2018-03-11 / Front Page

Prosecutor can’t quantify case load

Sharkey wants new hire, county board wants answers
810-452-2609 • adietderich@mihomepaper.com

Lapeer County Prosecuting Attorney Mike Sharkey said he wished he “had the confidence” that his office computer system could “generate accurate numbers.” 
Photo by Andrew Dietderich Lapeer County Prosecuting Attorney Mike Sharkey said he wished he “had the confidence” that his office computer system could “generate accurate numbers.” Photo by Andrew Dietderich LAPEER — Lapeer County Prosecuting Attorney Mike Sharkey seeks a seventh attorney for his office, but the county board wants some things first — including details about the prosecutor’s case load.

There’s just one problem: Sharkey says he can’t provide the information.

“I wish I was in a position that I had the confidence that the numbers that the computer system that we have would generate accurate numbers,” Sharkey told the Lapeer County Board of Commissioners on Thursday.

Sharkey made the statement while seeking board approval to begin the process of hiring a new entry-level prosecuting attorney. Including Sharkey, the new hire would bring the total number of prosecuting attorneys in Lapeer County to seven.

Lapeer County Commissioner Ian Kempf said Thursday he wants details about how much work the prosecuting attorney’s office is doing before approving a seventh prosecutor for the county. 
Photo by Andrew Dietderich Lapeer County Commissioner Ian Kempf said Thursday he wants details about how much work the prosecuting attorney’s office is doing before approving a seventh prosecutor for the county. Photo by Andrew Dietderich The last time Lapeer County has seven prosecuting attorneys was in 1988.

However, commissioners were not willing to approve the request without more information about how much work is being done by the prosecuting attorney’s office.

“There’s got to be a way, a relatively simple way of quantifying the activity in the office that, quite frankly, might bolster your case,” said Ian Kempf, commissioner, Lapeer County.

Kempf referred to Lapeer County Sheriff Scott McKenna as example.

For every county board meeting, McKenna provides the board with a brief report about statistics from the prior week. Among other things, stats include number of arrests (broken down by municipality), how many people have been jailed, how many needed medical treatment, number of traffic stops, and number of accidents.

“We have a really good snapshot of activity that’s going on within the sheriff’s department,” Kempf said.

Kempf also used the Lapeer County Health Dept. as an example, citing an ability to quickly produce stats about variables such as number of permits issued through the department’s environmental division.

“We use that for staffing decisions,” Kempf said. “To turn around and say ‘OK, we know that in April, those permits go through the roof, so what are we going to do to accommodate for that with staffing levels?’”

With regard to the prosecuting attorney’s office, however, Kempf said “we just don’t have any sort of quantifiable figures to be able to look at.”

“For me, I guess, I need more activity levels…actual ‘here’s what the end product is,’” Kempf said. “Those are kind of what I’d like to see.”

Sharkey said the primary issue is the computer system used by his office, and the way it has — or hasn’t — been used.

Sharkey said he has asked “the obvious question ‘OK, push a button here, tell me how many open cases, for example, do we have?’”

“And the number that came back was over 20,000,” Sharkey said.

“Now I know that’s not true,” Sharkey said. “And that is a consequence of an office that is putting their resources and attention to certain areas and not completing their other responsibilities.”

“Something has to give when you have, maybe, poor management, maybe your bad employees, maybe misdirected on what they’re supposed to be doing,” Sharkey said.

Sharkey — along with Lapeer County — was sued in February by two people who previously worked in the prosecuting attorney’s office. In the federal whistleblower suit, they claim a hostile work environment was created because they supported Sharkey’s predecessor — Tim Turkelson — in the 2016 primary election.

Because they were union employees, they kept their jobs after Sharkey won. Sharkey, however, fired the pair 10 days before Christmas (they have since been reinstated as county employees through the union grievance process).

Sharkey further advised county board members Thursday that stats from Lapeer County Circuit Court and Lapeer County District Court aren’t reliable, either, due to the different ways charges are accounted. He said it can make numbers look “skewed.”

John Miller, who served as a prosecuting attorney for Lapeer County prior to Sharkey taking office, told The County Press that the claims made Thursday by Sharkey are inconsistent with his experience.

“That’s a flat out lie for him to represent that the computer system they’re operating does not account for that,” Miller said.

Miller said the office would hold weekly staff meeting on Wednesdays.

The meetings would center on a onepage printout of new cases from the previous week. He said the software is called “Adult Case Tracking.”

“We ran a warrants report every single week,” Miller said. “That would indicate how many warrants had been authorized by which prosecutor, how many misdemeanors, felonies…how many warrants had been submitted for review, how many had been authorized.”

Miller said it was part of a serious effort to reduce warrant turnaround time from 4-6 weeks to within 10 days.

“We monitored that number and ran that report every single week,” Miller said. “Just to gauge if there were prosecutors dealing with a big case, or dealing with an appeal — something that was taking up a lot of their time — could we reassign some of the work to other prosecutors who were caught up or other prosecutors that had some extra time before they had to prep for trial…things like that.”

Miller added “that was our measuring stick every week to how we were doing” and that “it was no effort at all for someone to run that report.”

Case load wasn’t the only thing on the minds of commissioners during the discussion with Sharkey.

A relatively lengthy discussion was held about the prosecuting attorney’s budget in general.

Commissioner Cheryl Clark noted that there isn’t money in the prosecutor’s budget for a new prosecutor, even though the board approved the position during the budget process last fall.

Board members also mentioned that in early February Sharkey asked the board for an additional $47,500 for 2018, citing a “significantly underfunded budget.”

Further, Commissioner Dyle Henning asked about filling the now-vacant position of office manager, and if Sharkey would be back soon asking for more funds for that position.

Sharkey confirmed a request for a new office manager would be forthcoming, but when pushed for details from Henning, Sharkey said “I’m not sure what the game plan is.”

Later in the discussion, Sharkey said “I’ve been in this for a year now. I’m trying to get a historical picture, trying to make myself available to answer questions that you folks have and as I’ve said before, I’m big on transparency, anything that anyone wants to see you can. Maybe you have some better ideas on how to manage the office yourself…”

“I’m sure I don’t,” Henning said. “But on the other hand we are charged with the responsibility of trying to manage the county’s budget and at this point we have less money coming in then we’re spending.”

Sharkey said he “is sensitive” to the position and said he has taken several steps to cut costs.

“I’m just not in the position to raise revenue,” he said. “I don’t have a way to do that. I can only present an efficient model of how things should be done… savings that we have provided that don’t necessarily go into the budget column, but they’re savings nonetheless.”

Near the end of the discussion, a motion was made to move the request for the seventh prosecuting attorney to the next committee of the whole meeting on March 22.

In making the motion, Kempf asked county administration staff to prepare a budget summary as to how the position would fit into prosecutor’s budget. He also asked for a historical staffing level chart.

“And I would also ask the prosecutor if he could, or if he would, put together some workload or some quantifiable numbers as far as what’s going on in the office and where we’re at and where we stand,” Kempf said.

“If you could put something like that together it would sure give us…something to lean on, I guess,” he said. “

Commissioner Lenny Schneider, however, raised the question of why such details weren’t being addressed by the board’s personnel committee, which would normally recommend approval of such a request after thorough evaluation of the request.

He suggested that was “the appropriate” place to discuss the background information requested.

Clark — who is part of the personnel committee — said “we did ask for some of that and (Sharkey) didn’t have it so we asked him to bring it here.”

Kempf shortly thereafter amended his motion to refer it to the personnel committee, which is set to meet Thursday (March 15).

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