Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s election was supposed to signify a new beginning for the Motor City, a new leader for a “reinvented” Detroit, a city on track for a real comeback –and on the verge of moving forward from the horrendous corruption of the Kwame Kilpatrick years. (Kilpatrick is currently serving decades in federal prison.)
Unfortunately, recent controversy over a $100 million dollar federal grant to remove blighted homes is raising serious questions about Duggan and his administration, causing some Detroiters to wonder, maybe the more that things change, the more they stay the same?
From allegations that include bid rigging, shady kickbacks to campaign donors, Hillaryesque use of private email for public purposes, and a top Duggan official in charge of the program showing up to work drunk only to victimize fellow employees on taxpayer’s time and dime, it’s clear drama is abound in the D over what has been dubbed the “#Blight$candal.”
Detroiters aren’t the only ones with questions for Duggan, the feds want answers too.
According to multiple news reports, Duggan’s administration is under federal investigation over the controversy.
First, let’s take a step back a moment.
Mike Duggan moved to Detroit from the suburbs just to run for Mayor. After a mix-up caused him to submit his signatures a week earlier than he was supposed to, a Judge threw them out because he was not yet a legal Detroit resident.
Duggan didn’t stop there though-he filed as a write-in and was the top vote getter in the 2013 Mayoral primary.
He would go on to win handily in November against Benny Napolean.
Upon taking office, Duggan announced his choices for administration staff. Detroit News Editor Nolan Finley subsequently blasted Duggan for what he said were excessive salaries. Duggan fired back, saying his staff was the best of the best.
A few months later, news broke that Duggan was using his private email to conduct official City business.
According to the Detroit Free Press:
“City of Detroit officials, including Mayor Mike Duggan, sometimes use private e-mail accounts to conduct the public’s business — a practice that concerns open records experts and one that has hounded Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Duggan explained his tolerance for city employees using private e-mail accounts for official business after the Free Press obtained records through the Freedom of Information Act showing Melvin Butch Hollowell, the city’s top lawyer, using both his Gmail account and city-issued e-mail account to communicate with a Detroit International Bridge Co. executive during negotiations for the pending Riverside Park land swap.”
Perhaps the policy was unclear? The Free Press notes:
“The city’s e-mail policy prohibits workers from sending, receiving or forwarding “confidential or sensitive City of Detroit data and information through non-city of Detroit e-mail accounts.” The policy, dated March 2013, specifically lists Gmail as an example of a non-city account.”
Remember those highly paid Duggan officials the Mayor came under fire for after taking office? One of the administration officials Duggan highlighted was Kevin Simowski.
“Kevin Simowski is a highly respected 20 year prosecutor who played a key role in developing the nuisance abatement lawsuit program that saved more than 1,000 abandoned homes when I was prosecutor,” Duggan said in a statement defending his salaries. “What’s he now doing for Detroit? He’s heading the Detroit Land Bank’s litigation team, suing the owners of abandoned houses and drug houses across the city. How could you find anyone more qualified?
I don’t know of a business executive in America who doesn’t try to recruit people they have worked with in the past and know to be honest, hardworking, and competent. That’s not cronyism – it’s sound management.”
As it turns out, Simowski, a longtime close friend of Duggan’s, was recently fired for drinking while at work and stalking and harassing a fellow employee.
According to WXYZ:
“Kevin Simowski was recently fired from the executive director position after a co-worker filed a personal protection order against him. In September, Simowski was placed on medical leave by the board of directors. Sources say it was to deal with his alcohol problem after he started showing up to work drunk. At that time, he was ordered to have no contact with employees.
In October, Carrie Lewand-Monroe filed for a personal protection order against Simowski. Lewand-Monroe claims Simowski had been harassing and stalking her as far back as April 2015.
Simowski and Mayor Duggan have a long friendship, dating back to their time working for the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. When asked how long he had known about the problems with Simowski, Duggan said the board had been keeping him informed as things developed.”
Unfortruantely for Duggan-and Detroiters- Simowski isn’t the only problem plaguing the Detroit Land Bank.
Thanks to an investigation by renowned Detroit reporter Charlie LeDuff, disturbing information has come to light over the City’s use of a $100 million federal grant to remove blighted houses in the City.
LeDuff first reported on the scandal a few weeks ago, showcasing the significant cost increase in removing blighted homes since Duggan has taken office.
What used to cost around $10,000 now costs $16,000 or, in some cases, more than $20,000. LeDuff also notes that Detroit’s costs are around 30% higher than its neighbors who also received federal grants, and nearly 200% higher than Romulus, which received nothing…
While Duggan claims it’s because of increased quality, Detroiters, along with LeDuff and the evidence on the ground, say otherwise.
The latest report from LeDuff shows members of the Duggan administration worked with contractors to rig up bids before they were submitted. It also shows members of the Mayor’s staff yet again using private email for public business.
Contractors who donated to Duggan benefitted from the controversial program in a major way.
A Facebook page calling for an investigation into Duggan notes:
“According to public documents, Adamo Demolition Group raised $11,000 for Mike Duggan for Mayor and John Adamo donated $5,661.50 to Mike Duggan’s campaign — ADC Inc, an affiliate of Adamo Group, donated $2,000 to the Detroit Progress Fund, a Duggan non profit organization.
According to the Detroit Free Press, the Adamo Demolition Group received $1.96 MILLION extra on top of their existing $10,000,000 demolition contracts.”
Protesters have also taken to City streets calling for an investigation into Duggan and his administration.
According to the Detroit News:
“The Rev. Charles Williams II, of Historic King Solomon Baptist Church, led the demonstration while other protesters wrote complaints in letter format.
Williams told The News he is concerned that under Mayor Mike Duggan, the price of a home demolition has exploded from what it cost the city under ex-Mayor Dave Bing.
Protesters came prepared to file complaints, he said, to ensure that their frustrations were turned to action.
The protesting also comes after questions were raised whether city building officials improperly met with contractors last year to set prices for bulk demolitions — before requests for bids were official.
“We’re happy the homes are being demolished but the price has doubled,” Williams said. “Three contractors from outside the city of Detroit are getting paid double to knock down houses.”
Protester Kenneth Curry called the pricing of home demolitions a “gross injustice.” After going to the 32nd floor to file a complaint, he told The News he suspected there was “some misappropriation going on,” and that the powers that be in city hall were “padding the pockets of its friends.”
Former Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is also speaking out, blasting Duggan for the “#Blight$candal.”
According to the Detroit Free Press:
“Former Detroit Mayor Dave Bing on Thursday questioned the reasons behind huge increases in the cost of blight removal under his successor, Mike Duggan, and defended his administration’s record of demolishing nearly 9,000 houses.
Bing insisted he wasn’t trying to “throw stones” at the new administration, but he felt compelled to defend his record.
“We want them to succeed — I think all of us do,” Bing said of Duggan’s blight team.
In his toughest remarks, Bing labeled as “B.S.” Duggan’s claims that the Bing administration was required to do far less removal of asbestos from homes before demolishing them, and that his administration’s demolitions were done scattershot.”
Now, state legislators are starting to speak out as well.
In a recent op/ed, State Rep. Jim Tedder says questions need to be answered.
“Detroit’s comeback is going to require monumental change, and I’m happy to be a partner in that,” Tedder said.”However, there are now questions regarding the significant increase in costs behind Detroit’s current blight demolition project. These are questions that should be answered before millions more are spent.”
The #Blight$candal even has the federal government hot on Duggan’s trail. They’re investigating the controversy.
According to WXYZ:
“Big questions are being raised in Detroit’s battle against blight. 7 Action News has learned federal investigators are looking into how the city is spending 100 Million federal dollars to knock down blighted homes.
The questions come as the cost for home demolitions have gone up. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has explained the increase to city council, but questions persist in the neighborhoods…”
And as long as the questions remain unanswered, this scandal will persist, haunting Duggan’s second term prospects and hindering a possible 2018 run for Governor.
Whether Duggan survives remains to be seen, but the Mayor better get things in his administration in order-and quickly.