Montcalm County hires law firm to investigate former auditor


By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 12:42 pm on Wednesday, January 25, 2017

John Axe, an attorney with Clark Hill PLC in Detroit, hands out copies of a resolution to the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners on Monday evening authorizing Clark Hill to complete an investigation and make recommendations to the board related to the pursuit of legal claims and filing of a complaint regarding the county’s former auditor Abraham & Gaffney. — Daily News/Elisabeth Waldon

STANTON — Montcalm County has hired a law firm to investigate and possibly bring a civil lawsuit against the county’s former auditor.

The Montcalm County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution Monday stating, “Whereas the county has discovered errors and irregularities with work performed by the former controller (Chris Hyzer) and potential mismanagement by the former auditor (Abraham & Gaffney) and seeks to retain and engage Clark Hill PLC to complete an investigation and pursue any claims as it relates to these errors and irregularities.

“The law firm of Clark Hill PLC shall be retained and engaged to complete an investigation and to make recommendations to the board related to the pursuit of legal claims and filing of a complaint as to the former auditor.”

Nearly 50 people attended the first night meeting in recent memory of the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners on Monday evening. — Daily News/Elisabeth Waldon

The resolution was approved during a regular meeting at 6 p.m. after commissioners met in closed session with Clark Hill attorney John Axe during a prior special meeting for nearly an hour. Only commissioners and Axe were part of that meeting — Controller-Administrator Robert Clingenpeel and Clerk Kristen Millard were asked to leave along with other audience members at the attorney’s recommendation, according to Board Chairman Patrick Q. Carr.

“He just does it differently than we ever have in Montcalm County,” Carr told The Daily News regarding Axe’s approach to legal issues.

Nearly 50 people attended the regular meeting, which was the first effort by commissioners in recent memory to host a night meeting so more people could participate.

During the regular meeting, Axe handed commissioners copies of resolution 2017-3 for their approval.

“This is a resolution which when adopted will authorize our firm, Clark Hill, to retain and engage to complete an investigation and to make a recommendation to the board related to the pursuit of legal claims as to the county’s former auditor,” Axe told commissioners, who then voted 9-0 to approve the resolution.

Carr told The Daily News the resolution was a formal request for Clark Hill to investigate Abraham & Gaffney for a possible future civil lawsuit in addition to the reasons why the county had previously contracted with Clark Hill.

Commissioners in August 2016 voted to contract with Clark Hill in Detroit for legal services, to contract with Municipal Financial Constants Inc. (MFCI) in Detroit to assist Clark Hill and to contract with Rehmann Robson of Troy for accounting services — all to investigate the county’s precarious financial situation.

Commissioners would need to vote to approve a lawsuit before anything is filed in court regarding Abraham & Gaffney.

Despite the ongoing investigation and possible pending litigation, Carr told The Daily News he feels hopeful about the county’s future.

“I feel like there’s been progress made,” he said. “I feel good about the people who are working on it. They’ve pointed out different accounting-type things that we could do differently. I think a lot of that is going to be beneficial and I think it will spread to all offices in the county. Practices that have gone on for several years may not have kept up with latest, greatest practices. I think the overall review is going to put us in a good place going forward. It’s unfortunate that it came to where we are before it happened, but I think the product that we get out of this, in the end, is going to be very helpful.”

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