Detroit city councilmembers are calling for stronger oversight of Detroit's demolition program following a Free Press report that revealed a contractor buried houses in demolition debris, a major violation of program safeguards.
How Chicago-based McDonagh's corner-cutting scheme was found out was central focus during a Thursday meeting of Detroit City Council's Planning and Economic Committee. Detroit Building Authority Special Projects Director Brian Farkas originally appeared to credit the program's safeguards for the discovery, but the Free Press reports that in response to questions from council, he admitted the authority was in fact alerted to the issue by a whistle-blower with McDonagh.
The Free Press reports an ongoing review of McDonagh's 90 demolitions has so far found asbestos-containing materials buried at one site.
The program is run by the Detroit Building Authority and Detroit Land Bank Authority. Councilmember Mary Sheffield is now trying to get direct oversight of the demo program returned to city officials, the paper says. She and others pointed to various oversight problems Thursday:
"You have open hole verification, you have this new system that you just ran off about with a five-page presentation and none of it caught it?" [Sheffield asked Farkas Thursday.] None of it caught a house being buried? I think that the pace at which this program is moving, the protocols that are in place are not sufficient, period."
Councilmember James Tate asked why council is not told about violators.
"Many times, pretty much every time, we’re finding out once there's an article in the newspaper as opposed to finding out this information in advance. It's almost as if we’re on a need-to-know basis. Council is actually providing dollars to help support payments for these contractors. . . . So we actually have a reason to have a complaint."
Detroit's Ombudsman Bruce Simpson raised concerns about a gap in physical oversight when demolitions occur.
"The DBA liaison is not on-site for the full process. ... Those were pictures provided by a former employee of the company. That is the only reason we know. The problem with that is, how many times has it happened and we don't know?"
Another councilmember took issue with the fact that just seven field liaisons oversee a program that has torn down thousands of houses in a few years.
"Detroit cannot become another Flint," [said Gabe Leland.] "I know you don’t want to hear that. I know the feelings and emotions that brings but we have to have more oversight and more eyes on the street."