Kalkaska Prosecutor Attempts Power Play With Recall Action

The last election has had its consequences not only of statewide or national significance, but also in local areas as well. In Northern Michigan’s Kalkaska county, we could have up to 5 casualties, as a shoot out in the OK Corral begins.

Four newly elected county commissioners, Stuart McKinnon, Dave Ritter, Tony Martini and the Chair, Mike Cox (all Republican) are being recalled by the Kalkaska Democrat party efforts and with active assistance from the local prosecutor, Brian Donnelly, a [Democrat*] as well.  The recall effort has apparently been spawned by the prosecutor’s objections to the commission’s refusal to reinstate funding to his department.  The funding cuts had been made by the prior county board’s actions.  It is also presumed to be payback for an attempt to have an outside consultant look at the prosecutor’s office as well as other county operations by the ‘Axe Man’:

The board voted to retain the services of attorney John Axe of Axe and Ecklund, PC, to provide consulting services to the county for a cost not to exceed $9,375.

Said services are intended to “permit the county to operate on a balanced budget in the fiscal year beginning Jan. 1, 2012,” as stated in the firm’s contract with county.

“They’ve spent $10,000 on somebody they refer to as the ‘Axe Man,’” Donnelly said. “He is supposedly doing a study for them on how big the (county) departments should be.”

The prosecutor refused access to this consultant, who could not then perform the tasks as assigned by the board.  This affected the other county office holders as well, who became less inclined to cooperate in the cost saving exercise the board commissioned.

It is an interesting exercise by one who many locals see as a “Boss Hogg” of sorts.  Donnelly is known for his rants and bullying style from his position as the Kalkaska Prosecutor.  According to locals, county attorneys who must “deal” with Donnelly have opted in the past in a way that reminds us of some judicial races,  to simply avoid confrontation and not become an “enemy” at the ballot box.  This has assured him a position in power for so many years.

However, Donnelly is correct on one issue, but must be terribly conflicted as well.  According to the article linked above, the new board approved same sex partner benefits for county employees.  He had to show the county board that it was not allowed, and gave them a Michigan Supreme Court ruling to back it up. The board rescinded its directive nearly immediately.  Donnelly, a progressive (cough) *Democrat, in THIS video, demonstrates his angst at the start.

“Not the worst.”

Interestingly, perspective and political ideology makes all things relative.

Much of the other activities by the commissioners I must applaud, including a reduction to the farm subsidies (MSUe) and redistribution programs (housing authority) which is a part of WHY these four were elected in the first place.  Board chair Mike Cox (not THAT Mike Cox) had indicated prior to his regaining a seat in this election (a seat lost in 2006) That he supported a reduction or elimination of the MSUe funding.  Voters knew what they were buying.  Kalkaska Chair, Cox responded to the prosecutor’s statements on the video above:

Oct 3, 2011:

Brian Donnelly
Kalkaska County Prosecutor
Dear Mr. Donnelly:
            I recently reviewed the transcript of your comments made at the Board of Commissioners meeting on August 24, 2011.  Further, it has come to my attention that you attended a meeting of the Kalkaska County Democratic Party to inform them that you would assist in recall petitions for four County Commissioners .
            Many of your comments and “facts” appear to be just a figment of your imagination.  For example:
1.         Regarding the Michigan State University Extension (MSUE), that program was not running well under the previous director.  He removed the 4-H participation from the Fair.  The Board was able to negotiate a lower cost for MSUE and the local management was replaced with capable people who are doing a fine job.  The 4-H has been reunited with the County Fair.  Further, if MSUE thought the prior director was doing such a stellar job, why did they terminate his employment?  As you know, the Board of Commissioners is responsible for protecting the taxpayers’ resources and we take that job very seriously.  The Board wants to make sure that the taxpayers get the most services for their tax payments.
2.         Regarding the Soil Conservation, the following should be noted.  The director of Soil Conservation was working with the County to manage Rugg Pond Dam. Periodically he came to the Board of Commissioners to request additional funds be placed in his budget for the Rugg Pond Dam inspection. We learned that the DNR did not charge the County for that inspection. The Board of Commissioners was misled on that cost which resulted in overpayment to the Soil Conservation budget. The previous director quit his position and was replaced by Mark Randolph who is doing a fine job.  The County does not have the authority to terminate the Director of Soil Conservation.
3.         Equalization Director.  The Equalization Director resigned to go into business on her own.  There were various issues pertaining to her performance.  Obviously there are differences of opinion regarding her performance.   She was an employee of the County under the Board of Commissioners’ authority, not the Prosecutor’s Office.
4.            Mr. Frank Wright is retiring, not resigning.  Obviously he is at the age where he can retire with full benefits and he chose to do so.5.           You make some unfounded accusation that in mid-December 2010 there was “likely a violation of the Open Meetings Act” because Commissioners-elect were meeting.  While there were three Commissioners-elect present (not four), you should know that there was no violation of the Open Meetings Act.  It is just elementary and common sense that since we did not take office until January 1st, we were not public officials at that time.  I would hope in the future that before you make slanderous accusations that you research the law.
6.         You made a reference to the fact that the County Board of Commissioners hired “a man named Axe”.  You went on to disparage Mr. Axe as if he had no credentials.  Apparently you did not take the time to review his credentials.  Mr. Axe and his firm have over 63 years combined experience in various areas of municipal law. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Harvard Law School .  Mr. Axe is a co-author of the Michigan Municipal Law, a 2 volume work, and other publications.  He has for many years assisted counties who are experiencing financial challenges to achieve balanced budgets.  It is outrageous that you should make such comments regarding a person of his credentials and disheartening to think that the Prosecutor would not investigate before making wild accusations.  Is your concern regarding Mr. Axe that he may determine that your office could be more efficiently run? 
7.         You also make a reference to the Board of Commissioners cutting the Sheriff’s budget.  This Board of Commissioners has not cut the Sheriff’s budget. Cuts were made by the previous Board of Commissioners.  Once again you failed to get the facts.
8.         You also made a reference to the County Probation Officer being cut.  This Board of Commissioners did not cut the County Probation Officer ; the prior Board did.  Once again, for the Prosecuting Attorney of Kalkaska County, I am just amazed at your lack of diligence in obtaining accurate facts.
9.         Your unethical behavior is appalling, which includes, but is not limited to, distortion of the facts and stating untruths, and not knowing the law in regard to the serious allegation that there was an Open Meetings Act violation. 
            I am not going to bother to respond to some of your other unfounded and slanderous accusations at this time such as accusing the Board of illegal activity.  Needless to say, I am amazed at some of your inaccurate and slanderous comments.  You are, after all, supposed to assist the Board in certain legal matters, and here you are attempting to help in the recall of four of your clients.  If you had concerns, it would have been a prudent course of action for you to meet with the Board so we could discuss them.  At that time, we could have then saved you the embarrassment of pointing out your numerous inaccuracies. 

Michael Cox
Kalkaska County Board Chair

The political landscape has changed, but perhaps the desire for power has not.  Using any tool, argument, weakness or chink in the armor of the new commissioners duly elected by the people of Kalkaska county, the duly elected prosecutor may now attempt to divide, by issue, the community, so that his place of ‘authority’ is held intact.

In the meantime according to trusted sources, the drum beat for his own recall sounds in the distance.



*It should be noted, and was missing from the original posting that Donnelly runs as a Republican.

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