A dead cockroach lay in a nearby garbage can as Mayor Mike Duggan stood at a lectern Tuesday to explain away email-gate, a small-time hustle that morphed into a political wildfire.
After listening for more than 30 minutes to his parsings and pretenses, I must say the discreet disposal of the cockroach was the most nuanced gesture of the event.
Some background: A devastating report, released Monday by the Detroit Office of the Inspector General, said mayoral chief of staff Alexis Wiley abused her authority by ordering underlings to delete emails tying the director of a prenatal health program to the mayor, who happened to share her garage-door opener.
The inspector general recommended that Wiley and two department heads be disciplined for the disappearance of 200 pages of emails. Instead of punishment – or banishment – Duggan said Wiley and the others simply would simply be trained not to destroy public records.
Duggan, looking tired and rumpled, insisted his staffers were only trying to protect two “young women” who were ordered to delete the emails.
He insisted they were only trying to protect the junior staffers from a media circus of Duggan's own making when he was caught on surveillance tape making evening runs to the progfram director's house. That tape was commissioned by Bob Carmack, the disgruntled businessman at war with Duggan over a murky real estate deal.
“We thought, in order to protect them that if they deleted the emails, their names would never surface and they'd be left out,” said Duggan.
But the junior staffers were more savvy than he knew. According to the report, one of the “young women” had the wherewithal to send copies of the emails to her personal account before deleting them on her city account.
It appears that young woman knows a trick or two. How to preserve government emails, for starters. Maybe Duggan should consider her for the position of chief of staff, because it's not clear if Duggan can bail enough water to keep Wiley afloat.
For months, Duggan had insisted that the program received no special help from him or his staff. Now we find out through the inspector general that not only did the mayor indeed direct city money and resources to help his gal-pal's “Make Your Date” program, the whole idea was Duggan's in the first place. But readers of Deadline Detroit already know this.
Not only that, the inspector general's report characterizes the “Make Your Date” program as an unmitigated mess. City officials had difficulties obtaining its budget or justifications for spending. Staff members did not show up for meetings or return telephone calls. And when they felt they were not getting their way, staff at “Make Your Date” would tattle to City Hall.
Duggan called it a great program. And that he strongly believes in it. But look at the data. Infant mortality and preterm births have actually increased in Detroit since this amazing program in began in 2014. (See prenatal deaths and premature births.)
The inspector general found that Duggan hadn't violated city policies or laws when he gave preferential treatment to the program. But a city ordinance requires financial disclosure only if the mayor or his immediate family members stand to profit. The law, you see, says nothing about pals with privileges.
The revelations could not have come at a worse time for Hizzoner.
At the very moment Duggan was delivering his performance near the dead roach in the can, the City Council was convened two floors above at City Hall to vote on Duggan's request to place a $250 million demolition bond on the March ballot. The council auditorium was packed with surly citizens wondering where the other $250 million in federal dollars for demolition had gone. The inspector general delivered a report on that one too, finding that the program lacked “fairness, openness and transparency.”
Again the inspector general found no violations of city ordinances in that one, but a federal criminal grand jury continues its work, looking into the program.
In the meantime, things got so rowdy on the 13th floor that the city council adjourned the matter for another week.
“A girlfriend,” an aide to a council member marveled to me. “Isn't that what started all of Kwame's troubles?”