Burke Quits State Merit Board Post
Sharply Scores Critics Of Commission's Stand In Liquor Job Dispute
By Bill Mullendore With an angry blast a critics of the Michigan Civi. Service Commission's power to prevent abolition of state employes' jobs, Attorney George J. Burke of Ann Arbor today ended his 10 year connection with the merit board.
In a blistering letter to Governor Williams, dated yesterday, Burke declared that “if our administration of the merit system leaves something to be desired, the people should be privileged to have another kind.”
Although he did not say so specifically in the letter, Burke admitted today that his decision to resign stemmed from the furor raised over the "Kunzig affair” last fall: Inter-Commission Row
Last August, the State Liquor Control Commission sought to abolish the job of its business manager, Louis A. Kunzig. When the Civil Service Commission refused to go along with the action, the liquor board fired Kunzig anyway.
This touched off a still-raging red-hot controversy over whether Michigan department heads or the Civil Service Commission should have the final say-so as to the hiring and firing of state employes. It was charged, among other things, that the merit board was "interfering" with administrative functions.
The Michigan Supreme Court! last week sided with the Civil Service Commission when, in a six-to two decision, it ordered Kunzig reinstated and affirmed the right of the merit board to override any department's attempt to abolish a job.
A minority opinion written by former Attorney General John R. Dethmers asserted, however, that the civil service agency, by seeking control of job abolition, was interfering in the administrative affairs of other state agencies. No Partisanship
In his letter to Williams, Burke declared that the merit board has been "motivated by one principle only, namely to put into effect the mandate of the Civil Service constitutional amendment.”
"If, in that respect, we have failed, it is certainly due to no partisanship or lack of interest in the welfare of the state or state employes," he asserted.
"It is utterly stupid to say that we have or have had any desire to override the responsible heads of the various state agencies. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We have never posed as czars.
(Elaborating on this statement, Burke said today that, “in nine cases out of 10, we concur when a department head wants an employe removed." He explained that the affected employes have the constitutional right to appeal to the commission, and that such appeals are decided " on their merits." That is what happened in the Kunzig case, he added.)
"If those who speak so glibly about our preventing department heads from exercising full control of the various departments would take the trouble to learn the facts, they would entertain different views; that is, if they chose to do so," he continued. Seek No Public Office
"The members of our commission have not sought and do not now seek public office. In that respect, we may be rather naive, particularly since we serve and have served without compensation.”
Burke also levelled a blast at the Merit System Association, an independent citizens group which pushed for the adoption of the Civil Service Amendment to the Michigan Constitution in 1940.
That body, he said, "appears to have gone into a state of innocuous desuetude”.
Burke concluded his letter by, stating:
"The obvious question is: Should the Civil Service Amendment be repealed and state service returned to the spoils system, or should some milder and more innocuous method of protecting loyal state employees be substituted ?
"These are matters which must be decided by the people.” Second Resignation
The resignation was Burke's second in less than three years. In August, 1946, he quit, following an erroneous announcement that he would serve on a committee to raise funds for the Democratic party.
Burke claimed the announcement ended his effectiveness as a member of the non-partisan Civil Service Commission, but he was prevailed upon by the then governor, Harry F. Kelly, to reconsider and remain on the merit board.
He declared today, however, that "nothing could make me change my mind.”
(In Lansing, Governor Williams acknowledged receipt of the letter but said he would have no comment to make until he had given the matter more study.)
Oddly enough, much of the criticism leveled against the commission came from Burke's own Democratic party, while the Republic cans have generally upheld the merit agency's actions in the Kunzig case.
The GOP has charged that the Democrat-controlled Liquor Commission was seeking Kunzig's Duster for "political reasons".
Burke had been a member of the commission ever since it was formed in 1940.
Guy H. Jenkins
Burke Burke & Smith
Civil Service Commission
Michigan State Liquor Control Commission
Michigan Supreme Court
Merit System Association
Civil Service Amendment
Ann Arbor News
George J. Burke Sr.
G. Mennen Williams
Louis A. Kunzig
John R. Dethmers
Harry F. Kelly