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Council removes Crittendon

Initiates financial restructuring

By Zenobia Jeffries
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — In what’s been described as a “back room” deal between Mayor Dave Bing and six City Council members, Council voted by supermajority to approve four contracts to initiate Bing’s financial restructuring plan and to demote the city’s top lawyer, Krystal Crittendon.

Some say the move further diminishes the city’s autonomy and integrity. Others charge it is all in violation of the Open Meetings Act.

“City leadership is out of control,” Councilmember Kwame Kenyatta said of the vote.

He later stated that the contracts and Corporation Counsel Krystal Crittendon’s removal has opened the door for a “complete takeover” of the city.

The resolution requesting Council to approve the removal of Corporation Counsel Krystal Crittendon, effective immediately, was introduced by Mayor Dave Bing, who told Council that Crittendon was in place when he came into office and he now wanted to appoint his own Corporation Counsel.

On Jan. 8, their first full day back at work after a month’s vacation, Council voted 6-3 for her removal. Members Saunteel Jenkins, Andre Spivey, James Tate, Ken Cockrel, Jr., President Charles Pugh and Pro Tem Gary Brown all voted in favor. Members Kenyatta, JoAnn Watson and Brenda Jones voted against the resolution.

Crittendon, who challenged the legality of the city’s consent agreement with the state of Michigan, said she was in place when Bing came into office, but that he also appointed her when he became mayor in the May 2009 special election and then again in the November 2009 general election.

In media reports, Crittendon said she believes Bing and Council members orchestrated her removal. Crittendon appeared on local talk radio 1200AM WCHB the morning after the vote and said she doesn’t have any regrets.

“I’m going to be OK,” Crittendon said. “I was doing the right thing and that people recognized I was doing the right thing actually kept me going.”

She added that until the statue of limitations runs out in a few years, the door is still open to challenge the initial Consent Agreement between the city and the state signed in March 2012.

“We needed to find out on the front end if the contract was indeed valid before we begin to act pursuant to it,” Crittendon said. “As a lawyer it’s always a good idea to make sure a contract that your client is (entering into) is a valid contract, for that very reason, so that no one can come in and challenge it.”

“We need to make sure we hold our elected officials to the jobs we elected them to do.”

Radio personality Mildred Gaddis asked if Miller Canfield Law Firm, which Bing has pushed over his own lawyers, had set out to get Crittendon disbarred.

Crittendon responded by saying: “I heard it. I can’t confirm it. I’ve heard rumblings.”

Crittendon did not respond to messages by press time.

In April of last year, Crittendon, who was not a part of creating the Consent Agreement, submitted an analysis to City Council stating that the city was not authorized to enter into a binding contract with the state of Michigan and that the Financial Stability Agreement or Consent Agreement was “void and unenforceable as a matter of law.”

The agreement was put together by the contracted Miller Canfield, whose attorneys also were active in drafting the state’s now-repealed controversial emergency manager law,  Public Act 4.

On June 1, 2012, Crittendon filed a complaint in Ingham County Circuit Court asking the court to rule on the legality of the Financial Stability Agreement with the state, based on various debts owed to the city of Detroit by the state of Michigan. The amount included $220 million in revenue sharing and water bills totaling over $4 million.

On June 13, Judge William Collette dismissed Crittendon’s suit. The court ruled Corporation Counsel does not have the legal standing to bring a lawsuit against the state.

Since that time, Crittendon’s job was in jeopardy.

Bing brought the resolution to remove Crittendon following the judge’s order in June. Council voted unanimously then to not vote on the measure and initially supported Crittendon.

Mayor Bing, in a press conference following the recent vote, stated that his and Council’s actions have “proven” to the state that they are focused and serious about addressing the city’s fiscal crisis.

He referred to Crittendon as a “roadblock” to his restructuring plan.

Yet, Crittendon was fired for doing her job, some say. Councilwoman Watson called the removal outrageous and disgraceful.

“This is a disgrace to have a corporation counsel who has spoken up,” she said. “It’s a disgrace to this city and to the people we are supposed to represent. … There has been no discussion with the City Council and no evidence presented, no documentation on the basis of a four-paragraph resolution without conversation. Council is being asked to remove the chief lawmaker of the city of Detroit who is responsible for implementation of the charter with no proof … no documentation.”

Over the Christmas holidays, the six Council persons voting to demote Crittendon also met with the editorial board of the Free Press in apparent violation of the Open Meetings Act. The three independent Councilmembers were not invited to the Free Press meeting. Many suspect the six Council people heard at that closed meeting what the Chamber of Commerce wanted the city to do and took action the first time they met legally.

The most recent occurance of an appointee of a Detroit mayor was demoted, it resulted in a whistleblower lawsuit that cost the city millions of dollars in damages. The plaintiff, Gary Brown, is now a Council member.

Although Crittendon has not indicated so publicly, the city could see another whistleblower suit.

“She may very well have a case, under the first amendment and the whistleblower protection act,” attorney Richard Mack told the Michigan Citizen. However, he cautioned “I would need to look at the facts involved to have an opinion, but she may have a case.”

Council approved the following contracts with non-Detroit based firms presented by Bing as part of his restructuring plan:

- A $250,000 contract with Milliman of New Jersey to assist the City in managing its retiree healthcare and pension issues;

- A $1.8 million contract for Miller Buckfire of New York to assist the City with a variety of Investment Banking activities;

- A $4.2 million contract with Conway MacKenzie of Birmingham to provide operational restructuring services;

- A $1.2 million contract extension with Ernst & Young to provide financial restructuring services.

Contact Zenobia Jeffries at zjeffries@michigancitizen.com

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