While Ingham county leaders have begun an internal investigation into violations of the county’s ethics policy by the former chief information officer, the criminal review already has encountered potential conflicts of interest.
Following an interview with City Pulse 10 days ago, Ingham County Administrator Tim Dolehanty made a decision to refer emails and other documents related to Michael Ashton’s acceptance of junkets for him and his staff to luxury boxes and tickets to various professional sporting events in Detroit to law enforcement.
He originally referred the matter to the Ingham County Sheriff’s Department, which declined to review the matter. “I just thought it was better to have another agency do the review,” Undersheriff Alan Sypke said in a phone interview. “I think it is better not to have one department of the county investigating another.”
He said that while he was certain a fair review could be done by his department, he didn’t want any outcome to be painted as favoritism.
So, he referred the case to the Mason Police Department. “It happened in Mason,” Spyke said.
The problem? Mason also has conflicts. The Police Department receives all its technology support from the county. Case in point: The email address for Chief John Stressman is Mason_PD@ingham.org.
Stressman said his department pays county information technology staffers to provide email services, work on in-car laptops and maintain the city’s body cams and in-car recording technologies. He said he is negotiating with the county for a flat fee, rather than the current arrangement, which has the city paying a rate for each computer or email maintained by the county. He said the costs were under $10,000 a year, but declined to be more specific, citing the ongoing negotiations.
“I think that we can investigate this fairly and equitably,” Stressman said.
Spyke said he too had confidence that Mason Police would conduct a thorough and unbiased investigation.
Dolehanty said he did not necessarily see the relationship between Mason and the county as a conflict of interest, but he said he was unaware before City Pulse brought it to his attention that the county and the city were negotiating a new contract. That, he said, gave him pause.
Mason’s police chief acknowledged a “casual relationship” with Ashton. He said he has not reviewed the documents. He said he did not want it to “taint the investigation.”
To avoid any such implication, he said the investigation is being handled by Detective Robert Mentink. Mentink obtained the documents from Stressman in a sealed envelope. Mentink does not have any specialized training in financial crimes, but Stressman said he was certain he would know to find “the necessary resources” to assist in the investigation.