ATTORNEY RYAN PAINTER was in attendance for the Special Meeting at the Corunna Community Center on Sunday, Aug. 1.
Painter recently resigned his corporate counsel position with Shiawassee County.
(Independent Photo/Karen Mead-Elford)
Shiawassee Corporate Attorney Ryan Painter resigned his position via email on Friday, Aug. 6. Dr. Brian Boggs, county coordinator, shared that attorney Eric Morris, from the same law firm – Braun Kendrick – was stepping into the vacated position to represent the county going forward. Boggs also stated the existing contract the county had with Painter will be continued for Morris, describing Morris as an “attorney by assignment.”
Painter was hired in November 2020 for roughly $8,500 per month for 50 hours of work – a total of about $102,000 per year, not counting the $200 per hour for any overtime. Hired to represent the county regarding local issues, Painter later joined with Braun Kendrick in February, thus the contract shifted with him, though it is not clear to many when this occurred. His contract was originally approved during the Nov. 19 meeting last fall.
Painter’s resignation letter shared his “family recently suffered an unexpected death. This has had a very negative impact on my family, and I have come to the conclusion that I cannot continue to provide my family the support they need at this challenging time while also providing the county the representation it deserves.”
Commissioner Marlene Webster (R-Dist. 1) opposed hiring Painter last fall, calling out a problematic item regarding Painter’s contract when it was added on to an agenda mid-meeting, after the agenda had been approved. Painter had previously worked in the Shiawassee County Prosecutor’s Office before working as the elder justice resource prosecutor for the Prosecuting Attorneys Assoc. of Michigan.
During the November meeting, Webster had called the unexpected alteration to the agenda “sneaky and dishonest,” leading to a heated exchange with then chair, Jeremy Root (R-Dist. 5).
Last fall, retired 35th Circuit Court Judge Gerald D. Lostracco had questioned the need to seek an outside attorney, explaining how the county prosecutor’s office had once handled those legal matters in his experience as a prosecutor (beginning in 1974). Lostracco stated he was not advocating against Painter, sharing he felt the “institutional” history in the county really needed to be explained to the board.
Lostracco mentioned outsourcing corporate counsel to Bonnie Toskey’s firm (Cohl, Stoker & Toskey) in Lansing. Webster had supported the Toskey idea, disagreeing with a breakdown offered by Boggs that the county had previously paid the Toskey firm approximately $66,700 per year over a five-year period – a total of $333,468.97. Different data has recently come from the finance office and is discussed in the last paragraphs.
In recent weeks following the July 15 meeting, Webster alleged the Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners violated the Open Meetings Act regarding a discussion of disbursal of federal COVID-19 funding, voting themselves “hazard pay” money. Webster shared that at the time of the questionable July 15 closed-meeting discussion, just prior to the vote, Painter had assured her it was acceptable.
After Painter’s resignation became public on Monday, Aug. 9 via social media and was later confirmed by Boggs on Tuesday morning, Webster posted information she had obtained from the county finance office on attorney fees dating back to 2016. Her information showed the amount paid to Cohl, Stoker & Toskey in 2016 was $37,259.26; 2017 was $35,455.29; 2018 was $52,709.46; 2019 was $28,183.27 and 2020 was $23,117.69 for a total of just over $185,214.
Also according to Webster, using information supplied to her through the county finance office so far in 2021, Cohl, Stoker & Toskey have been paid $2,559.54; Fraser Trebilcock, Davis & Dunlap have been paid $6,370; Ryan Painter has been paid $8,500 with his firm, Braun Kendrick receiving $67,303.84 – for a seven month total of $84,733.38.
As of Thursday, Aug. 12, Webster requested to view Painter’s invoices from the county. An emailed response from Boggs, shared via social media, offered her request had been discussed with Shiawassee County Chair Greg Brodeur (R-Dist. 2) and new attorney, Eric Morris, allowing her to visit in-person to view the documents, but disallowing her from making copies or taking photos of the invoices. Boggs explained that copying the documents “will require a discussion with the board and also additional costs for review and potential redaction.”
There were considerable public comments on Painter and his contract offered to the board during the Committee of the Whole meeting on Wednesday evening at the Corunna Community Center (See Page 1 for more on the meeting).
Shiawassee County Board of Commissioner meetings are available for reference on YouTube.