Commissioner speaks out after allegations
MANISTIQUE – Tension ran high at the Schoolcraft County Commissioner meeting Tuesday, as issues regarding the recent resignation of the Schoolcraft County Medical Care Facility director of administration and finance surfaced. The meeting ended with a disagreement between a commissioner and a former SCMCF board member.
During the public comment period of the meeting, former SCMCF board member Dixie Anderson, whose term expired at the end of October, expressed her concern with the recent meeting in which the SCMCF director of administration and finance, Mike Stephenson, offered his resignation. She labeled the meeting as “very uncomfortable” and said the county needs to reevaluate their role within the facility.
“I ask you please revisit the message you’re sending,” she said. “We’ve got to pull together guys, we’ve got to be all on the same team, and it’s just not happening … the department heads are not being shown the respect they deserve.”
Stephenson made claims during a recent SCMCF board meeting that his resignation was due to a lack of cooperation from county board members. Anderson, who was also present at the meeting, corroborated these claims, saying the county board has a history of micromanaging.
“The people’s perception of what our elected leadership is doing is negative,” she said. “If people read that in the paper, they’re not going to want come to this community, they want an agency and a government they can work with, not one that is going to be micromanaging and criticizing them.”
Anderson commented that Commissioners Craig Reiter and Sue Cameron are “on the right track” and working with county entities and employees.
Following Anderson’s comments, Chairperson Al Grimm closed public comment and read from both a prepared statement, as well as making statements of his own. He claimed that he has “lost a lot of sleep” over the recent controversy and that a recent article did a good job of “slamming” the county commissioners. The prepared statement was also submitted as a letter to the editor and can be viewed on page A4.
After reading the prepared statement, Grimm touched on various other issues, noting that the county commissioners had recently heard complaints from the medical care facility employees, and had taken their concerns to the SCMCF board.
“They said they’re afraid to speak at the meeting, for fear of losing their jobs,” he said.
Grimm explained that the facility should be hiring people from within the county – one complaint brought to the county board by a group of SCMCF employees.
From there, Grimm addressed the audience, “You think you passed that millage? You people?,” he said. “Who passed that millage is the people that are working – the CNAs, the LP(N)’s, the nurses and all their relatives, all their friends.
They’re the ones that talked to everybody, they’re the ones that, in spite of all that’s going on, said come on we need that millage,” he added.
When one member of the audience tried to speak, Grimm silenced them, saying, “I’m talking – me talk, you listen.”
Grimm became visibly frustrated during his comments, at times pounding his fists on the table and raising his voice. He explained that a few people had suggested the commissioners lose their positions.
“Let me point out that it is the former MCF board members that are voicing these opinions, not the current board,” he said. “These former MCF board members, in my observation, did not ask the questions that needed to be asked.”
Grimm continued, saying the past board members supported the past administrator, Jerry Hubbard, despite the fact that it had been uncovered Hubbard had intentionally misled the board, employees and community about the facility’s finances. Grimm added that the commissioners would not make this mistake, and that it is their responsibility to oversee taxpayer money.
“In my opinion, not asking questions is irresponsible on our part,” he said. “I believe if questions would have been asked starting two years ago, MCF may have never had to experience the grave financial problems they’re going through.”
Grimm also noted that the current SCMCF board members are open to communication.
“They do not share the censorship,” he said. “They’re dedicated and hard working … I’m confident that together we can sustain operations at MCF for years to come.”
Despite his obvious frustration, Grimm welcomed the public to attend the county board meetings.
“Threats of removal of employees or elected officials for speaking out are unacceptable,” he said. “I encourage all of you to come to the county board meetings, the medicare (medical care facility) meetings, and any meeting subject to the Open Meetings Act and give your input; you can do that – that is your right. I, for one, will continue to ask questions and make suggestions I see this as my responsibility, not micromanaging.”
Grimm also mentioned that the exit of Stephenson was a “great set up” and that the administrator’s claims that he and another commissioner were unwelcoming were baseless.
“I talked to the man maybe five times, and already he is leaving this area, this job, because I’m hard to work with,” he said. “I hardly know him … I tried to be very respectful for the man.
He’s already got another job, he’s got a brand new job he’s going to Jan. 9,” Grimm added. “How much did he care about us?”
As far as Stephenson’s claim that Commissioner Cameron presents a conflict of interest for the county board by serving as a union representative as well as a commissioner, Grimm said her service has not presented any complications.
“That’s her job, that’s what she does – that’s what she has a passion for,” he said. “So far, we haven’t had a problem with it; haven’t had an issue with it.”
Grimm mentioned that he had decided to become a commissioner to give back to the community and that the former SCMCF board members should step aside and let the current members do their work.
“I’m asking you, former board members, stay out of the way, please,” he said. “If there was anybody that should have picked up on something that was wrong, it should have been that lady (Anderson) that’s got six years on that board.”
Anderson then asked Grimm, who made comments outside of the public comment period and any other agenda item, if she could respond, he replied “no”. Grimm then moved on to the communications portion of the meeting, and in light of Anderson’s continued comments, despite his disallowance, Grimm adjourned the meeting.
“If anybody should step down with the attitude and misinformation you (Grimm) just handed out, it should be you,” Anderson said as she left the meeting.
In other business, the county board voted to hire Jim Oberholtzer as airport manager.