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Macomb County Clerk files federal lawsuit claiming conspiracy

Former Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger
Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

Macomb County's embattled Clerk and Register of Deeds, Karen Spranger, has filed a federal lawsuit alleging a civil conspiracy against her, involving county officials, union officials, and members of the media.

Since taking office in January, Spranger has refused to hire new employees, and tried to fire a number of union supervisors and union employees. When she was told she could not fire employees under the protection of a labor union contract, she harassed and threatened employees, and refused to allow them to do the jobs for which they had been trained.

Subordinates filed more than 40 union grievances against her. So far, she has lost all but one. Spranger also sued the county for not letting her fire union workers.

The actions led to serious backlogs in filing court documents and criminal conviction records, as well as extremely long lines at the Register of Deeds office.  An internal audit warned the county that the Clerk's refusal to balance the books and follow required financial protocols placed the county in imminent danger of lawsuits.

Eventually, Spranger was sued by the county Treasurer, Sheriff's office, and circuit court judges for impeding necessary county functions.

A subsequent circuit court order and actions by the county's human resources department have since made Spranger an essentially powerless County Clerk, with no authority to hire, fire or reprimand employees.  Mid-level managers are being permitted to perform many of her job duties. 

Officials say they are now making progress in restoring order to the clerk and register of deed's operations.  Vacant positions are being filled, backlogs of LEINs and court document filings are being addressed, and necessary protocols are being restored.

Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger
Credit Macomb Daily
Before she was elected County Clerk, Karen Spranger was a political activist who opposed the installation of electric smart meters. Here she makes remarks at a Warren City Council meeting wearing sunglasses, two hats and a silver track suit to resemble tinfoil. The outfit is apparently designed as a representation of what someone must do to protect themselves from the harmful rays of smart meters.

Meanwhile, the county hopes to permanently remove Spranger from office because she allegedly lied on her application to run for office. 

Spranger's lawsuit claims she is the victim of a Democratic-led conspiracy because she is a Republican.  Spranger names Deputy County Executive Mark Deldin, Corporate Counsel John Schapka, Human Resources Director Karen Bathanti, Local 411 President Donna Cangemi, Channel 4 reporter Jason Colthrop, Macomb Daily reporter Jameson Cook, and Judge James Biernat Jr. as key members of the conspiracy.   She has asked the court to reverse all decisions by the county's human resources department, overrule lower court rulings, and dismiss the lawsuit seeking to remove her from office.

The county's corporate counsel says the clerk's latest lawsuit should be dismissed because it fails to state a claim recognized by prevailing law.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.