County moves forward with hiring new administrator

Published 10:37 am Monday, May 23, 2016

In spite of disagreements between several board members over the terms of the deal, the county is proceeding with plans to bring on a new administrator.

Karen Folks

Karen Folks

The Cass County Board of Commissioners voted, in a 5-2 decision, to hire Karen Folks, of Flushing, Michigan, as county administrator during their meeting Thursday in Cassopolis.

The board also decided, in another 5-2 vote, to amend the proposed contract for Folks’ hire to include a $100,000 annual salary, up from the county’s initial offer of $95,000 that was presented in a job offer mailed to her last week.

Should she accept the board’s amended contract offer, Folks will begin serving with the county beginning Monday, June 6.

According to a copy of her resume provided to Leader Publications, Folks has more than 25 years of experience working as an administrator and attorney with Michigan municipalities. She served two stints as the chief assistant attorney with the City of Flint, from January 1990 to August 1996 and from February 2001 to May 2002; she also served as Flint’s chief legal officer from May 2002 to July 2004. She later served as the administrator/attorney for the City of Ecorse, from April 2010 to August 2013, and as administrator of the City of Allen Park from August 2013 to March 2015.

Since her departure from Allen Park, she has worked as consultant with nonprofits and governmental entities.

Folks graduated from Michigan State University with a bachelor’s degree in music, and received a law degree from the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, where she graduated cum laude.

Folks was one of several candidates who applied for the vacant administrator position, her name being forwarded to the board by the firm Hiring Solutions. The county has been searching for a new administrator since December, when the board voted to fire previous office holder Roger Fraser.

The commissioners officially voted to approve Folks’ hire following their action last week to submit a written job offer to the candidate, as well as a copy of her proposed contract.

Folks responded by suggesting several changes to the term of the deal, including asking to receive a salary of $105,000 versus the $95,000 offered in the contract.

Prior to vote on her hiring, several board members spoke out against making any changes to the contract, including District Four Commissioner Roseann Marchetti. The commissioner asked the board to stick to its initial offer of $95,000, saying the offered contract was not meant as an invitation to open negotiations with the candidate and that the original offer was more than fair, considering it was above the midpoint of the $80,000 to $100,000 salary range the commissioners had advertised the position having.

“This is a person with no experience with county government,” Marchetti said. “What reason would we have to offer a person with no experience the top of the salary range?”

District One Commissioner Robert Wagel echoed Marchetti’s comments, saying that the letters of recommendation sent to the board on Folks’ behalf focused on her strengths as an attorney, but none referred to her abilities as an administrator.

“I have some problems with that,” he said.

Both Wagel and Marchetti voted against amending the contract and against the hiring of Folks later in the evening.

Board Chairperson Bernie Williamson, however, voiced support in raising the suggested salary, as $100,000 was a figure between the county’s initial offer and Folk’s suggestion, she said. It also fell in line with offers the board made to previous administrators, many of whom also lacked county leadership experience.

“I don’t think it’s unreasonable, and I do think it’s a gesture of compromise,” Williamson said.

District Three Commissioner Skip Dyes also spoke up in support of the larger salary, stating the board would have the authority to renegotiate her contract once she was on the job and they had a chance to evaluate her performance.

“We’re nervous,” Dyes said, referring to the problems the county has experienced in recent years with its administrators. “We should be nervous. But that shouldn’t stop us from doing what we have to do.”