This is the text of my May 2, 2016 complaint to the Macomb County Ethics Commission.
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My name is Greg Murray. A registered voter, I live in Mt. Clemens. I am filing a complaint with the Ethics Commission today, May 2, 2016 regarding the recent behavior of Macomb County Commissioner Fred Miller and Macomb County Clerk Carmella Sabaugh.
I filed this complaint because the recent coordinated and unfair actions of Macomb County Commissioner Fred Miller, Macomb County Clerk Carmella Sabaugh, and Former Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer are exactly what has voters and the public fed up with establishment politics. Their behaviors rise to the level of unethical and, as such, are clear violations of Macomb County’s Ethics Code (Enrolled Ordinance No. 2011-10).
Sabaugh filed for her seat. Miller filed for Sabaugh’s seat at the very last minute. Standing on its own, and in and of itself, these actions would normally seem very suspicious, as both have been Ed Bruley associates for nearly two decades. Why would they file against each other, unless one or both had fallen from grace? We now know that was not the case and that there seems to have been a very unfair prior agreement between the three of them. The term “collusion” comes to mind.
I say the three of them because Fred Miller and Mark Brewer, cut from the same political cloth, apparently knew that Miller would not stand for re-election to his 9th District county commissioner seat. This is evidenced by virtue of the fact that it was Miller who delivered Brewer’s paperwork to run for Miller’s former seat.
Sometimes what may not be illegal can certainly be unfair and unethical. This is an instance of such an incident, and it violates the Macomb County Ethics Code in several areas.
To be clear, in the final hour on the day of the filing deadline, April 19, 2016, County Commissioner Fred Miller unexpectedly dropped out of the race for the 9th District County Commission seat and filed for Sabaugh’s seat as clerk. Around the same time on the same day, former Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer’s paperwork to seek election to Miller’s former seat was delivered to the Election Division’s office by Fred Miller.
Three days later, during the final hour of the day of the withdrawal deadline, April 22, 2016, Macomb County Clerk and Register of Deeds Carmella Sabaugh withdrew her candidacy. Within hours, Sabaugh had endorsed Mr. Miller in what clearly seemed to be a prepared statement.
While acting within the bounds of the Michigan statue, the Macomb County Ethics Ordinance requires a higher standard of conduct among those who hold public office.
While this conduct is not new, this act was revealed as particularly egregious and pre-planned when Commissioner Miller actually uploaded a video to Facebook dated April 15, 2016, a full four days before the filing deadline and two weeks before the withdrawal deadline, where he thanked Carmella for her prior years of service!
Within the Ethics Ordinance in Sec.1.1. Purpose, the following sentence directly applies this situation. It reads “County Officials, employees, and appointees hold positions of public trust and their actions must remain above suspicion.” Commissioner Miller and Clerk Sabaugh’s behavior completely obliterates that expectation. Mr. Brewer is not yet a county official but has managed to already violate the ordinance.
The timing of these acts cannot be ignored. The three involved are known political allies in the county. Apparently, Mr. Miller had advanced knowledge before everyone else that Ms. Sabaugh intended on withdrawing her candidacy. It’s quite clear that Mr. Brewer, Commissioner Miller, and Clerk Sabaugh strategically planned these filings in an attempt to limit their potential opponents, dissuade others from filing, and to intimidate others from participating in the filing process.
Macomb County Ethics Ordinance 1.2(B) requires our public servants be independent, impartial, and fair in their judgment of actions, and Ordinance 1.2(C) requires that public servants put the public good above their own personal gain. Instead, all three have shown a reckless degree of disrespect for the electorate
Open seats attract more candidates to put forward their qualifications for voters.
Countywide races that are without established incumbents come as rarely as once every few decades, always attracting a diverse group of candidates with different backgrounds and qualifications. Commissioner Miller and Clerk Sabaugh have not just put their own political fortunes above the right of the citizens to do decide whom to vote for; they’ve infringed on the right of the people to decide if they themselves wish to seek public office. Such an act is inherently undemocratic. For these reasons, Clerk Sabaugh and Commissioner Miller are in violation of Ordinance 1.2(B).
Mr. Miller was certainly welcome to pursue this position. So were the hundreds of thousands of others that call Macomb County home. To selfishly influence the process to gain an unfair advantage for Mr. Miller shows a clear desire to put self above the betterment of the county in violation of Ordinance 1.2(C).
Additionally, Miller stands to gain a substantial financial enhancement as a result of these unethical shenanigans His compensations would more than triple, from his pay of $35,000 that he would have earned in 2017 as a commissioner to $108,000 as the county clerk during 2017. These machinations also violates the ethics policy, which prohibits county officials from engaging in unethical behaviors that result in personal financial gain. As reference, Sec.3.7, (second sentence) ”A Public Servant shall not benefit financially from information acquired in the course of holding office…”
Ironically, in her statement of endorsement of Mr. Miller, Ms. Sabaugh touted Miller’s work on the Macomb County Ethics Ordinance. That would seem to imply that certainly Miller would comply with the ordinance. However, this episode disrupts the public trust in government and enforces an all-to-common notion of hypocrisy among our elected officials.
Macomb County deserves better. Using one’s public office and political relationships to selfishly secure advantages over others is exactly what this Ordinance was designed to combat. This Board should send a clear message to our citizens that that open and fair elections are amongst our country’s most fundamental rights.