Public Works Settles 4 Lawsuits
The Macomb County Public Works Office (MCPW) has settled four major lawsuits begun and left by the office’s previous administration. The settlements are part of Commissioner Candice S. Miller’s commitment to clean and open government.
The lawsuits included:
- A claim filed by the Macomb Interceptor Drain Drainage District (MIDD) against Inland Waters in 2011 in a case stemming from the 2004 sewer collapse and sinkhole along 15 Mile Road in Sterling Heights;
- A 2013 suit brought by former Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco against the Oakland-Macomb Interceptor Drain Drainage District (OMID) in which he sought greater control over that regional body;
- A 2011 case in which a former partner of a local golf course sued Marrocco over an ownership dispute of the golf course; and
- A December 2016 claim by Ric-Man Construction in regard to work performed on a sewer line under 26 Mile Road in Lenox Township.
The last of the suits was settled this month.
“These lawsuits were yet another mess left behind by the previous administration of the Public Works Office,” said Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Miller, who took office in January of this year. “If we allow these lawsuits to linger, all we end up doing is enriching the lawyers. It is in everyone’s best interest to not have county agencies and local governments involved in lawsuits creating an adversarial relationship between each other and local business firms.”
In her first week in office as Public Works Commissioner, Miller ordered a forensic audit which revealed that between 2013 and 2016 the Public Works Office had spent $8.3 million in legal fees. That audit, conducted by UHY Advisors, concluded that “Many questions were raised regarding the appropriateness of incurring legal costs or the likelihood of success” in the lawsuits.
In the settlement of the lawsuit filed by the MIDD against Inland Waters, the company paid the MIDD $600,000. The MCPW provides employees and facilities to the MIDD. More than $6.4 million was spent by the MIDD on legal fees in that case and related claims in the City of Detroit bankruptcy. At one point, under the direction of former Commissioner Marrocco, the MIDD was paying a New York law firm, Dechert LLP, $1,115 per hour to work on the bankruptcy – a total of $3.4 million over a 10-month time frame. If collected, the maximum possible recovery in the bankruptcy would be $2.2 million – likely many years in the future.
“The Inland suit had been pending for six years with nothing to show for it but legal bills. We could allow the Inland suit to continue to drag, but how does that benefit the ratepayers of the MIDD? Our audit says that ratepayers in the MIDD were paying an extra 15 percent on their sewer bills from 2013 to 2016 to pay for all those lawyer fees,” Miller said. “I’d rather use the revenue from your sewer bill to fix our underground infrastructure.”
In the OMID case, Marrocco, as the agent of the MIDD, was seeking to be named the secretary of the OMID board and project manager of OMID’s $160 million rehabilitation project. Marrocco was also seeking to allow the City of Warren to connect to the OMID system. After the MIDD had spent more than $1 million on this case, the court system threw out Marrocco’s request to be named secretary and project manager, and the dispute regarding Warren’s connection became moot when the city no longer desired to connect to the OMID system. Both the OMID board and the MIDD board agreed to settle the suit with no financial award to either party.
“The OMID case was another instance where month after month, ratepayers in both Oakland and Macomb counties were writing check after check for legal fees for little to no gain for anyone. Our Macomb County communities were paying all of our legal fees and more than half of OMID’s legal bills,” Miller said.
In the golf course case, an ownership dispute arose between Simone Mauro and Marrocco over the ownership of Burning Tree Golf Course in Macomb Township. The MCPW spent about $40,000 of public money in legal fees on the case, which Miller noted has no connection to government operations. The MCPW agreed to pay $20,000 to Mauro’s side to settle the case, well below the damages originally being sought.
In the case brought by Ric-Man Construction, the company alleged that it was owed more than $1.6 million for emergency work conducted in May 2016 on a Lenox Township sewer line under 26 Mile Road, east of I-94. Under a negotiated settlement, MCPW agreed to pay the company $750,000, Lenox Township will pay $675,000 and the company agreed to lower its requested payment by more than $225,000. The sewer line in question was constructed by the MCPW about 10 years ago and ownership was transferred to Lenox Township nearly 4 years ago. The MCPW paid for the settlement from a bond account that had been earmarked for projects in Lenox Township but had sat dormant for 20 years under the previous MCPW leadership team.
“Putting these lawsuits behind us is an important step to allowing us to better focus on what really matters to the people of Macomb County – strengthening our local infrastructure system and enhancing the quality of water in the Clinton River, Lake St. Clair and our Great Lakes," Miller said.
As part of the reorganization of the Public Works Office, Miller retained Mount Clemens area attorneys Joe Viviano and Ben Aloia to handle legal work for the office.
“These two attorneys, and their associates, share my vision of open and transparent government. Their work on these cases, and other, more routine matters that come before the Public Works Office has been exemplary,” she said. “They totally get it – that we are here to advance the community as a whole, rather than any one individual for personal gain.”