Can a current Charlevoix County Commissioner also serve as the elected city clerk of Charlevoix?
That question was raised when, after Charlevoix City Clerk Carol Ochs chose not to file for another term earlier this summer, Charlevoix County Commissioner Larry Sullivan (R-District 6) was the only person to file for the November election on the matter.
“It impacts his role as a county commissioner,” said Charlevoix County Board of Commissioners’ civil counsel Bryan Graham, who asked for the board’s “blessing” before investigating whether Sullivan could hold both titles.
“Obviously it’s going to impact the city and the county equally and so we’re seeking the same authorization from the city and if both bodies approve that then we would split the fees between the two entities to do the research necessary to form that opinion,” said Graham.
Charlevoix County Commissioner Chris Christensen (R-District 2) asked Graham if the board could get an estimate on the cost to research the matter. Graham said he had no idea what it would cost.
“It impacts my budget, that’s why I’m asking about it,” Christensen said.
According to Graham, Sullivan has requested an opinion from the Michigan Attorney General’s office on the matter.
“I’ve been on several boards for years,” said Charlevoix County Commissioner Ron Reinhardt. “We had an opinion from the attorney general that it was legal (for township seats).”
Charlevoix County Board of Commissioners Chairman Joel Evans (R-District 4) said he felt the matter was one of personal responsibility.
“I guess I look at it as it is a personal thing for Larry (Sullivan),” Evans said…. “I just question whether the county would be responsible … to pay for the opinion.”
Charlevoix County Commissioner Richard Gillespie (R-District 5) said he felt the burden of securing a legal opinion should be on Sullivan.
“We don’t have to prove that, he does,” Gillespie said.
Sullivan said he researched the issue and found an attorney general’s opinion that dealt with a township which had two contracts with a county and found that it was a conflict of interest to be both a county commissioner and township clerk in that instance.
“There is a tremendous difference between a city clerk and a township clerk,” Sullivan said. “The township clerk is a voting member of a policy-making board, so the township board is the same as any one of us commissioners are to the county board.”
He added, “In the City of Charlevoix, the clerk is merely a administrative person takes minutes, does not vote at the city council meetings.”
Evans said he was merely concerned about who would pay for the opinion and asked if this was a personal issue Sullivan should deal with on his own.
“I’m not opposed to the research but I don’t want to end up in a position where the answers get challenged from a legal standpoint,” Christensen said.
The board voted 5-1 to pay for their half of the legal research; Gillespie was the lone “no” vote.