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‘Bing is corrupt, we want him gone’

Mayor’s office says ‘zero chance’ of corruption

By Zenobia Jeffries
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — Again, allegations of corruption have surfaced in Detroit city politics —  in the mayor’s office. State Rep. John Olumba, D-Detroit, has called for an investigation into Mayor Dave Bing’s office on the grounds of “fraud” and “embezzlement.”

In a letter obtained by the Michigan Citizen, dated Oct. 10 to Attorney General Bill Schuette, Olumba wrote: “I must bring to your attention actions by government officials and persons employed by the city of Detroit that may violate the laws of our state … I am particularly concerned with the approach of public office executives establishing private nonprofits to handle government business.”

He continued, “While these situations have been engines for success … Detroit has witnessed abuse within these kinds of nonprofits that are created by elected officials and their employees.”

Olumba stated in the letter that “$60 million in state and federal funds were due to be deposited by Oct. 1 to the nonprofit Institute for Public Health (IPH),” which was created to take over many of the services performed by the city’s Department of Health Services (DHS). Olumba says IPH was “illegitimately set up.”

In the two-page letter, Olumba listed nine “actions, institutions and corporations” surrounding the dissolution of the city’s health department and creation of IPH, which he believes should be investigated by the state’s top law enforcement official. They include:

  • Creation/legitimacy of IPH
  • Mayor’s refusal to share information requested by City Council regarding the status of DHS and whether the mayor has authorization to move monies in city accounts to a corporations’ private account
  • Use of city-owned properties (and federal and state monies) to promote, establish and carry out duties of a private entity

“I don’t think he’s going to do it,” Olumba told the Michigan Citizen when asked about his request for an investigation. “(Schuette) has not shown he’s going to be aggressive in prosecuting high-end government corruption, although he campaigned on ‘there’ll never be another Kwame (Kilpatrick).’”

Kilpatrick is currently being tried for corruption, but has not been convicted of corruption.

Olumba said an example of Schuette’s approach to deterring government corruption is his refusal to investigate Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano.

Olumba says Schuette tried to pass the responsibility to Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy and then deferred to the FBI, saying “the FBI is investigating it.”

Olumba, who recently won the primary election, wrote a letter in October 2011 to Schuette calling for an investigation into alleged corruption by Ficano.

“Hopefully, he’ll want to do the right thing,” said Olumba. “(But) justice delayed is justice denied. I could not write the letter and wait for the attorney general to run me in circles.”

The city’s Chief Operations Officer Chris Brown told the Michigan Citizen that Olumba’s allegations are false and the creation of IPH and actions taken on its behalf were all legitimate.

“There’s absolutely zero corruption and zero chance of that because (the transfer of the human resource department to IPH) has been approved by the governor at the mayor’s request,” Brown said during a telephone interview. “We receive funding from the state for the health department. Immunization, vision, hearing, STD control … those are from the state. At the time, the state told us (the city) would no longer be credited with those functions. Hence the concept of public health.”

Brown says the process began in June “or even before” when Mayor Bing requested approval for the transfer. However, he says, when Jack Martin came on under the Consent Agreement as Chief Financial Officer, Martin made the decision to move the office of vital records back to the city to have a “revenue-producing mechanism.” The office collects fees for records it furnishes to the public.

It was then that $50,000, which had been withdrawn from the city’s bank account, was returned.

“All this was done with accountants in the room and lawyers watching everything to the penny,” Brown said of Bing’s decision to transfer funds from the health department’s account to IPH.

If Schuette refuses to prosecute, Olumba says he plans to put the measure through the state legislature and “see who wants to do the right thing there.”

He’s drafted a resolution to present to his colleagues Oct. 16, the deadline for Schuette to respond to his letter.

Schuette’s office did not return calls by press deadline.

“In any normal place, you can count on the AG to (investigate illegal allegations); in this broken system the people must stand up,” said Olumba.

The call for an investigation, and going through the legislature, is more or less a formality, says Olumba.

The real victory, he believes, will come from the citizens of Detroit, which is why he also filed, on Oct. 11 with Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett, a petition to recall Mayor Bing.

“I’m going to satisfy the rules. No one can say, ‘He skipped over the rules.’ I asked for the investigation (but) I know no relief is coming. No relief is coming from the traditional annals of justice,” he said. “No court. No attorney general. No one is going to come in and make people stop stealing from us.”

Olumba told the Michigan Citizen that the democratic process needs to take place because “when the government won’t act to protect you, it’s incumbent upon the people to move and protect the places where they live and protect their democratic rights.”

“I filed the petition so we can be prepared to move when we need to move,” he said. “The recall is a follow through because we want this man gone. We understand there are things going on that aren’t right.”

Olumba said that while campaigning for his second term, knocking on doors and talking to thousands of Detroiters, people expressed they wanted something done about what’s happening in the Bing administration.

“Many people asked me, ‘Was this on the horizon?’”

Olumba says Bing has failed to lead the city.

“This executive has lost total control over the city and we’re not headed in a positive direction. He asked for $100 million in concessions to save us from financial struggle. Workers gave (the city ways in which it could save) $150 million … and he told them ‘never mind.’ Now, months later, they are saying we’re facing a bankruptcy.”

The mayor “hasn’t been honest,” says Olumba.

“So in the wake of money moving around, unrest in the city and difficulty among the ranking officials in the cabinet of mayor, 41 appointees in upper cabinet left. We went quite a bit of time without a CFO. Respected individuals are leaving his administration … If he were held to a corporate standard, he wouldn’t have held his job this long.”

If Bing serves as mayor any longer, says Olumba, he will have caused irreparable harm to the city.

“We’re relying on the very last option — the referendum, the recall. Let us take care of ourselves through self-determination,” he said.

If the petition language is certified, 43,000 signatures have to be collected within 90 days between the first and last signees’ names and filed within 120 days of the date certified. If the process goes through, Detroit could be looking at another special election in May 2013.

This election would eliminate mayoral hopeful Mike Duggan, who recently moved to Detroit from Livonia and formed an exploratory committee as his first effort toward running for mayor of Detroit. Others who have been rumored to run in the 2013 mayoral race are Benny Napoleon, currently Wayne County Sheriff; Council President Charles Pugh; and Tom Barrow, who ran against Bing in 2009. The only person who’s officially announced her candidacy for mayor is State Rep. Lisa Howze, D-Detroit.

Olumba says his investigation request, regardless of whether it is taken up, and the referendum are about exposing the malfeasance and corruption under the Bing administration.

The hearing to approve or disapprove the recall petition language is scheduled for Oct. 23.

Contact Zenobia Jeffries at zjeffries@michigancitizen.com

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