By Jameson Cook
It may not have the national prominence of the Mueller report, but the Miller report issued last week by Macomb County Clerk Fred Miller carries impact locally.
The biggest revelation of upcoming impact in Miller’s report on his first 100 days in office is a plan to tweak the campaign finance reporting system in the county to deal with outstanding fine balances for violations. About 120 committees for candidates or ballot questions owe more than $250,000, ranging from $10 to more than $20,000 that is owed by the Fitzgerald Public Schools Committee.
Miller told The Macomb Daily that he and county Treasurer Larry Rocca are working on a new effort for reporting and collecting fines for violations but declined to elaborate. He said details will be announced soon.
Many of the delinquencies have been ignored and building for years. The Fitzgerald Committee’s balance, for instance, less than three years ago was under $13,000.
“We have to get these campaign scofflaws to pay these fines,” Miller said Thursday, a day after his report was released. “It’s not so much about the money. It’s about holding people accountable to file campaign finance reports.”
In the report, Miller says, “We are preparing to introduce a new campaign finance protocol to address both existing and future campaign finance violations, increase transparency for the public about the sources and expenditure of funds in political campaigns, better enforce campaign finance law, and increase cooperation and communication between county departments.”
Miller won election last fall, defeating Lisa Sinclair, who during the campaign called for collection of the campaign finance fines but, ironically, owes $75 for a violation.
“I was a couple of days late to file my campaign report after the election,” Sinclair told The Macomb Daily. “I will be paying the fine soon.”
Eleven committees owe $9,600 and account for more than half of the total. The list can be viewed at macomb.mi.campaignfinance.us/iOutstandingLFFs.php.
The treasurer of the Fitzgerald Committee could not be reached for comment Friday.
Miller submitted the 10-page report and cover letter to the county Board of Commissioners, the Executive Office and other “partners,” he said.
Although Miller did not include it in his report, he has not made a decision on whether to switch about two dozen of his 90 employees from under his and the court’s jurisdiction to solely under the courts. The employees are the clerks for the 15 judges in Macomb County Circuit Court at the county courthouse in downtown Mount Clemens.
The clerks last October requested the county board to approve the move, under and with the support of interim Clerk Kathy Smith, who served in the post for about eight months after the March 2018 removal of former Clerk Karen Spranger by a St. Clair County judge. Kathy Brower served as acting interim clerk for six weeks. Smith, a long-time county employee, has returned to her post as a judicial secretary. She previously worked as a judicial clerk for 23 years.
The clerks said the current scenario of serving under two bosses sometimes creates conflict.
The judges support the move.
Board members at that time said they didn’t want to move the employees with a new clerk taking over less than two months following the election.
Miller said he wants to wait for resolution of issues with the clerks’ labor contract. The clerks are among employees whose contract has been subject of a “re-opener” since last May, according to Donna Cangemi, president of the Local 411 of the American Federal of State, County and Municipal Employees, who represents the clerk among about 800 employees. Their contract also expires at the end of this year.
Miller said he sympathizes with the clerks’ plight, whom he called hard working but “underpaid and under-appreciated.”
“We want to makes sure they are honored and awarded,” he said. “We want to give them some say in things.”
But he said, “Everything is on the table. It comes down to what is the best way to serve our key stakeholders like the court.”
Miller in the report praises all of his employees for withstanding the tumultuous 15 months under Spranger and for improvements since she was removed in March 2018. Several veteran employees left during her tenure.
“The Clerk & Register of Deeds team – 90 members strong when fully-staffed – is owed a debt of gratitude for the exceptional public service they have provided under terrific pressure and extraordinary circumstances,” Miller wrote in the cover letter. “I am excited to report that significant progress has been and continues to be made to re-establish the Macomb County Clerk & Register of Deeds Office as a national leader in innovation and excellence.”
The Clerk’s Office has among the most contact with the public in county government as it includes the court section, elections, Register of Deeds and vital records.
In 2018, there were 101,119 visits to the Clerk’s Offices, not including elections, which oversees 645 active campaign committees.
Two of the biggest problems under Spranger were the weeks or months-long backlogs in electronic filings in the court section and entries into the Law Enforcement Information Network, in large part due to the lack of filling of employee vacancies and training.
Those backlogs have been reduced to three business days, although the number is fluid, and by Thursday the e-filing had been reduced to one day, Miller said.
The clerk also boasts in the report about greatly improved wait times for customers from 2018 to 2019. The overall time has dropped from an average of 5:49 per customer to 3:31 per customer, he said. The biggest drop was in the court section where the wait time fell from 14:28 to 5:40, he says.
In addition, he says Chief Deputy Clerk Sheila Miller, a lawyer and former district judge, is overseeing the Clerk’s Crime LAB (LEIN, abstracts, bindovers) to cross-train employees on “specialty entries that require interaction with law enforcement, Secretary of State and district court partners.”
Fred Miller also touts $33,000 in cost savings so far this year compared to last year; at year end the total will be $405,000. The biggest savings comes in the form of the elimination of the Superindex for real estate documents that the office abandoned because the “platform was no longer supported and the cost to extend the Superindex in its current form is cost prohibitive,” he says in the report.
The public also has had access to U.S. Land Records for the same information and will be able to continue to use it, he added. A “request for proposals” will be let out soon “for a new software program for real estate and vital records.”
“By doing RFPs we’ll open it up to new options,” he said.
Miller says security issues have been resolved over the deposit of cash received that arose during the Clerk’s office move of Register of Deeds and vital records from the courthouse to the nearby Talmer Building in Mount Clemens.
Miller also has re-instituted the Clerk’s Mobile Office program. Two events took place this month and the unit is scheduled to be at the Richmond Community Schools Administration Building on May 9 and St. Clair Shores City Council Chambers on May 30, the report says.