Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan will not discipline three high-level officials who an independent report found ordered deletion of documents involving city support for a prenatal program run by his rumored love interest. The decision, announced at a Tuesday news conference, runs counter to recommendations in the report by the city's inspector general.
Duggan explained he felt the actions of Chief of Staff Alexis Wiley and the two others involved were excusable because their goal was to protect junior staff working on the program, rather than to conceal evidence.
Two directives to delete emails were issued during a turbulent period in which a disgruntled Detroit businessman was leveling high-profile attacks against Duggan.
“It’s clear to me [they] all discussed the issue and all believed they were doing nothing wrong in protecting these young women,” he said. “There is no chance these people would have ordered any emails deleted if this hadn’t been the atmosphere.”
The order to delete emails, according to Inspector General Ellen Ha, was the more “egregious” of two key findings in the damning report unveiled Monday. Ha also determined that Duggan gave the prenatal program — Make Your Date — preferential treatment by failing to go through an appropriately competitive selection process.
Excessive 'city time and resources'
The program "received an inordinate amount of city time and resources, considering the fundraising goals and scope of work when compared against other projects of similar size and scope," Ha wrote.
The six-month probe was launched after a Detroit Free Press investigation revealing that Make Your Date had received more than $350,000 in city funds and that city employeesbraised on its behalf. The head of the program, Wayne State University Dr. Sonia Hassan, had been linked to Duggan through private investigator footage commissioned by the businessman, Bob Carmack.
Ha's report recommended discipline and document retention training for Wiley, Office of Development and Grants Director Ryan Friedrichs and his deputy, Sirene Abou-Chakra. Duggan is requiring that they only undergo the latter. Ha also noted in her report that such behavior, had it occurred in her office, would have resulted in the removal of those involved.
The directives to destroy documents were issued in December and February, and went down the chain of command from Wiley, to Friedrichs, to Abou-Chakra, then finally to two staffers involved in fundraising for the program, the report found.
Both followed public records requests into the Make Your Date program. As chief of staff, Wiley is kept abreast of Freedom of Information Act requests coming into the city’s Law Department.
Ducking a question about trust
In interviews with the inspector general, Wiley did not admit to issuing the order and at one point contradicted her own testimony. Asked whether he feared failing to discipline Wiley would erode public trust in his administration, Duggan sidestepped the question.
"No document was ever deleted for which a FOIA had been filed," he maintained, noting that the officials had not deleted their own emails pertaining to the program and that the messages — which were eventually recovered — showed only that city staff had made the program a priority.
Under Michigan law, it's illegal to delete documents after a FOIA filing. General correspondence records that often include things like email must be kept at least two years.
In late November, the Free Press reports it submitted "a public records request to the city for contracts and other documents regarding Make Your Date and Hassan." In February, another FOIA request was submitted, according to whistle-blower Kennedy Shannon, who was fired by the department. She has said a directive to delete messages was issued afterward.
Wiley defended herself following the release of the report Monday, saying she's built "a career based on integrity" in her time with the Duggan administration, and prior to that, the news business.
"I would never knowingly do anything that would jeopardize or undermine that," she said. When interviewed by the Office of the Inspector General, I was truthful and I stand by my statements."
Mayor focuses on intent
Duggan spent much of the news conference defending his support for Make Your Date, saying reducing Detroit's high preterm birth rate has been a priority since his time as CEO of the Detroit Medical Center. He selected Hassan and a program run out of Wayne State to spearhead the city's efforts because WSU houses America's "leading research institution" on the subject.
"When we started out, the idea that there was anybody else out there that had a 90-member faculty of caregivers, that had 2,000 high-risk patients in Detroit, that had $167 million in research — that somehow there was anybody else to compare it to? If you were familiar with this field, you knew that just wasn't true."
The IG did not weigh the merits of the city's decision to select Make Your Date and determined only that the process was not competitive.
The city's legal director is reviewing additional recommendations in the Inspector General report.
They include establishing "policies and procedures for the selection of organizations, agencies, and nonprofits that will partner with the city of Detroit and receive any type of city resource" in order to "ensure fairness, openness, and transparency in the selection process." Ha also recommended that city officials stop using personal channels for government business, as it emerged Duggan and Wiley do.