BOC unhappy with road complaints, may take CCRC over

June 27, 2019

By Pat Maurer

The Clare County Commission voted last Wednesday to investigate the process of having the Clare County Road Commission under their administration.

Board Chair and District 4 Commissioner Jack Kleinhardt said in a phone interview Tuesday, “We voted to have the board’s attorney David Stoker [of Cole, Stoker and Toskey] look into it, not to take over the CCRC at this time. It’s just to find out the procedure to do this if we decide that it’s necessary.”

The BOC motion came after numerous complaints were made to the board by county residents and township officials who have been unsatisfied with the recent work and upset by the removal of Engineer-Manager Deepak Gupta, who resigned and agreed to a severance package last week.

Gupta had been accused of creating a hostile work environment, and harassing employees.

An investigation into the charges was discussed at the CCRC board meeting June 5th and a motion was unanimously approved to enter into settlement negotiations with Engineer Manager Deepak Gupta, and in another unanimous vote Gupta was placed on paid administrative leave until the settlement was resolved.

Gupta has denied the allegations, calling them “unfounded and untrue” and while the board met in a closed session that day, said he had retained an attorney.

Several members of the County Board of Commissioners supported Gupta at the packed CCRC meeting and audience members at the meeting questioned the legality of using the CCRC attorney to conduct the harassment investigation.

Despite overwhelming support for him shown by Clare County Commissioners, township officials and others at the packed meeting of the Clare County Road Commission June 5th, and following a closed session that lasted two hours and thirty-five minutes that Wednesday, a motion was unanimously approved to enter into the settlement negotiations with Gupta, and in another unanimous vote Gupta was placed on paid administrative leave until the settlement and investigation were resolved.
The motion at last Wednesday meeting of the County Commissions read, “It was moved by Commissioner [Dale] Majewski, seconded by Commissioner [Jeffrey] Haskell to start the process of reviewing having the Road Commission under the Board of Commissioners.”

During the discussion, District 2 County Commissioner Samantha Pitchford said due to harassment because her husband works for the Road Commission, she would abstain from voting. The other six Commissioners all approved the motion. In an email this week she said she would not comment on the matter.

Kleinhardt said, “We have been getting a lot of pressure from the townships and the public, most pertaining to questions about the recent removal of the manager of the Road Commission.”

He continued, “Before the BOC would consider taking over the administration of the Road Commission, I believe there should be public hearings to see if it should be put on a ballot for a vote of all the people of Clare County.”

“This is about what is best for the people of Clare County,” Kleinhardt added.

County Road Commission Chair Richard Haynak said Wednesday in a phone interview, “I’m not sure why they [the Board of Commissioners] are doing this.” He said he didn’t know much about the decision and hadn’t been informed of it by any of the County Commissioners, so he couldn’t say much until he finds more out about it.

“The Road Commission is on top of things,” Haynak said. “They [the staff] are very good at what they do. We have no problems with them.”

He continued, “I feel very good that things are going fine and I believe this [the County Board’s] decision has to do with Deepak. He was very well liked by the people and townships but we had some internal problems with the staff that led to the Road Commission’s decision [Gupta’s resignation and settlement agreement].”

“We should get things straightened out and be back to normal soon,” Haynak said.

District 6 County Commissioner David Hoefling said, “The board did vote to review the process of taking over the Road Commission last Wednesday. As to why we as the board did this, the Clare County BOC went to the Road Commission’s June 5th meeting. During this meeting there were three parts, an open session, a closed session that the Board of Commissioners was not allowed to attend, and finally another open session afterwards. Because during this meeting the BOC, who has oversight over the Road Commission, was unable to have several important questions answered and then was told that we were not allowed to attend the closed session, we as a board felt that we had no choice but to open a formal investigation. This treatment, as well as mounting concerns from the public about CCRC’s ability to run itself, was the justification for this action by the Board of Commissioners.”

He added, “My stance on the issue of the Road Commission is that our board needs to investigate and make sure that we have all the available information on the current situation at the Road Commission before any further action is taken by the county board. As such, I have called for a special meeting of the Board of Commissioners during which the Road Commissioners will be brought before the board to answer all of our questions about their current circumstances.  Currently, this meeting is in the process of being scheduled.”

District 5 County Commissioner Mark Fitzpatrick gave his take on some of the reasons that the board is looking into potential changes at the Road Commission.

He said, “So much goes on there that we [their own constituents and the BOC] just can’t get answers to. For myself, I deal in facts not politics. I want information that I’m confident in and so does the rest of the board.”

He continued, “We have concerns that we can’t get answers to our questions about improper procedures and improper response to FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests. We are concerned over the way both the Road Commission’s constituents and the BOC are treated when they do ask questions. Many times they can’t get answers.”

He expressed concerns over the way the June 5th Road Commission meeting was handled. “We were there to speak with the [Road Commission] board and the manager, but the board’s attorney seemed to be running the meeting and the manager wasn’t allowed to answer questions, even about roadwork.”

He added, “We have concerns over Road Commission personnel speaking to 9 & 10 news, answering their questions despite a “gag order,” when they wouldn’t answer questions from their own constituents or the Board of Commissioners.”

He said, “One other thing that concerns us is the recent strong, but unfounded accusations made at another meeting by a Road Commission employee that claimed improper or illegal activity between a former [Road Commission] board member and the engineer/manager of the CCRC.”
Fitzpatrick concluded, “All these concerns and everything that has been going on at the Road Commission led to our [the Board of Commissioner’s] decision.”

“All of this going on with no real explanations doesn’t fix our roads,” Fitzpatrick added.

District 1 County Commissioner Dale Majewski said the board was in agreement about holding public hearings and a vote of the people. “There are good people at the Road Commission, but we’ve been receiving a lot of calls from people who feel they are not being heard [at the Road Commission]. We are hearing from just about every township and have been for quite a while. Their concerns are a lack of representation at township meetings, too many excuses why their projects and/or road maintenance isn’t being done and when they do ask questions, they say there’s a certain arrogance about the Road Commissions answers.”

He added, “People say they feel they just can’t get what needs to be done accomplished with the current situation.”

“I think the CCRC leadership has forgotten that they work for the taxpayers of Clare County,” Majewski concluded.

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