Council leaders test ethical boundaries
By Zenobia Jeffries
The Michigan Citizen
DETROIT — Council Pro Tem Gary Brown, who announced June 26 he was leaving his seat on Council to become second in command to Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s administration as Chief Compliance Officer, is potentially committing an ethics violation.
In his new role, which begins July 1, Brown will oversee the daily restructuring for the city, while the EM devotes more time to the city’s debt, Orr said in a statement.
Brown’s annual salary will be $225,000.
Some citizens, however, are concerned about a possible ethics violation with Brown’s new role.
The city Charter Commission included a provision prohibiting “public servants” from taking on a position within another department in the city for up to one year after serving.
Council however, voted by super majority to place on the Nov. 2012 ballot, a provision to repeal that section of the new charter.
Voters agreed by a 53 to 47 percent majority.
Section 2-106.5 of the Charter read: “Subject to state law, for one year after employment with the City, a Public Servant shall not lobby or appear before the City Council or any City department, agency, board, commission or body or receive compensation for any services in connection with any matter in which he or she was directly concerned, personally participated, actively considered or acquired knowledge while working for the City.
“Subject to state law, for a period of one year after employment with the City, a Public Servant shall not accept employment with any person or company that did business with the City during the former Public Servant’s tenure if that Public Servant was in any way involved in the award or management of that contract or the employment would require the sharing of confidential information.”
Attorney Herb Sanders, Stand Up For Democracy, however, looks at the ethics violation from a different point of view. He said Brown’s appointment “clearly” appears to be a conflict of interest.
“You have one city council member who will retain his authority to legislate by directly going to work for the EM, who has illegally usurped city council as a body to legislate,” Sanders said. “The Emergency Manager has taken over the city, contrary to the constitution.”
Sanders added that in an appearance of impropriety, one council member, (Brown), who’s been supportive of the EM will get an opportunity to do those things and control the city. “It’s unfortunate,” Sanders said.
Mayoral candidate and attorney Krystal Crittendon, who works in the city’s law department, also says Brown’s new position is “a direct conflict of interest.”
“It’s unbelievable that we have this lawlessness,” Crittendon told the Michigan Citizen. “Everybody knew (Gary Brown) was working for the state anyway. He just removed all doubt.”
The reference was to Brown’s close ties with Treasurer Andy Dillon. Brown also cooperated with the state in pushing through the Fiscal Stability Agreement and he voted to hire Jones Day law firm for restructuring the city’s debt. Orr was a partner with Jones Day at the time he was named Emergency Manager.
“This level of uncertainty is just bad,” Crittendon said.
She believes the federal court is going to have to move quickly to decide the legality of PA 436.
Orr’s spokesperson, Bill Nowling, doesn’t see a conflict in Brown working for the Emergency Manager.
“We don’t believe this violates the city charter because he is working for the city, not lobbying the city on behalf of a third party, or working for a company that is doing with or before the city,” Nowling said in an email.
Brown said following the June 25 council session that he’s not concerned about the three council vacancies which includes his own, former Councilmember Kwame Kenyatta, who resigned June 21, and the possible vacancy by Council President Charles Pugh.
Kenyatta had been on medical leave since February.
“The council will function fine,” Brown said.
It’s uncertain just how well the Council will function with its leadership in limbo.
Council President Charles Pugh has recently come under fire for an alleged inappropriate relationship with a student in his mentoring program.
A June 26 news report revealed Pugh, 41, has been involved in an inappropriate relationship with a mentee from the Charles Pugh Leadership Forum, which he operates in the Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Men, a Detroit Public School.
The mother of an 18-year-old recent graduate, in an interview with WXYZ-Channel 7, stated her concerns about elaborate gifts and cash Pugh gave her son in secret. Pugh started mentoring the youth when he was 17 years old.
The mother and son’s names are being withheld. Press reports say she has retained an attorney who plans to sue DPS.
Pugh was not available for comment. Media reports place him in one of the Carolinas.
Flags were raised when Pugh went absent from his downtown office for 10 days, missing two consecutive Committee of the Whole formal Council sessions.
In an unusual move for Pugh, an avid user of social media, he deleted his social media accounts.
Following the June 25 Council session, Pugh’s office issued a one-paragraph memorandum stating the Council President would be on a month-long medical leave.
Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr refused to grant the leave. Orr stated under state law the EM cannot grant an elected official medical leave and there’s nothing in the city’s charter that addresses the issue.
He gave Pugh until 5 p.m. June 26 to show up to work or resign. Pugh did not respond. The following morning Orr issued an order eliminating Pugh’s pay and removing his authority to conduct city business.
The order takes affect on July 7, the end of the current pay period. Council Member Pugh will keep his health care benefits.
Nowling said Orr hasn’t issued a statement yet on how or if the council seats will be filled by the emergency manager.
“We are still reviewing it,” Nowling wrote in an email June 26 at 5 p.m.
According to a council staffer, council members are in the process of determining candidates to fill the three seats.
The city’s Charter states that council shall fill the vacancy by a two-thirds vote, but does not say when that vote has to be taken.
It’s possible the candidates in the November 2009 council election who came in 10th, 11th and 12th place could be appointed, the source said.