Oct. 11 2018 01:27 PM

Koenig avoids possible conflict of interest amid appointment process


    THURSDAY, OCT. 11 — Ingham County Commissioner Carol Koenig has offered her immediate resignation so she can seek the new county position of public defender.


    Koenig, who also chairs the Board of Commissioners, said today she will resign at 5 p.m. after nearly a decade on the board.


    “It has been an honor and a privilege to represent the voters of East Lansing,” Koenig wrote in an email to commission members. “The nuance of ‘applying for’ versus actually being appointed to a position is not a clearly settled area of the law. But it is probably best to simply err on the side of caution and avoid even the possibility of conflict.”


    Ingham County officials have recently been accepting applications within a new public defender office under standards recently implemented by the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission. State officials have allocated cash to fund the positions with the goal of providing better representation for impoverished defendants.


    Koenig recently opted to pursue the appointment and it would pose a “clear conflict” should she remain on the board because commissioners are charged with selecting that position, she said. Her name, however, will still appear on the upcoming ballot for reelection in November, County Clerk Barb Byrum confirmed.


    Koenig won the 2016 general election with nearly 72 percent of the vote and is again favored to defeat her Republican challenger in the county’s ninth district on Nov. 6. If she wins the election and is also selected for the appointment, Koenig will likely have to choose between them to avoid a conflict of interest.


    “It’s not really something that I’ve thought about,” Koenig said. “We’ll cross the bridge when we come to it.”


    If Koenig is eventually turned down for the public defender appointment, she could foreseeably resume her role on the county commission in January upon a possible re-election.


    Vice Chairman Victor Celentino is prepared to assume the role as chairman until at least the end of the year, Koenig wrote in her recent email.


    Commissioner bylaws require the board to appoint a replacement within the next 30 days. The board next meets later this month where they could formally accept Koenig’s resignation and appoint another person to fill her role. That person will fill out the remainder of Koenig’s term, which is set to expire at the end of the year.


    “It has also been an honor and a privilege to work with each and every one of you,” Koenig wrote to her colleagues. “Your staff is better than you think and your job is tougher than it looks. Be good to one another.”


    An 1851 state law also clearly states that a member of a county board of commissioners cannot receive an appointment from or be employed by an officer, board, committee or other authority of that county.


    Koenig said the creation of a countywide public defender position will “literally change the face of criminal justice in Ingham County.” She opted to pursue that appointment to ensure the office gets started out on the right foot. The overarching thought: If you want something done right, it’s best to do it yourself.


    “We need to have the right people and the right training in place for this office,” Koenig added.


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