George Cushingberry, D-Detroit - the chair of the Appropriations Committee and a House Appropriations Subcommittee on Investigations that held a hearing on Wednesday over the planned closure of two popular Secretary of State branch offices - called out the rightwing editorial board of the Detroit News for a particular snotty attack on him for daring to hold the hearing and respond to the outcry from the public over the proposed closings.
The editorial made the outrageous claim that he is paying back Republican Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land for filing charges against him last year for not filing required campaign finance documents. The charges were dismissed by the trial judge and Cushingberry was cleared.
“Cushingberry's motives are suspect, to say the least. Cushingberry formed a special investigative committee to look into why Land decided to close a branch office in Saginaw. His claim of investigative power over this action by the secretary's office is a stretch. Land is a separately elected official. Lawmakers have oversight powers, but investigating the closure of one branch office appears to be micro-managing at best and more likely harassment.”
Cushingberry called the claim baseless and not based in reality, chiding the News’ editorial board for not doing the most basic fact check by not even bothering to take a look at the Michigan Constitution.
“This (charge) is absolutely not true,” Cushingberry said. “They seem to think there is some constitutional provision that says the secretary of state has unlimited control over everything having to do with the sectary of state’s office.”
The only thing in the state constitution that addresses the power of the SOS comes from Article V section 2 that sates, “All executive and administrative offices, agencies and instrumentalities of the executive branch of state government and their respective functions, powers and duties, except for the office of governor and lieutenant governor and the governing bodies of institutions of higher education provided for in this constitution, shall be allocated by law.” How this is “micro-managing or harassment" is unclear.
The investigation and committee hearing came about because Land has only targeted branch offices for closing that are located in districts represented by Democrats; the latest in Milan and Saginaw, both poplar and efficient offices. The offices of Reps. Kathy Angerer, D-Dundee, and Andy Coulouris, D-Saginaw, were flooded with pleas to keep the offices open. According to subscription only Gongwer on Wednesday, Coulouris said he had “dozens of constituents protesting the closure outside of the Capitol, said it was contradictory for the secretary of state to pull out infrastructure from Michigan cities when other states agencies are investing in downtowns.”
“City officials in Milan claimed the branch serves more than the 5,800 residents of the city and that with the growth of Milan continuing, it is important to have a branch office there so people can have easy access to the state's most basic services. Milan City Councilmember Bret Moyer said the city branch office is attractive to many people because it's right off the expressway and several local dealerships access it regularly.
"This would be a black eye to Milan for the state to say we are closing the doors," he said.
Later in the day on Wednesday, the House passed House Bill 4492 that will thwart Land from continuing to play politics with the further closing of branch offices and inserts some accountability. The bill reorganizes funding for SOS branch offices from a single line item to numerous line items. The bill could potentially restrict the ability of the Secretary of State to reorganize branch office operations. This means if the Milan office is closed, for instance, the SOS cannot use money allocated for Milan to consolidate or improve another branch office. Land would be required to return the money to the State's General Fund.
It was interesting to note that in speaking out against passage of the bill, the House Minority Floor Leader - Rep. Chris Ward, R-Brighton - said a branch office in his district was also going to be closed. Either I missed something or that’s hot news here where I live in Livingston County. There are only two branch offices in the county: one in Howell and the other one is in Ward’s district in Brighton.