By Gari Voss
March 13, 2023, a Complaint for Declaration Judgment was filed in the Allegan County 48th Circuit Court by Charles Lawler of Clark Hill PLC in Lansing on behalf of Allegan County Treasurer Sally Brooks, Clerk and Register of Deeds Bob Genetski, and Drain Commissioner Denise Medemar. The complaint stems from the decision of the Allegan County Commissioners to move these offices from the County Courthouse at 113 Chestnut Street, Allegan to the County Services Complex at 3283 122nd Avenue, Allegan.
The trio cites that each holds a “constitutional office whose functions are defined by law” and “constitutionally and statutorily required to hold [her/his] principal office in the county seat”. The Complaint references Mich. Const. Art. 7, § 5; MCL § 48.48 (treasurer), Mich. Const. Art. 7, § 5; MCL § 50.67 (clerk), and Mich. Const. Art. 7, § 5; MCL § 53.90 (drain commissioner).
In addition, each plaintiff states that “the obligation to protect the functions of [her/his] office may be threatened, impaired, or hampered by the actions, either actual or implied, of the Allegan County Board of Commissioners.”
The anticipated move of these offices stems from two events. The first was the move of the Community Mental Health Services, now OnPoint, from the county facilities on 122nd Avenue to its new home on M-40 South across from the Ascension Borgess Allegan Hospital. The second event relates to the addition of an Allegan County Circuit Court that was approved by Gov. Gretchen Witmer on Dec. 29, 2022.
The first event opened about 22,000 sq. ft. of office space at the County Complex for additional county services. The second required that space be provided in the County Courthouse to house the third circuit court and relieve some of the pressure from the current two circuit court judges.
The City of Allegan is basically landlocked with little room to expand the current courthouse within city limits. Along with the clerk, treasurer and drain offices, 113 Chestnut St. houses the Circuit Court, District Court, Friend of the Court, Legal Assistance Center, Probate Court, and Public Defender.
The County Services complex on 122nd Ave. houses the County Administrative Office, Board of Commissioners, Central Dispatch, Dept. of Human Services, Emergency Management & Security, Equalization Department, Facilities Management, Finance, Health Dept., Human Resources, Technology Services, MSU Extension, Parks, Recreation & Tourism, Senior Services, Veterans Services, Medical Care Community, and animal control. The County’s transportation services, surveyor, and road commission are in other locations.
The County Commissioners’ decision to move the offices of the treasurer, clerk and drain commissioner from downtown to the Services Complex brought the lawsuit that contains three counts requiring action. Count One is a Declaratory Action for the Allegan County Treasurer, Count Two is a Declaratory Action for the Clerk and Register of Deeds, and Count Three is the Declaratory Action for the Drain Commissioner.
Each Count ends with “Wherefore, Plaintiffs request that this Court enter and order awarding Sally Brooks / Bob Genetski / Denise Medemar declaratory relief by determining that the … principal office must remain in the City of Allegan, and award the Plaintiffs their attorney’s fees and costs and any other relief this Court deems just and proper.”
The County Commissioners cited a number of reasons when making the decision for the move of offices. One was that the Services Complex would be more accessible to residents across the county because it is more centrally located than downtown Allegan. Another relates to the fact that the three offices do the majority of their work online, which allows them to continue functioning from multiple locations.
It will now be up to the Court to determine whether, or not, the County Services Complex can be defined as part of the County Seat, or if the Courthouse is the only place where the three services in question can be housed.