Cass County administrator resigns

CASSOPOLIS — Cass County is beginning 2019 with a shakeup of its leadership.

During its first meeting of the year Thursday evening, the Cass County Board of Commissioners voted to approve the resignation of County Administrator Karen Folks. Folks had been administrator since June 2016.

“This is overwhelming,” Folks said Thursday. “What a pleasure it has been to work for the Cass County organization and the greater Cass County Community. This community so embraced and supported me, and I am forever grateful.”

Karen Folks

The motion to accept Folks’ resignation was approved 6-1, with Commissioner Clark Cobb opposing.

Before Thursday’s meeting, a motion had been placed on the agenda to terminate Folks’ contract as administrator and her employment with Cass County effective immediately. However, during the Committee of the Whole Meeting preceding the regular Board of Commissioners meeting, that motion was amended to accept Folks’ resignation.

Commissioner Robert Benjamin, who was elected in November 2018, brought forth the original motion to terminate Folks’ employment with the county. He said though he respected the work that she did on projects such as Imagine Cass, which partnered with Michigan State University Extension to redesign the county seat in Cassopolis, as well as her work with the historic county courthouse, he had heard from county employees, elected officials and community members that Folks was not a good fit for the direction he wants to see the county go in.

“I had heard that there was a morale issue within the employee base as well as that the culture was kind of a toxic culture,” he said. “I made the recommendation that we go in a different direction.”

Commissioner Terry Ausra put forth an amendment to accept Folks’ resignation in place of termination. He said the amendment was meant to prevent a split between commissioners.

“It would have been a controversial issue, and I didn’t want to see that in this county,” Ausra said.

Folks had been the Cass County administrator since 2016. She has worked more than 20 years in various government and emergency management positions in the state of Michigan including as a clerk with the Michigan Seventh Circuit Court, chief legal officer in Flint and city attorney of Ecorse. Prior to serving as Cass County administrator, she served as city administrator in Allen Park, where she was voted to be suspended by the Allen Park City Council, citing concerns over lack of transparency and making decisions without council approval, in 2015.

Folks said she came to Cass County with the goal of addressing foundational issues in the county and that she is proud of what she was able to accomplish during her time as administrator. Now, she said she is excited about her next step.

“Thank you to you all,” she said. “I wish Cass County the very best as it chooses to move in a new direction.”

During public comment, several community members and commissioners thanked Folks for her service to the county throughout her tenure, particularly her work during the last year on the county’s Imagine Cass project.

“This is a sad day,” said Commissioner Dixie Ann File.

“Karen has done a great job and has had a whole lot of energy,” added Commissioner Clark Cobb. “I have the utmost respect for [Folks] and want to thank [her] for all [her] hard work.”

Angie Steinman, the county’s finance director, was appointed Thursday by the board to act as Cass County Administrator until a permanent administrator can be hired. The board also voted to discuss creating an updated Cass County Administrator job description and hiring process at the next Committee of the Whole meeting.

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