HARRISON – During his Commissioner’s Report at the March 20 Hayes Township General Board meeting, Gabe Ambrozaitis spoke in support of the Clare County Road Commission, noting that the road commission was waiting on frost laws to be done so it can get back to work.
He also touched on all the topics addressed during the March 15 Clare County Board of Commissioners meeting, including that the county’s full audit is slated for April.
“I’ve seen a draft,” he said. “It looks pretty good so far, and think we’ll be pretty pleased with how the county finances come out at the end.”
He added that consolidated voting would again be discussed at the April 5 meeting of the Committee of the Whole, adding that a decision is expected by the end of April, which aligns with the election training timeline presented by the county clerk.
“We’re all in the same viewpoint with Lori Mott, county clerk,” he said.
Also noted was the Airport Committee meeting set for 5 p.m. the fourth Monday of the month in the Board of Commissioners Room in the Clare County Building. Ambrozaitis is the committee chair, serving with fellow members Rickie Fancon and David Hoefling. He had attended a meeting with the Bureau of Aeronautics in Lansing a couple weeks prior, and reported it is interested in helping. As soon as the trees start to leaf out, there will be another assessment of the airport.
“There was an assessment done in 2020, and we finally got a full copy of that report,” Ambrozaitis said. “We only had one page – now I have all six pages, so we’re going to look at that and they’re going to assist us in an airport layout plan.”
He said it is moving in the right direction and he foresees a lot of good things in the revitalization of the airport.
Rick Jones, Hayes Township supervisor, said it was good the full assessment was procured, as he had been on the airport board for two years and never saw it.
Ambrozaitis then touched on presentations made to the BOC, one about the Greater Lansing Food Bank, and the other about the local Child Advocacy Center located in Harrison which serves Clare, Gladwin and Missaukee counties.
Of great concern to Ambrozaitis was the commissioners’ motion-killing 4-4 tie vote on the proposed Department of Health and Human Services contract between Child Protective Services and the county prosecutor.
“It was to provide a prosecutor to help prosecute Child Protective proceedings,” he said. That contract would have a reimbursement rate of $80,000 for the remainder of the current fiscal year [through Sept. 30] and would renew with the potential for $100,000 in the next fiscal year.
He made clear that he had voted in favor of the contract, stating his reason for doing so was based on information provided by the Northern Michigan Alliance for Children located in downtown Harrison. He then spoke of the presentation made to the BOC by Terrah Johnson, NMAC executive director [see story in this issue], citing some of the statistics she provided.
“Clare County is No. 2 in the state for child abuse and sexual assault cases,” he said. “What I just said, is we turned down $80,000 for another prosecutor to help prosecute these cases. And we have a 29.4% child poverty rate, and there are 38 child victims out of every 1,000 children in the county.
“So I voted yes to get the funding from DHHS. I would ask if you could talk to your fellow citizens and ask them to call their commissioners and say they should support this as well. We turned down an opportunity to protect the children – that is unconscionable. There’s our money to come back from Lansing to help us with this problem.”
Ambrozaitis said he is hopeful the contract would be reconsidered at the next BOC meeting.
“I leave that with this thought,” he said. “In April, which is our next monthly meeting, is National Child Abuse Prevention Month…how ironic.”
Deb Hoyt, Hayes Township clerk, added that, as a former county appointed board member to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, she understood through conversation at the BOC meeting that the commissioners had been looking at the past and what happened in the past.
“They do have a new director,” she said. “And I think, as this board has said many times, we can’t change what happened in the past; we need to draw that line and move forward into the future. So, I hope that it does come up again.”
If the motion is reintroduced, in order to pass it will require the higher standard of a two-vote margin. That means that even if the vote of previously absent BOC chairperson Jeff Haskell is a yes, it would still require at least one other commissioner to change their no vote.
Ambrozaitis added that he had heard comparison is being made by population count, rather than caseload count for determining how many prosecutors a prosecutor’s office should have.
“It’s by case count,” he said. “How many criminal cases, child protective proceeding cases – how many of those misdemeanor, felony or whatever, do you have? That’s the metric to be measuring on, not population.”
Trustee Bob Buckley then inquired whether the experts who handle child protective cases did schooling upgrades each year. He added that he sat in on one of the trials and had not been impressed by those people testifying or the prosecutor in that case.
Ambrozaitis said there is a requirement of litigators [attorneys and investigators] for continuing legal education.
“I know there are child conventions,” he said. “They go to child protective conferences and conventions to get that information; that’s part of their training.”
He urged Buckley to call the prosecutor to discuss that question directly for a fuller answer.
Buckley also noted the extraordinarily large jury pools which are called to sit for a child molestation case, due to the numbers of jurors who continue to drop out of the proceedings.
“If you sit in on these trials, you’d understand what I’m talking about,” Buckley said. “It’s heartbreaking. I had everything I could do to fight back tears on that kid … and that guy doing what he did to her...”
He described the testimony of the investigators as being very vague.
An audience member asked the board whether someone doing child care in their home is required to have a license, specifically someone who is taking care of children every day from different families. He was told that it depends on the number of children involved, and if a license is required, it is done through the state.
The same person then asked what about if there’s a registered sex offender at that childcare site? Ambrozaitis spun to look at the questioner, and it was made clear that he needed to speak with the prosecutor’s office. Jones also said he would look up the licensure information the next day.
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