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Local clerks dispute state auditors’ findings

ALPENA — Several clerks in Northeast Michigan are questioning the accuracy of the Michigan Auditor General’s report last week that more than 500 clerks across the state are not fully accredited and lack important training.

The auditors’ list includes 14 municipalities in Alpena, Presque Isle, Alcona, and Montmorency counties who were supposedly unaccredited as of May 3, 2019.

But several of those clerks reached this week by The News say they have completed the required education are accredited.

Ossineke Township Clerk Jo’lee Dorie has served in that position for two years and said that, after being elected, there was a brief period when she wasn’t accredited. But she took the required two-day training class in Lansing and completed her education through the state’s online classes.

So she’s confused and displeased that the state claims she is not accredited, because it could reflect poorly on herself and the township in the eyes of voters.

“I’m upset about this, because I am accredited and even received the confirmation email saying I am,” Dorie said. “I’m upset because people could think we don’t know what we are doing, but we do know what we are doing. Something’s wrong.”

“I feel bad for the townships that were named because the report wasn’t telling the whole story and wasn’t clear,” Presque Isle County Clerk Ann Marie Main said. “What was written in the report or how the map even came about, put them in a bad spot, and it was unfair to them, because it may not have been true.”

Statewide, 14% of counties, 14% of cities, and 23% of townships were unaccredited, according to auditors.

Michigan Township Association spokeswoman Cindy Dodge said her organization is in the process of learning more about the audit and how the results were were tabulated.

“We are already strategizing, because this really surprised us, and we want to learn more about how the system and process works, and how they came up with this list,” she said. “We are trying to set up a meeting with the bureau so we can identify some of the answers to the questions we have. We are in an investigation mode right now.”

“I think the state has a glitch in its system, because I have attended training in the past and then found the state had no record of me being there, when I was,” Alpena County Clerk Bonnie Friedrichs said. “There have also been things I have done that were being shown as incomplete. There needs to be a way to verify things better and maybe the audit was a good thing, so they will know there is an issue in tracking and be able to address it.”

The state’s Bureau of Elections agreed with auditors’ findings and promised improvements, according to the audit report, but noted the weaknesses was primarily in the requirements for continuing education.

“Participation in the initial clerk accreditation program, the most comprehensive of BOE’s training programs designed for new election officials, is extremely high,” state elections officials wrote in their response in the audit report.

Meanwhile, Northeast Michigan clerks remain confused and frustrated.

Susan Thomson has been the clerk in Long Rapids Township since 2008 and said she was aghast when she learned the audit report showed she was not accredited.

“I called and talked to the Michigan Election Commission, and they assured me I was fine,” Thomson said. “I am in complete compliance and have no outstanding issues.”

“I am not sure what went awry with this State of Michigan investigation, but it is shame that local officials who have been diligent in staying on top of things were unfairly cast in a negative light due to absolutely no fault of their own,” Rogers City City Manager Joe Hefele said in an email to The News.

Main, the Presque Isle County clerk and the election official for the county, said she has never been notified any township or city workers were out of compliance.

“If there’s a sign-up sheet saying this is who attended, and someone was missed, the bureau didn’t notify them,” she said. “They note that in the report, that they need to do a better job of notifying anybody that’s falling behind.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpenanews.com. Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.

Michigan Bureau of Elections audit by Justin Hinkley on Scribd

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