COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON St. Joseph County Prosecutor John McDonough (highlighted) talks with county commissioners about his office and how it has been performing as of late during Wednesday’s executive committee meeting of the Board of Commissioners.

County commission will not ask for McDonough resignation

Commission chair: 'There’s really no further action we can take'

CENTREVILLE — County Prosecutor John McDonough’s job is safe for now.

Following 15 minutes of discussion during Wednesday’s executive committee, commissioners said they could not ask for McDonough’s resignation as prosecutor.

Commissioners invited McDonough to Wednesday’s meeting to answer questions and give a report on the office, something that Third District Commissioner and Commission Chair Dennis Allen said was one of the few things the commission can do in a situation like this.

“We can send out a letter to the prosecutor to ask him to come before us to give a report on his office, what’s being done, who’s taking care of it, how it’s been run, and provided that he does that adequately, there’s really no further action we can take,” Allen said. “Now, if the elected official refuses to come before us and make that presentation as we requested, yes, we can move forward and maybe ask for removal or switch or change. But that’s not the case here right now.”

The discussion came as the result of a letter sent last week to commissioners from more than 20 local citizens, including 59th District Rep. Aaron Miller, asking commissioners to call for McDonough’s resignation. The letter alleges a “continual lack of leadership, lack of work ethic, and mismanagement of the entire office of prosecuting attorney of this county” as the reasons for why McDonough should resign.

McDonough has been under fire in the past two months ever since an alleged drunk driving arrest in May, and was charged by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office in June with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and having open intoxicants inside a motor vehicle. A trial date for McDonough has not been set as of yet.

McDonough and Chief Assistant Prosecutor Josh Robare were in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting and answered a few questions on how the office has been run as of late.

Allen asked McDonough who has been running the office in his absence, and he said Robare was the one heading it up.

“As the Chief Assistant Prosecutor, that would be his duty in my absence,” McDonough said, adding that Robare would take care of hiring and discipline. “I trust Josh with making any decision.”

Allen asked what office hours were, and if people were in there daily. McDonough responded in the affirmative to the latter part of the question, adding that Robare was one of the people in the office daily. Robare said office hours were 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with everybody at the office in person.

“All three assistant prosecutors are all here every day in person, making phone calls. I’m also here every single Saturday working four hours, so there’s always someone here,” Robare said.

Allen then asked McDonough how people can get a hold of him if they needed to. McDonough said people can still email him, as he gets county emails at home and checks them “multiple times a day,” and commissioners are “more than welcome” to call him on his cell phone.

Allen followed up later by asking McDonough if there have been any issues with law enforcement getting through to him when needed, one of the allegations laid out in the citizen letter. McDonough said there haven’t been any that he was aware of.

“The vast majority of the officers have my cell phone as well, and they can certainly call me if they need anything, they can also give Josh a call or call Central Dispatch, who have our phone numbers there for that exact reason,” McDonough said.

Case-wise, Robare told commissioners the office is “exactly on track,” and that the only backlog he ever heard of was due to district courts not being able to hold preliminary hearings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Since then, we have done all of the backlogs in those prelims, and we hired assistant Debbie Davis to help us out with those,” Robare said. “As far as circuit court, probate court, juvenile cases and misdemeanors, there’s no backlog. They’re all on track. The only thing is now the courts have to determine how to conduct jury trials while following the guidelines set by the state and the Supreme Court. We’re waiting for guidance on what to do next.”

McDonough was then asked by Allen when he would be back to work in the office. McDonough said he talked with his doctors late last week, and said they anticipate clearing him for work and releasing him medically at the beginning of September.

Following the questions, the commissioners then discussed what action they could take. Allen said because McDonough answered all of the questions they asked of him, making a resolution asking for his resignation was not on the table.

“Our first step is supposed to be, the only resolution would be to ask John to come before us and give us a report. He’s done that, and I think he’s answered all the questions,” Allen said. “Obviously Josh is in charge and handling the situation in there, and are in contact with each other if need be. Right now, I think as far as any resolutions from the commission, they’d be null and void.”

Allen said in an interview following the meeting the commissioners could not have asked for a resignation during Wednesday’s meeting, because they do not have the authority to do so under state law.

Fourth District Commissioner Dan Czajkowski said citizens in the county do not understand what commissioners can and cannot do in situations like this, and asked if it would be beneficial to explain to people what they can and cannot do.

“This isn’t unique; we’ve had people come to us with all kinds of problems throughout the county, probably the issue with the solar farm in Mendon was one of them,” Czajkowski said. “They first approached us and said they wanted us to do something, and basically what we did was point out it was a zoning issue that could be taken care of at their local level. I know that’s a different situation from this, but in other words, it was something we didn’t have any jurisdiction over.”

Czajkowski added that McDonough was “overwhelmingly” elected in the last election, despite the fact McDonough has run unopposed for prosecutor since his election in 2008, and is facing his first primary challenge in August since his initial election. He added the voters would not be able to do anything in regards to removing McDonough immediately either, as voters cannot recall an elected official in the last six months of their term.

Second District Commissioner Kathy Pangle agreed with Czajkowski.

“The public doesn’t understand and they’re trying to hold us accountable for not taking any action and, really, we can’t,” Pangle said.

County Administrator Teresa Doehring said she has been in constant contact with Robare, and praised the department for stepping up in McDonough’s absence. She said overall, the county commission is “very limited” in what they can do, and they have “done their research” on what they are legally able to do under their current circumstances.

“At this point, we’ve done what we can,” Doehring said. “The prosecutor has indicated when he’s able to return to work, and a lot of the issues that were addressed in the letter may not necessarily pertain, in their perception, to what’s happened over the last few months, but my focus is protecting the county and supporting the staff here. I think we’ve done that.”

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 23 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

This article was updated at 4:25 p.m. on Wednesday, July 29, 2020. The previous version incorrectly stated that McDonough would be released from the hospital, but it did not say so specifically, only that he would be released "medically." The Commercial-News apologizes for the error.

Three Rivers Commercial-News

124 North Main Street
Box 130
Three Rivers, MI 49093

Telephone: 269-279-7488
Fax: 269-279-6007
General email: info@threeriversnews.com