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Op-Ed: Cronyism, Corruption and Convolution

Wayne County’s government needs a serious makeover

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Posted: Monday, October 31, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 11:22 am, Fri Apr 5, 2013.

Mad as all heck but the Occupy Detroit group in Grand Circus Park can’t satisfy your need to displace that pent-up rage? Well, have I got the remedy.

Try Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and friends! Yes, that’s right. Ficano and Co. have been running a Tammany Hall-style county government fiasco for most of the new millennium. But his endeavors might finally be biting him in the behind as he’s been eaten alive by the media for weeks now.

While the public eye has been off frolicking in immoral six-digit severance payments and hilarious flip-flopping (emphasis on the flop), there’s been some pretty neat things going on with Wayne County.

The FBI stepped in and announced Oct. 18 they’ll be taking over the investigation into the questionable pay practices of Ficano’s administration, but who knows how long it will take to bring the twenty-first century “Boss” Tweed and his comrades to justice. So, why not indulge on the finer details of this political charade until then? Put on a thinking cap because this one’s a doozy to keep straight.

Sure, Turkia Mullin was awarded that meager $200,000 severance payment when she willingly left her job at Wayne County’s headquarters – to go work at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport as the new CEO for $250,000 a year. But, a mammoth-bolded question mark was raised when The Detroit News uncovered Oct. 13 that Mullin signed off on a $14-million deal sale of a parking lot in order to build a new county jail downtown. Detroit Metropolitan Airport authority board member Charlie J. Williams, who was also a former Wayne County deputy executive, mediated the deal, which was completed July 14, earning him a 3 percent commission.

For those who suffer at mathematics like me, that awarded Williams a nice little payday of $420,000.

A few weeks later, Williams voted Mullin for the airport CEO airport position, citing his reasoning as “how dynamic she was” during the interview process.

While that seems like a hey-this-sounds-fishy kind of case, Williams denounced the idea of it being a conflict of interest because Greektown Casino, who owned the land, wrote his check, not Wayne County.

That’s some probable ground for Williams to tip-toe across, but the search process for Mullin’s job still puts him in boiling hot water.

A firm from Southfield was hired by the airport for $50,000 (i. e., chump change) to conduct a “national” search to find its new CEO. Williams was in fact on the committee that recommended Mullin for the job, even though the four other candidates had previous airport management experience.

Those dynamics sure must have been stunning.

Keeping things cozy, for his financial sake, Ficano decided to be a good pal and appointed Williams to the airport board in 2006.

And in a more than hilarious twist, The Detroit News reported that Mullin’s severance payment plan was a commonality for numerous Wayne County employees.

Ficano decided to suspend the severance program that 40 employees took up when they retired this spring. Along with Mullin, 14 of them came back for part-time work or under contract.

Adding to the recipe for success, the Detroit Free Press reported Mullin’s repeated claim that she brought in $5.5 billion in new businesses to Wayne County was abhorrently inflated.

The biggest mishap the Free Press found while investigating the truth of Wayne County’s Economic Development Growth Engine’s (EDGE) website was with Cantoro Italian Market in Northville Township.

The county claims it invested $2.5 million in helping the shop out which led to 980 jobs being created for our county of Michigan which maintains a solid $160 million deficit (i. e., not chump change).

But,the Free Press talked to Cantoro and found out while $5 million was, in fact, invested in the business; no help came from the county even when they had hired lawyers to ask about possible grants.

Oh, and 980 jobs? That number was blown out of proportion by more than 1600 percent. Cantoro has 60 full- and part-time jobs at most.

*Who’s got the edge?*

So, in a country where the public will galvanize a U.S. Representative like Anthony Weiner as if he were Lucifer for sending pictures of his crotch to a few women, Wayne County has let Ficano and Co. get away with monetary murder.

The only outburst from the public came from a group of 30 individuals called the Coalition Against Corruption in Wayne County Government. They protested in front of the Guardian Building Oct. 17 calling for Ficano to step down. It lasted a whopping 30 minutes.

Even State Rep. John Olumba (D-Detroit) made a case to try appealing State Attorney General Bill Schuette to investigate the issue. But according to The Detroit News, he claims some of his colleagues in Lansing tried strong-arming him into signing a letter retracting his request.

Just how big is Ficano’s corruption umbrella in Michigan?

Hopefully the FBI has an expedite option to figure this mess out sooner or else it’ll be quite interesting to see what else comes out in the interim.

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