The Ingham County Prosecutor's Office and Sheriff's Department need a quick and thorough housecleaning.
Riddled with cronyism and at times incompetence, both need leaders willing to unravel the compliant cultures created by former prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III and current Sheriff Gene Wriggelsworth.
Republican Billie Jo O'Berry, an assistant attorney for the city of Lansing and a perennial candidate for higher office, is reasonably qualified to become Ingham County's new prosecutor. So is her opponent, Carol Siemon. But Siemon is endorsed and, in fact, embraced by the county's entrenched Democratic establishment, whose hold on the reins of government could be shredded by a hard-nosed investigation of the justice system and other departments.
O'Berry's strongest suit is that she isn't a member of the club. Also, she can accumulate political capital by rooting around in the pit of one-party county government.
New leadership for the Sheriff's Department is more challenging. The choice is between Republican Eric Trojanowicz, a 25-year department veteran who managed day-to-day operations of the Corrections Division and Field Services Division until his retirement in May, or East Lansing Police Department Lt. Scott Wriggelsworth, campaigning to succeed his father.
Scott Wriggelsworth has a good reputation and obvious name recognition, usually a winning combination. But a deep dive into the opaque dealings of the Sheriff's Department could shred his father's legacy. And there are problems. Acting Prosecutor Gretchen Whitmer wants an investigation of the Sheriff's Department's loss and mishandling of evidence and more troubling, the attempt by Wriggelsworth and crew to cover up its failures.
It's just one of the issues facing the new sheriff. Also, like Siemon, Scott Wriggelsworth is aligned with the entrenched Democratic establishment.
Trojanowicz is the better bet to fumigate the office — though not by much, considering his long tenure there. Still, with another Republican running the Prosecutor's Office, he can be prodded to action.
As the Dunnings sexcapade scandal continues to unfold, documents show shocking complicity by the Prosecutor's Office, the Sheriff’s Department and county courts.
Using heavily redacted documents related to the Dunnings investigation, the Lansing State Journal has uncovered court records inexplicably cleansed, dropped criminal charges, concerns and complaints about Dunnings that were ignored by higher-ups and incomplete questioning of important witnesses.
The documents reveal that for years before his arrest, staff inside the Prosecutor's Office and Sheriff's Department recognized Dunnings' aberrant behavior. The LSJ reported that he turned up at crime scenes, ordered staff to help “friends” and secured the release from jail of suspects who invoked his name.
Incredibly, none of this raised the suspicions of Sheriff Wriggelsworth.
His department, after agreeing on Aug. 26 to release documents related to the Dunnings investigation, stalled for a month and then used a specious request for secrecy from Attorney General Bill Schuette to again withhold the documents until after Dunnings' sentencing at some undetermined date — a date well after his son's campaign for sheriff. The Ingham County Board of Commissioners overruled Wriggelsworth, forcing the release.
Ingham County is governed by a single party with no meaningful opposition, no checks and balances. It seems great when your team's in charge, but it inevitably leads to poor governance. Consider Michigan.
The state has a Republican governor, attorney general, secretary of state, Supreme Court and both legislative chambers. The result has been hostile takeovers of local governments and school boards by emergency managers, anti-union laws, costly legal challenges to prevent same-sex marriages and federal clean air legislation, laws to suppress voter access, the worst roads and bridges in the country and the lead poisoning of Flint.
It's an appalling legacy that could have been tempered by a more balanced government. And were the power of the parties reversed, there would be a litany of Democratic failings.
In many ways government in Ingham County mirrors the state. The county board is controlled by Democrats and all of the countywide elected officials are Democrats. So it's not surprising that Siemon would be endorsed by the county Democratic establishment: Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, State Reps. Andy Schor, Sam Singh and Tom Cochran, County Board Chairwoman Kara Hope, fill-in Prosecutor Whitmer, county commissioners, former Democratic judges. The establishment.
Working for O'Berry and Trojanowicz this year could be the Bernie Sanders/ Donald Trump effect. Both candidates campaigned on the populist though often unstructured desire for an outsiders to challenge the status quo.
But the local lines on the General Election ballot are about more than “Make Ingham County Great Again.” There are real questions about the actions of two justice departments that wield extraordinary power over citizens. We need assurances that won't be repeated and that those responsible are held accountable.
And for this, the county needs more independent leaders: O'Berry and Trojanowicz.