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Wednesday, May 13,2009

Prosecutors and pay

by Neal McNamara

Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings has shaken up his staff by firing three of his 11 assistant prosecutors as well as a longtime staff member over the past eight months.

Former assistant prosecutors Kollette Bordeaux, Marie Wolfe and Tracy Horvath were terminated late last year after their contracts were not renewed. Dunnings declined to comment on their dismissals, citing confidentiality.

Office administrator Sherri Wiegman, a 25-year employee of the prosecutor’s office who would be eligible for retirement in August, was fired May 5 after she spoke at a county Board of Commissioners meeting.

The terminations come on the heels of the firing of former assistant prosecutor Eric Matwiejczyk last August because of questions about his role in the case of Claude McCollum, who was wrongfully convicted of murder.

He said that the terminated prosecutors had reached the ends of their contracts and he chose not to reappoint them.


“I don’t discuss personnel matters. Each one occurred for its own individual reason,” Dunnings said of Wolfe, Bordeaux and Horvath. “The fact that they occurred in a short period is coincidental.”

In Wiegman’s case, she appeared at the April 21 meeting of the County Services committee to support Matwiejczyk, who is seeking an additional four months of severance pay. Wiegman appeared at the meeting to say that Dunnings had privately told her that he would support 12 months of severance pay for Matwiejczyk and that he could be hired back if the state Attorney Grievance Commission investigation cleared his name, which it did. Matwiejczyk will appear before County Services May 19 to request the severance extension.

Dunnings says that Wiegman was a confidential employee and any conversations between the two were to be kept secret in accordance with the terms of her employment, which is why he fired her.


“(Wiegman) was a managerial and confidential employee. That has to mean something,” Dunnings said.


Wiegman will appear before County Services at its June 2 meeting to dispute her dismissal.

“I got up and I made it clear I was not (at the County Services meeting) in a professional capacity,” Wiegman said. “I was there for myself and I wanted to corroborate (Dunnings’) statements.”

Wiegman said that Dunnings told her that Matwiejczyk would be supported in seeking one year of severance and could be hired back after she became upset about the firing. Dunnings said that he hasn’t considered hiring Matwiejczyk back because the county is in the midst of a hiring freeze, which was put in place earlier this year.


Commissioner Steve Dougan, R-Delhi Township, has raised questions about whether the severance packages would encumber an already red county budget.

“How expensive is this getting?” Dougan said. “This is principally an issue of money. How many attorneys and staff people do we have to pay to do nothing?”


County Comptroller Matthew Myers said that the severance pay of the employees should not hurt the budget because Dunnings’ office would not be authorized to hire a new assistant prosecutor until the terminated prosecutor’s severance package runs out.


“Obviously, any time you provide a severance package there’s a cost,” Myers said. “But we won’t fill the position until after the severance is concluded.”

Myers said that severance packages are part employees’ respective contracts, but Matwiejczyk’s case is different because he’s requesting an extension. Myers doesn’t think that County Services will grant the extension because it’s “above and beyond” the severance allowed by his contract, despite what Dunnings told Wiegman.

Dunnings said that he has replaced Wolfe, Horvath and Bordeaux. Myers said that those three attorneys received severance packages for less than a year, which is why Dunnings has been able to fill the positions.

“I have nothing to do with severance,” Dunnings said. “The money part is between the assistant prosecutors and the county; I can’t grant it, I can’t deny it.”


But he can recommend it. Dunnings wouldn’t say, when pressed, whether he recommended severance packages for Horvath, Wolfe and Bordeaux — “I don’t know if I’m allowed to discuss individual instances” — but said that Matwiejczyk has not asked for a recommendation from him for an additional four months.

Commissioner Vic Celentino, D-Lansing, who is the chairman of the County Services committee, said that severance shouldn’t be a burden on the budget because money is budgeted for each employee for severance.

“The county board has no authority for hiring and firing. Of course county services have the authority to provide severance,” Celentino said.


“Regarding Stuart hiring or firing, he has the autonomy. You hope a lot of these don’t occur and it’s never pleasant to have it happen. But circumstances might call for it.”



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