Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger has been a source of controversy since her election last fall. Now two of Spranger's former deputies are suing their old boss.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court Friday, says that Paul Kardasz and Erin Stahl were fired in retaliation for submitting ethics complaints against Spranger. The pair is being represented by attorney Jennifer Lord.
Lord says shortly after Spranger assumed her office as county clerk, Kardasz and Stahl started to worry about their boss' ability to fulfill the duties of her office. Kardasz and Stahl were appointed as deputies after working on Spranger’s election campaign.
“When it came to being able to govern, to knowing the most basic things ... she just doesn’t know any of those things,” Lord said of Spranger’s role as county clerk.
The lawsuit alleges that Spranger has missed key meetings, alienated long-term employees of the clerk’s office and threatened to target union employees for termination.
According to Lord, Spranger’s management of the clerk’s office created “total chaos” and a backlog of mail that hadn’t been opened and documents that needed to be filed.
The Detroit Free Press reports that earlier this year, Spranger was temporarily barred from accessing county computers after she allowed two non-employees to use the computer in her office, including Joseph Hunt, Spranger’s former campaign manager.
The lawsuit says both Kardasz and Stahl repeatedly told Spranger they thought some of her actions as county clerk may be illegal, to which Spranger allegedly responded by cutting off communication with Stahl. Spranger also allegedly “belittled, berated, and attempted to ostracize Kardasz.”
Kardasz and Stahl were fired less than three months after being appointed.
Frank Cusumano, an attorney on retainer for Spranger, said that Spranger’s attempts to make the office of county clerk “more efficient” were met with “resistance” from employees.
Cusumano says Spranger inherited a backlog of mail and documents to e-file from her predecessor.
According to the lawsuit, before his termination, Kardasz told Spranger of his intent to file an ethics complaint. Stahl also filed a complaint. Both deputies were fired days later.
Lord concedes that county clerks have full discretion over the hiring and termination of appointees.
“But they can’t fire a public employee for raising issues of vital public concern, expressing their opinions that there are serious issues in government and blowing the whistle,” Lord said.
Macomb County is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit. Macomb County Corporation Counsel John Schapka said the county would likely seek to retain separate counsel for the case, considering the possibility that Schapka is called to testify as a witness.
Schapka confirmed that Kardasz disclosed to him his concerns regarding Spranger’s behavior as county clerk.
“This is a matter the county is taking very seriously. It has the potential to cost taxpayers a substantial amount of money,” Schapka said.