west at 9:28 p.m. Wednesday in the left lane of 12 Mile Road. They said as she approached Groesbeck Highway, the traffic signal was red, and she said she started to brake.
Spranger said her foot slipped off the brake and onto the gas pedal, causing the county car to accelerate and crash into a 2006 Jeep stopped at the red light.
Spranger and the 60-year-old Warren woman were not injured in the crash, officials said.
Roseville police said, "There is no indication of drug, alcohol or cellphone use by either driver prior to the crash."
The county's 2013 Ford Focus had to be towed due to the damage. The Warren woman drove her Jeep after the crash scene was cleared.
Spranger was issued citations for failure to stop within a clear assured distance and for having no proof of insurance at the time of the crash.
Spranger fined for ethics violation
Spranger's dispute with Macomb County officials took another new twist Wednesday after the county's ethics board ruled she was in violation of county ordinances.
Spranger, who hid from Local 4 cameras in a bathroom last week, has been very quiet throughout the process, but she was available for questions on Wednesday as she faced an ethics committee following complaints by two former employees.
The board didn't need the 60 days it was afforded to make a decision. It found Spranger has made some ethical errors in just her 3 1/2 months on the job. The other question that arose Wednesday: Is Spranger qualified to hold the office of clerk?
Spranger was given a $100 fine for not following IT mandates by the county and allowing two people she improperly deputized to illegally have access to her county computer.
The committee also heard testimony that Spranger created a hostile work environment, which she denied.
"There's just a few disagreements that get to a level that people need to understand we need to get back to the basics of working it out," Spranger said.
The complaints were filed by her chief deputies, Erin Stahl and Paul Kardasz, who were fired by Spranger shortly after the disagreement.
"As a deputy, I was doing things the clerk should do," one deputy said, adding that Spranger is in over her head.
"She has no clue, nor did she want to understand what the workload was," another deputy said.
The committee asked questions about Spranger's lack of training and asked why, at times, she seemed unprepared Wednesday.
"I'm not prepared for dates and times," Spranger said.
"There's been a lot of talk about job training today. Do you think you're capable of doing this job?" Spranger was asked.
"Definitely. Definitely," Spranger said.
Spranger was whisked away by her attorney at that moment, but she told Local 4 that some of her policies are common sense, and she hopes to improve services.
Kardasz and Stahl still have a whistleblower lawsuit against Spranger and the county.
Spranger barred from using county computers
The then-newly elected Macomb County clerk was barred from using county computers in January after officials said she violated information technology security protocols.
Macomb County attorney John Schapka said in January that Spranger allowed two non-county employees access to her computer, which has confidential information on it.
Spranger took office on Jan. 1, and just a couple of weeks later, her access to her computer was completely revoked.
Schapka said Spranger can't log onto her computer or access files.
The incident began because of a debate over Michigan statutes, which allow Spranger to appoint her own clerks. She had already appointed two clerks -- the number Macomb County has regularly had -- but Schapka said Spranger wanted to appoint more people, saying it's her right under those statutes.
Spranger swore in two more associates last week to work as office employees, but just because they were sworn in didn't mean the county had money in the budget to hire them, so their positions were declared illegitimate. That made giving them access to computer files a violation.
Spranger's computer ban wasn't permanent, but more of a suspension until Macomb County officials could make sure the situation doesn't happen again.
Spranger released the following statement:
"Let it be known that the county computer access was denied on Jan. 11 without any prior notification to my Offices. I await the detailed documented incident report from the Office of County Executive departments to fully address any policy violations. I acknowledge receipt of the hand delivered letter of Jan. 13 which outlines steps to fully empower my newly sworn deputies (Public Act 18 of 1921 MCL 50.131) by meeting with Finance and Human Resources. This shall include a detailed reorganization chart which identifies and fulfills many customer service improvements. I am addressing both my statutory and constitutional mandates with an extremely dedicated staff and look forward to a return of full access rights to openly correspond using our advanced technologies. These protocols and policies need to be clearly outlined for a better understanding of expectations for all those working diligently on behalf of the taxpayers of Macomb County."
Spranger avoids questions about dispute with county board
The county is pushing new technology it thinks will boost efficiency, but Spranger is pushing back. The battle has escalated to the point of a potential lawsuit, but Spranger went to great lengths to avoid talking about it.
Spranger hid in the bathroom as Local 4 tried to ask about her potential lawsuit against the board of commissioners. When she finally emerged, she didn't answer any questions.
Local 4 followed Spranger down six flights of stairs trying to get a comment, but she wouldn't talk. You can see some of the attempts in the video posted below.
Although Local 4 cameras could see the clerk, her lawyer, Frank Cusumano, said Spranger was busy and unavailable to talk.
Spranger is considering suing the Macomb County Board of Commissioners. In January, the board implemented an electronic agenda management system. Spranger said it takes away from her duties.
"She believes that the county commissioners cannot unilaterally take those duties away from her," Cusumano said. "She intends to protect those duties for the office."
"This new system is not denying her any ability to do her job," board chair Bob Smith said. "She can still come in here, she can take notes, she can takes minutes, but she doesn't have to."
Spranger was newly elected as Macomb County clerk in November.
"Anyone can file a lawsuit," Cusumano said. "She'll have her day in court."
Stay with ClickOnDetroit.com for updates as we continue to follow the dispute between Spranger and Macomb County officials.
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