By Jameson Cook, The Macomb Daily
The man who was expected to defeat but lost to former Macomb County clerk Karen Spranger in the 2016 election said he should be appointed acting clerk because he was the only legitimate candidate in that race.
Fred Miller told The Macomb Daily on Monday that because Spranger was ousted last week by a judge who ruled she was not a county resident and shouldn’t have been on the November 2016 ballot, he should be installed at least as the acting clerk until this November’s election to replace her.
“I contend that with a St. Clair County judge finding that Karen Spranger was ineligible to be on the ballot, it should go to the one candidate who was eligible,” Miller said.
Miller said he plans to apply for the acting-clerk job to serve through the end of the year. Applications are due this Friday, and the 14-member Macomb County Circuit Court will meet the following Friday, April 13, to select a clerk to serve through the end of 2018.
“I’m going to go in there in make my case,” he said, although he said he hasn’t decided whether to run for the job in November. “I’m taking going to take one step at a time.”
At least three other people have indicated they also are interested, including Terry Kowal, former clerk in Shelby Township and Auburn Hills; Jared Maynard, former county Republican chairman and former deputy treasurer in Harrison Township; and Richard Steenland, Roseville city clerk and a former county employee.
It is unknown whether temporary Acting Clerk Kathy Brower, who was appointed last Wednesday, a day after Spranger was removed, to serve until the circuit court bench appoints an acting clerk, will apply. She did not return messages seeking comment.
The November election winner will complete the final two years of Spranger’s term and have to run again in 2020. The position pays a $109,000 salary. The filing deadline for the race is April 24.
Being named acting clerk would give that person an advantage in November, but Kowal, who retired from Auburn Hills in December, said she would only serve as acting clerk and wouldn’t participate in the election. Kowal is a resident of Washington Township and was not required to be a resident of Auburn Hills to serve in an appointed position as clerk of that city.
On Tuesday, County Executive Mark Hackel and the four other county-wide elected political officials plan to conduct a news conference “to discuss the process of selecting the temporary Macomb County Clerk.” Details were not available.
Spranger’s election victory was reversed last week when Judge Daniel Kelly agreed with county officials that Spranger lied on an election document when she claimed she resided at a Warren house she owned, contrary an overwhelming amount of evidence that indicated she did not reside there.
Miller, a Mount Clemens resident, had lost to Spranger by 638 votes in the race in which 376,000 votes were cast. Miller, a former Democratic state representative and county commissioner, was heavily favored over Republican Spranger, who never held public office and had a sketchy job history. Spranger benefited from the coattails of President Trump, who won the county by more than 48,000 votes. Some political observers said Miller also was somewhat damaged by a political ploy involving Miller and former longtime clerk Carmella Sabaugh. During Sabaugh’s last term, she said she wasn’t going to run for re-election. But at the last moment, she filed but then withdrew three days later, less than an hour before the deadline. Critics called the move a political ploy to discourage other serious candidates from running.
Miller said he believes the maneuver was “overblown” by his political foes “to make headlines,” pointing out complaints to the county Ethics Board and Secretary of State’s office were unfounded.
“I think there were larger forces at work,” he said. “The county swung to Trump and Republicans, and a bunch of Republicans were swept into office.”
Still, he said the loss “humbled” him and forced him to “learn some lessons.”
Miller said he believes his 15 months as deputy treasurer in Oakland County would serve him well in the clerk’s job. He said he would work to “restore kindness, empathy and healing” to the Clerk’s Office, and operate as a “team member.”
Kowal said she would focus on the functions that waned under Spranger –- backlogs in some services, such as electronic filing.
“I would love to help someone transition into that office” following the November election, she said.
Maynard said if appointed he would ensure there are “cash controls” in the office.
Spranger and her former chief deputy register of deeds, Jackie Ryan, who was fired last Wednesday, among other accusations made the claim that money is missing in the department but never provided evidence of it.
Maynard said anyone who is appointed “should check their partisanship at the door,” and he would “create an environment where employees are fully valued.”
Steenland said he was “very seriously” considering whether to apply for the acting-clerk post and run for the position in November.
“The office has been in disarray,” he said. “I’d try to reel everybody in and put the county back in a positive position.”