Should Charlevoix County Commissioner Larry Sullivan pay legal fees?

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By Benjamin Gohs

News Editor

In a scathing letter concerning the recent Michigan Attorney General Office’s opinion that Charlevoix County Commissioner Larry Sullivan (R-District 6) cannot legally hold both his commissioner position and his newly-elected Charlevoix City Clerk position, Charlevoix County Commissioner Rich Gillespie (R-District 5) expressed his concerns over how the matter was handled.

In an e-mail communication from Gillespie to the Boyne City Gazette on Tuesday Jan. 21, Gillespie stated, “I find nothing humorous or excusable about Mr. Sullivan’s disregard for public protocol.”

In his letter, addressed to Charlevoix County Coordinator and Human Resources Director Kevin Shepard, Gillespie discussed the events leading up to the Attorney General’s opinion.

“As you might recall, I voted ‘no’ on support for legal research on Mr. Sullivan seeking another elected position while holding county office. I feel that it was inappropriate for we elected officials paying public tax dollars for something that was obviously a legal question for Mr. Sullivan and not the county board of commissioners,” Gillespie stated. “Mr. Sullivan should have paid these expenses himself, and I feel that the legality of this should be determined. This was a private matter, not on obligation of our board—nor the cities.”

Gillespie mentioned Sullivan’s claim that he had received opinions from at least two attorneys regarding the matter but added that he felt the opinions would only have been valid if they were stated in writing.

“We should have copies of this information,” stated Gillespie. “If not (it) suggests deception on the part of Mr. Sullivan and the board he serves on.”
Gillespie further stated, “There seems to be a significant and difficult issue at hand now for Mr. Sullivan. It’s obvious he wanted the city position as he filed petitions to run for same. He will now resign from one or the other. Should it be the city, I would certainly call into question the ethics of this since it was the most recent position sought by Mr. Sullivan which would pose an ethical question regarding the 80 percent of the City of Charlevoix electorate voting for him in November.”
Charlevoix City Manager Rob Straebel did not return a phone call by press time but Charlevoix City Councilman Shirley Gibson (Ward 3) did voice her concerns about the money spent on this venture.

“He (Sullivan) said he had three attorneys look into it—just looking into it is not a legal opinion,” said Gibson. “This could have ended a long time ago. If there is a perception of conflict of interest, there is.”
She added, “I truly believe he should be responsible for paying back the city for legal fees involved in this fiasco.”

According to Gillespie, a person who seeks an elected office while holding another elected office could raise ethical questions if they did not accept their most recent electoral win.

“I believe it is time for Mr. Sullivan to present the opinions he suggests he had from other counsel,” Gillespie stated. “Absent that, I believe he should pay the legal costs incurred by the county on his behalf although it was a personal not public question.”
Gillespie added, “If he fails to produce (legal opinions) it would indicate deception—something I am not comfortable with.”

Sullivan did not return a phone call or e-mail concerning the matter by press time.