Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 20, 2013

Two Benzie officials' jobs in jeopardy

BY ANGIE JACKSON ajackson@record-eagle.com and BRIAN McGILLIVARY bmcgillivary@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — BEULAH — Two top Benzie County officials learned they may soon lose their jobs.

Benzie County commissioners voted this week to give administrator Chris Olson a contractually required 90-day notice that they don’t intend to renew his contract in October. The board also placed Mike Fiebing, the county’s solid waste coordinator, on paid administrative leave pending a hearing before the board.

Commissioners wouldn’t specify their concerns about Olson’s job performance. Olson said no reasons were articulated to him.

“It came as a surprise,” said Olson, who’s spent two years as administrator. “I had no information and no inkling that this was going to be discussed.”

Fiebing’s problems are rooted in his poor driving record. Commissioners suspect he drove without a valid license as he policed the county’s recycling drop-off stations. Michigan Secretary of State records show Fiebing’s license was suspended less than a month after he was hired on Oct. 22, 2012. His license has been suspended 13 times since 2002 for unpaid fines, which Fiebing said stem from “money problems.”

Fiebing drove his personal vehicle June 5 when a Benzie County sheriff’s sergeant noticed a cracked windshield and faulty brake light on U.S. 31 near Lincoln Road, a police report states. The deputy ran the license plate, determined Fiebing’s license was suspended and initiated a traffic stop.

Fiebing paid his fines and his driver’s license was reinstated the next day. He was arraigned last week on a charge of driving with a suspended license, second offense notice.

A committee requested he resign. He refused and asked for a hearing before the board.

“They made a judgment on a limited amount of information and this decision is really being fast-tracked even before my trial,” said Fiebing, who added he paid a past monthly driver responsibility fine late and wasn’t aware his license was suspended when he was pulled over.

A valid license is a condition of his employment, commissioners said.

“It’s a concern to me that we got a guy out there out driving on a suspended license ... it’s a big liability to the county,” said Commission Chairman Don Tanner.

The issue pushed commissioners to vote to sign up for a service with the Secretary of State’s office that will notify officials when a county employee is ticketed. Benzie County previously didn’t check potential employees’ driving records, said Maridee Cutler, human resources director, who changed that practice when she joined the county two months ago.

“That was one of the things that we learned as part of this process was, ‘Hey look, we’re not plugged into this driver,’” Tanner said. “Had that been in place, I think it’s likely this would’ve played out completely differently.”