County agrees to pay 122k to settle lawsuit

By Mary Kindig

Review Correspondent

For nearly three years, Clare County has been embroiled in a lawsuit in Federal Court.  At Wednesday’s meeting, the Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to accept the settlement that was reached last week in a Lowden vs. Clare County settlement conference in Detroit.

Commissioner Jim Gelios told the Board that he, the County’s attorney and their insurance representative were summoned to meet with Judge Freedman to negotiate a settlement with the plaintiff.  Gelios said the parties agreed to accept a settlement of  $122,500 with no further litigation.  The settlement would be paid by the insurance rider and would not come from the General Fund, Gelios said.  The lawsuit was brought against the County after the Sheriff’s Department pulled the Lowden vehicle out of a veteran’s funeral procession because the vehicle contained anti-war signage.  The Bush-era law allowing police to arrest anti-war protestors at a veteran’s funeral has since been repealed, according to Chairperson Don David, and, regardless, did not apply to the Lowdens, who were attending the funeral as friends of the deceased.

The County also has a lawsuit filed against them in the matter of the expired agreement between the County and United Rescue Ambulance Service, which had allowed United Rescue an area of operation that included seven northern townships and the City of Harrison.  While there has been no resolution thus far in this case, the County is tasked with finding a solution to the demands of some residents for exclusive use of United Rescue, and the legal practicality of sending the closest ambulance to an emergency.

Commissioner Gelios reported that he attended a Clare County Medical Control Authority Board meeting and that an agreement was signed between Clare’s Med Board and Gladwin County’s Med Board, allowing ambulances from either jurisdiction to take emergency calls in the other’s jurisdiction when needed.  While United Rescue had initiated the agreement with Gladwin County, the Clare County Medical Authority Board necessarily had to include both United Rescue and MMR in the agreement.

Gelios also said that he attended a 911 Authority Board meeting, during which a lawyer discussed the County’s liability regarding the dispatching of ambulances.  “The way I understood it is we have to receive documents from the ambulance service and also from each township and the city [of Harrison] that we haven’t received.  We’re still in the mode of the closest one [ambulance will be dispatched] and that’s it,” Gelios reported.  Gelios noted that the Public Health Code states that, if there is a dispute over ambulance coverage, the County is responsible to have a 911/Central Dispatch policy in place, because, as David said, “the County has the ultimate responsibility of outcome once we dispatch an ambulance.”

In other matters that came before the Board, the newly formed Ad Hoc Committee, which is considering several ways to keep the County’s budget in balance, has met twice and “the sub-committee is producing a lot of good information,” according to David.  While the group is studying several alternatives, they have not yet recommended any cost-savings measures to the Board.  The only recommendation they have sent to the Board is that they do not currently support a ballot measure to override Headlee.

The Board briefly discussed each of the ideas generated by the Ad Hoc Committee. One proposal, as explained by committee member Lori Ware, was to average all department’s spending over a three to five year period, determine what percentage of the County’s spending each department represented, and then divide the projected revenues for the year according to those percentages.  Ware emphasized that it would not matter how much revenue any department brought in to the County, only their share of expenditures.

For example, if the County expected revenues totaling $9,000,000 and the Clerk/Register of Deeds office had a three-year average of spending eight percent of the County’s overall budget, the office would then be given a budget of $720,000 – eight percent of the expected revenues – as their yearly budget.

The only item on the list of subcommittee ideas that the Board chose to act on during the Committee of the Whole meeting was to send to the full Board a motion that would require the County to convert to a direct deposit (or debit card) payment system for all employees beginning January 1, 2012, pursuant to HB#5820 that allows employers that option.  “Each check costs from 50 cents to $3.00 to process,” Treasurer Jenny Beemer-Fritzinger estimated.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, Clerk/Register of Deeds Pam Mayfield handed out results for the election that was held on November 8th.  Only five precincts voted on measures, and of the 7,771 registered voters, only 650 people voted – an abysmal 8.36 percent.  The largest margin of victory went to passing the millage proposal for Clare Schools; over 80 percent of voters approved the millage renewal.  By contrast, over 66 percent of voters turned down a millage renewal proposal for Gladwin Community Schools.   The Hamilton Township Library millage also failed, with over 70 percent of voters casting their ballots against the measure.  Mayfield said all election results are available on the County’s website as soon as the results are compiled.

Mayfield also reported that the legislature has passed a measure to hold school elections on even years in November, and that she believed the measure was on the governor’s desk to be signed.  She then went on to explain some of the issues that are facing Clerks and Registers of Deeds around the State, including “documents and deeds being presented to Registers of Deeds by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.”

“Our position as Registers is to take those documents and make those documents public.  If there are issues with the document, that becomes a court matter,” Mayfield said, adding that there was also a lot of concern about “the mortgage electronic registration system where there were fraudulent document signings taking place in Atlanta Georgia — the robo-signing.”

Although Registers of Deeds around the State are suspicious that many documents presented to them may be fraudulent, Mayfield said that it is beyond the scope of her office to investigate, police or prosecute suspected offenders, and that these matters need to be addressed by attorneys general and the legislatures. “They are beyond what Registers can control,” Mayfield told the Board.

“There are many areas that my office is being attacked — Clerk and Register of Deeds – that affect revenue sources and streams to the County,” Mayfield said, and asked Commissioners to bring these matters before other Boards and the legislators.  After discussion, Chairperson David recommended that Mayfield write a letter or a resolution so that the Board could support her concerns and better understand the problems her office faces.

Treasurer Beemer-Fritzinger reported that the County had received an unexpected $30,000 in diverted felon money that would be accrued back as revenue for fiscal year 2011.  She also reported that she would again be attending the rabies clinic at Animal Control on January 7th from 10:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in order to sell dog licenses.

Commissioner Jack Kleinhardt reported that he was asked to testify in Lansing regarding County Road Commissions.  Kleinhardt said there is a push in the legislature to eliminate County Road Commissions, but when the bill came out of committee, it was tabled because they did not have the votes to pass it.  According to Kleinhardt, the bill contains a measure that would allow County Commissions to vote to keep their Road Commissions intact.

Administrator/Controller Tracy Byard addressed the Board regarding her recent evaluation.  The Board released a compilation of comments regarding Byard’s performance, all of which were positive.

“I wanted to say thank you.  One thing I did want to discuss with you is that the points came back at 3.215.  I think that’s pretty good.  That leaves me room for improvement and gives me some things that I need to work on, but the one thing that I had an issue with was that I didn’t have any comments on my sheet that gave me any room for improvement, so I don’t know exactly what it is that I need to improve on,” Byard began, adding, “It would be much easier to do an effective job if I had goals set forth to move forward.  Goals from the Board.”

The Board then discussed the value of doing a strategic planning session so that their policies, goals and priorities might be clarified overall.

In other business at their Wednesday meeting, the Clare County Board of Commissioners:

*did not act on a request from Information Technology department to remove the carpeting from the office the IT department recently moved to.

*unanimously approved a budget adjustment in the amount of $15,000 within the technology budget to pay for the previously approved virtual servers.

*voted 5-2 to approve the $2,990 shipping charge of an Air Force front-end loader from New York, with Commissioners Gelios and Burger dissenting.  It was previously noted that the loader must be kept for a minimum of a year, during which time it could be used to pile snow from county parking lots and, after which time, it could be sold for a considerable profit.

*heard a report that the Land Bank Committee met last week with officials from White Birch Estates in an effort to circumvent the repeated foreclosure of certain properties within the Estates.

*heard from Chairperson David that the new high-efficiency boilers were currently being installed.

*was reminded by Commissioner Lynn Grim that the next food distribution will be this Saturday at Farwell High School starting at 11:00 a.m.