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FRIDAY, AUG. 10 — Ingham County Commissioner Kara Hope has called on Commissioner Dennis Louney to resign following growing criticism from his colleagues and several, recently uncovered campaign finance violations.
If he doesn't, Hope said Thursday, she'll take steps to formally reprimand him for his behavior.
Hope called for Louney to quit after County Clerk Barb Byrum she said discovered he repeatedly used his taxpayer-funded email address to illegally solicit donations and endorsements, promote fundraisers and form campaign strategies ahead of the August primary election.
“It’s pretty clear that this was a pattern and it’s wrong,” Hope said. “The idea is to provide an incentive not to drag this out. He’s appointed. That’s a lot different than if he was approved by the voters. He’s more accountable to us and I don’t think anybody is very sympathetic. Mistakes don’t happen this many times.”
Louney in February was unanimously appointed to the board to fill a seat left vacant by former Commissioner Brian McGrain. It’s a problem that Hope said the board helped create; It’s now their duty to find a solution. And if Louney doesn’t leave on his own free will, Hope said she plans to introduce a "censure resolution."
The resolution doesn't carry the power to forcefully remove Louney from the board. Commissioner Ryan Sebolt said it'd serve more as a public shaming from his colleagues. He also found it "deeply unsettling" that Louney's emails suggested he sought to merge county finances and endorsements into the same discussions.
Reports show Louney emailed officials at Sparrow Health System for input regarding his campaign and to discuss an opponent’s “strange” behavior. Dozens more showed Louney contacted various local labor unions to discuss endorsements and his upcoming campaign fundraisers.
One email to officials at Lansing Community College sought to discuss how upcoming budget conversations can "best represent" the college's financial interests. Louney asked for an endorsement in the same message.
“Even a hint of connection between those two topics is very problematic for me,” Sebolt added. “I’m not sure it’s my place to call on another commissioner to resign but I would hope Dennis does some soul searching here.”
Louney — who lost this month’s primary to challenger Thomas Morgan — will face an investigation from Michigan’s Bureau of Elections following prior reports that he used his county email address to disseminate campaign literature. State law expressly forbids the use of taxpayer resources for those purposes.
No decisions on formal sanctions — which often include warnings or hefty fines — were made by this week, but Hope also called for a countywide ethics investigation following reports first published by City Pulse, she said.
Louney last month chalked his behavior up to a simple mistake, but Byrum said the recent findings suggest a pattern of illegal behavior and “blatant disregard” for state law. Louney didn’t return several calls for comment this week. Some of his colleagues said they’ve also tried to contact him but haven’t had much luck.
“It’s pretty alarming,” said Commissioner Sarah Anthony. “The voters in his district have already decided they don’t want him to move forward as their county commissioner. Ultimately, I think that’s the best barometer on whether someone should serve. I think they’ve already spoken and they want a change in leadership.”
Vice-Chairman Victor Celentino said Louney, given his political experience, should have known better. Louney served on the board of the Lansing Board of Water & Light. "That's not good at all," Celentino added.
Commissioner Mark Grebner said Louney's missteps may have violated campaign finance law but ultimately didn't cost taxpayers an extra dime. He contended Louney's emails — regardless of their source — didn't help him much either way after he only garnered about 25 percent of the vote earlier this week.
"Maybe he ought to disappear off into the dark," Grebner added. "That might be a good idea after his humiliating show in the primary but there's real corruption out there in the world. Real corruption involves taking something that isn't yours for your own personal gain. This doesn't sound like that sort of situation."
The board next meets Monday for a meeting where the issue is likely to be addressed.
Visit lansingcitypulse.com for continued coverage as updates emerge.
Editor's Note: This story was updated to clarify the board's limitations surrounding Louney's forced removal and to provide additional commentary from Commissioner Mark Grebner. Hope later emphasized that she can criticize Louney's conduct but ultimately cannot remove a fellow commissioner from the board.