A Wayne County employee for more than 30 years, Jeanette Plummer has been struggling for a long time.
"I’m holding on by a thread with my paycheck," she said.
Like most Wayne County employees, she’s watched as the cost of her health insurance goes up, and promises like retiree healthcare go away.
The cuts have come while Jeanette’s salary—just over $30,000 a year— stays the same. She hasn’t seen a raise in about a decade.
"That’s truly a smack in the face, especially since I’ve been there for 30 years," she said. " And it’s hard for us to even move up in the county."
But not everyone in the county is struggling. Take Renata Seals: she was hired last year in the Wayne County Treasurer’s office at $60,000 a year, despite no prior government experience, or even a college degree. A few months later, when a new treasurer took over, Seals got a promotion: going from a contract employee, to full-time with benefits and a $10,000 bump in pay.
Seals isn’t the only person in her family drawing a county paycheck: no, her husband gets one too. He happens to run the county, and his name is Warren Evans.
No one else considered
Eric Sabree is the Wayne County Treasurer and the man who promoted Evans' wife, who now goes by Renata Evans-Seals, after only eight months on the job, back when she and Evans were dating.
"How many people did you consider for it?" asked Channel 7's Ross Jones.
"I didn’t consider anyone else," Sabree responded.
At the time, Sabree had been treasurer for only a few months and was running for a four-year term.
"Did the County Executive endorse you?" Jones asked.
"Yes he did," Sabree responded.
"And did that endorsement play any role at all in his girlfriend getting this job?" Jones asked.
"No," Sabree said. "It did not."
Despite a lack of government experience, Sabree said it was Evans-Seals’ years of work as a community liason that made her such an appealing candidate, first at a fashion business association and more recently for a real estate company.
Her job with Wayne County today requires her to go into neighborhoods and educate residents that are behind in their taxes on how they can avoid foreclosure.
"Her job is to make sure people know how to pay what they owe?" asked Channel 7's Jones.
"Exactly," Sabree said.
"Has she always paid what she owes?" Jones asked.
"You know I don’t really know, I don’t know," Sabree said. " I didn’t do a police background investigation."
History of financial troubles
Neither did we, but it only took about five minutes to find liens and judgments filed against Renata Seals, all across the state, from a $2,308 judgment by Midland Credit Management—a debt collection agency in California, to a $6,124 judgment entered against her and her ex-husband by Outdoor Adventures, a vacation camp site in Michigan, as well as three judgments from Dorchester Arms Apartments in Detroit totaling more than $5,000.
The judgments were news to the county treasurer, who said they gave Seals a special perspective when dealing with taxpayers behind in their payments.
"She probably knows it firsthand, based on what you just told me," Sabree said.
"So you think the fact that she’s had this many defaults is a good thing?" Jones asked.
"No, I didn’t say that," he said. "I think probably she understands it firsthand."
In an e-mail, Seals-Evans says she knew nothing about judgments filed against her by Dorchester Arms Apartments, adding that she’s never lived there and was never notified.
"It sure stinks of nepotism and it sure stinks of favoritism," said Brendan Dunleavy, who for years was Wayne County’s auditor general who dug into waste, fraud and abuse at all levels of county government.
"There might have been a much better candidate had they known about the job," Dunleavy said. "The fact it wasn’t posted, the fact it wasn’t advertised? It’s a real problem."
More family ties
But this story doesn’t end there. Today, while putting the finishing touches on our report, we learned that only three months after the Treasurer promoted the County Executive’s now-wife, the County Executive’s legal division hired Treasurer Eric Sabree's son.
Adam Sabree was made an assistant corporation counsel in November, earning $58,000 a year. Both offices insist it’s just a coincidence.
Unlike Seals-Evans, Adam Sabree was one of at least five candidates interviewed for his position. Two were offered the job but declined because of pay concerns. A Wayne County spokesman said he was hired, in part, because of his past experience as an intern in the Wayne County Prosecutor's office.
As for Renata Seals-Evans, after only eight months in her current position, she’s already in discussions with her boss about a raise. We’re told the exact number hasn’t been figured out yet.
In the meantime, employees like Jeanette Plummer are hoping that one day, after ten years of waiting, they might get one too.
"It’s a slap in the face, being with the county for so many years and not having a raise," Plummer said, "but seeing other people come in and they’re getting these raises? It hurts.
In an e-mail, Renata Seals said her past financial troubles were a struggle for her and her family, but that it’s helped fuel her passion to aide others struggling to pay what they owe.
Her husband, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, declined to be interviewed for this story.
The qualifications for Seals-Evans current job, which were written last Spring after she was hired-on as a contract employee, didn’t require a college degree--only 100 hours of college credit. We haven’t been able to independently confirm how many credits Seals-Evans has earned.
Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at Ross.Jones@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9466.