Nov. 18 2015 11:45 AM

Op-eds from Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum and Sen. Rick Jones

Ingham County clerk finds board chair's column 'unsettling'

(Barb Byrum, a former state representative, is the clerk of Ingham County.)

After reading the attempt to comfort Ingham County taxpayers by County Commission Chairperson Brian McGrain, I am left with an unsettling feeling that things will not change in the county — even after the termination of the chief information officer for breaching the county's code of conduct.

As the City Pulse has reported, Michael Ashton was fired as the county’s chief information officer for accepting improper gifts from vendors. The story doesn’t end there, despite what the chairperson would like people to believe.

There are multiple layers to this onion that should be unpeeled. As such, the county's investigation needs to continue — and it shouldn’t be limited to former employees, but instead should look at current staff as well.

County Commission Board Chairperson McGrain's recent column in the City Pulse distorted the facts. He claimed that county officials only learned of alleged misconduct within the county’s IT department after the City Pulse filed a request for documents under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

That is untrue.

On numerous occasions, I expressed serious concerns about unethical activity. Anyone who claims they were surprised was not listening — or chose not to pay attention.

The county controller is the top administrator of the county government, and is appointed by the Board of Commissioners. This person is responsible for the activities of all county staff. Yet instead of holding the county controller accountable, it appears the chairperson found it much easier to complain about my lengthy emails expressing my concerns about the IT department. These concerns were not taken seriously by the chairperson, and to this day, I have not received an explanation on why my initial concerns were never addressed.

While I am thankful that the City Pulse's FOIA request unraveled a web of deceit within the county’s IT Department, it is sad that it took a leak to the media for allegations to be taken seriously.

County Commission Board Chairperson McGrain is correct when he wrote that “no written policy can prevent unethical acts by a determined individual.” However, it would be helpful if our county’s board chair did a better job of listening to other elected officials’ concerns, instead of standing idly by when the county’s appointed administrator does nothing.

Fixing this problem will take much more than simply going over ethics policies with staff. It will take a full investigation, as well as intestinal fortitude from elected county commissioners — especially McGrain, as chairperson — to do the right thing and hold people accountable when they commit or cover up unethical acts.

The county controller asked me to stop speaking with the press about this issue. I do not answer to him, and I will not be honoring his request. County Commission Board Chairperson McGrain, meanwhile, has asked to put this issue behind us and move forward. But until we know the full scope of what happened — including who knew about these alleged ethics violations or even the possibility of violations and when — we owe it to county taxpayers to find the truth. Only then can we truly move forward.

Hispanic award flap ‘Chavez also opposed illegal aliens’

(State Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, chairs the Judiciary Committee.)

In the last issue of City Pulse, a writer ranted about my receiving an appreciation award from the Hispanic/Latino Commission of Michigan at a dinner sponsored by the commission, the Capital Area Cesar Chavez Commission and the Michigan Hispanic Legislative Caucus.

Instead of focusing on the positive contributions recognized during the evening, the writer used the article to advance his personal agenda. Part of it was untrue, and part of it twisted history.

He indicated that people at the annual dinner walked out because of the award and it was not in the “spirit of Cesar Chavez.”

Some people left the event early, but they did so because it was too long. The speakers and presentation of scholarships and awards were held after everyone had finished dinner. It was slow and the hour got late. Many people said that they were tired. No one expressed any anger to me about the award. In fact, a large group of people thanked me for attending the event.

We owe it to readers to be honest about history.

Cesar Chavez was a third-generation American citizen and a Navy veteran who formed the United Farm Workers union and fought for legal migrant farm workers to get better pay, housing and treatment.

Chavez also opposed illegal aliens who came in and harmed his efforts. He considered illegal immigrants to be “strikebreakers” and did everything possible to stop illegal immigration.

In fact, Chavez led a march with Sen. Walter Mondale and Ralph Abernathy in 1969 to the Mexican border to protest illegal immigration.

I have always supported legal migrant farm workers and have toured migrant housing in my district. I support programs to assist the legal migrant workers who come to Michigan to provide valuable seasonal work for agriculture in our state.

However, I do not support illegal workers coming in to take work from union carpenters or taking restaurant jobs from Michigan residents. While in college, I worked at a restaurant mopping floors, cleaning toilets and washing dishes.

Concerning illegal aliens receiving driver’s licenses in Michigan, in this time of terrorism and with attacks on both our country and France, giving out driver’s licenses to illegal aliens is irresponsible. Why would we want to make it easier for a terrorist to get on an airplane, rent a truck or buy guns?

Also, to be clear, legal migrant workers who are attending college or have work permits are still eligible to get Michigan licenses.

The article expressed anger over Senate Bill 445, which would ban sanctuary cities in Michigan for illegal aliens. In the wake of recent terrorist attacks and domestic violence, I do not support sanctuary for people here illegally. However, I do not support the bill as currently written and have kept it in my committee until it is rewritten.

We should all oppose illegal workers for many reasons: They undercut the labor force and enrich the greedy people who hire them. They also take jobs from both Michigan families and legal immigrant workers.

In the “spirit of Cesar Chavez,” we should do everything possible to help the legal migrant farm workers.

We should celebrate the diversity of Michigan, and that is what I have done. It is shocking that African-Americans have no civil rights commission in Michigan, so I sponsored Senate Bill 90 to create one. I have helped Latinos get jobs and even run for office, and I invited a Sikh Indian holy man to open the Senate in prayer. I have traveled to Turkey and made friends with local Turkish residents here in Michigan.

Let’s assist people with work permits and support legal immigration. We will have a more vibrant Michigan as more immigrants legally come here to work, contribute to our communities and eventually become American citizens.

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