County to keep Mattson as contractor for permits

ESCANABA — Despite a letter from the State Attorney General’s Office suggesting Former Delta County Conservation District CEO Rory Mattson potentially violated state law multiple times during his tenure with the district, the Delta County Board of Commissioners voted this week not to rescind its decision to hire Mattson as a contractor for services related to soil and erosion permits.

“The AG doesn’t do rulings, they issue opinions. A judge does a ruling. And it was the opinion of this lawyer that there was potential — that’s in anything we do,” Commission Chair Dave Moyle said Tuesday. “Mattson hasn’t been charged, he hasn’t been investigated, this was a political issue and I for one — it just reeks. He has done nothing wrong, so you’re going to charge a guy in the court of public opinion?”

Prior to the end of last year, Mattson was the individual primarily responsible for soil, erosion and sedimentation permits in the county, which, at the time, was the responsibility of the conservation district. The county and the conservation district began divorcing themselves from one another in 2023, with the county seeking to regain control over the management of county parks and soil and erosion permitting.

Simultaneously, the conservation district began divorcing itself from Mattson. He retired at the end of the year, but not before the newly-elected conservation district board asked the attorney general’s office to look into his activities while leading the district.

The letter received by the district on March 20 did not address the primary concerns of the district, which according to Conservation District Board Chair Joe Kaplan were related to contracts negotiated by Mattson, nor did it address a controversial easement adjustment (see related story). Instead, the letter took aim at Mattson’s past practice of acting as an expert witness in actions brought against landowners by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).

“Specifically, these potential violations involve the District’s longstanding practice of offering services to private clients as an environmental consulting firm, including District staff members acting as paid expert witnesses in environmental enforcement lawsuits brought by the State of Michigan. Additionally, the Department has concerns about the District’s financial management and recordkeeping practices,” the letter sent to Kaplan by Assistant Attorney General Danielle Allison-Yokom, of the Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Division said.

Mattson has not denied being an expert witness in the three cases noted by Allison-Yokom in the letter, but says the testimony was within the legal scope of conservation district activities.

“The expert testimony I gave was from the board authorizing me to help private landowners, and that was my main responsibility with the conservation district,” Mattson told the Daily Press last month.

The day prior to the letter being received by the conservation district, the commission voted to hire Mattson as a contractor to assist Delta County Building and Zoning Administrator Jack Smith, who is in the process of gaining the necessary certifications to issue permits. Under the arrangement, Mattson would go with Smith to properties requesting permits to assist with on-site evaluations and Smith would sign the permits once his certifications were complete, as the permits must be signed by an employee of the entity responsible for the permits.

“Let’s move off of Mattson for a sec. This is for Jack. Even if he passes that paper test … it’s very difficult, that does not translate to experience in the field. Jack is our employee, we owe him the best opportunity possible,” said Moyle.

Mattson was the only individual who submitted a response to a request for qualifications (RFQ) put out by the county for the contractual position.

The letter submitted by the attorney general’s office to the conservation district is not the first controversy to strike Mattson — who has recognized he is a controversial figure by taking to the podium and making public comment about the attention he receives at county meetings — but the letter prompted many in the community to call for the board to rescind the Mattson’s hire. Commissioner John Malnar, who voted against using Mattson as a consultant last month, asked for the item to be on the agenda.

“This is based on personalities and your dislike of Rory Mattson,” Moyle said, prompting a groan from the audience and Moyle asking an individual to leave the room.

Neither Manlar nor Commissioner Steve Viau — both of whom voted to rescind Mattson’s hire — commented on the letter from the attorney general’s office Tuesday. Instead, Viau focused on how he felt it was improper to have a scenario where a resident could request a permit but no one was authorized to sign the permit, even if the scenarios was temporary. He also raised concerns about the cost of paying Mattson, which has not yet been determined.

“I know Jack needs help. I talked to him personally. He needs the help, and we have one of the best persons in the county that has been doing it for how many years — 25, 30 years? It’s the process that I can’t approve,” said Viau.

Malnar’s comments largely echoed Viau’s concerns, but he did not praise Mattson’s prior work. He instead argued the county road commission, which had temporarily stepped in to assist with the permits, continue to assist. That arrangement ended March 31 at the request of the road commission.

When it came to a vote, the remainder of the commission voted in favor of keeping Mattson on as a contractor, officially securing his position in the role.


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