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October 13, 2013

Kalkaska officials at odds over recycling center problems

KALKASKA — There’s a big mess at Kalkaska County’s Recycling Center, and it’s not limited to paper, plastic and scrap metal.

County officials fired recycling center manager Jason Miller in early June and requested a criminal probe after they learned cash and checks that totaled about $2,400 hadn’t been deposited with the county treasurer and instead were located in a desk drawer at the site.

Officials who targeted Miller also alleged he failed to keep records and receipts of fees charged by the center.

County officials also ousted members of the county’s recycling committee for allegedly failing to investigate Miller. Sandy Ruppert, one of the ex-recycling committee members called the situation that unfolded over the past several months “a witch hunt.”

Kalkaska County Commissioner Debra Kimball sparked the recycling center review when she joined the recycling committee in January and asked questions after she couldn’t find records of receipts for the center’s fees. Committee members discovered Miller had stuck a small amount of cash and over $1,800 in checks in a desk drawer. More checks were found later for a total of about $2,400.

The center on Island View Road about half-mile west of the village of Kalkaska accepts all types of paper, glass, cans, metal and batteries for free from residents, but charges a fee for appliances with Freon and tires. Some of the undeposited checks were collected from commercial users or vendors.

Investigation recommended

County attorney Peter Cohl recommended Miller be suspended, an investigation launched, and that Miller be formally notified of pending charges. Three of the five recycling committee members opposed that recommendation.

“When you have legal counsel, you should be following it,” Kimball said. “They refused to follow it, so I took the next step to have them removed.”

Kalkaska’s county board demanded the three committee members resign for failing to investigate the allegations. Diana Needham, a committee member and former county commissioner, resigned in early July, but Ruppert and Thomas Mason refused. The board met Sept. 18 in a session that resembled a trial and removed them for neglect of duty, based on their failure to investigate.

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