Politics

LeDuff: Sonia Hassan got special treatment. Then she got a promotion.


February 19, 2020, 11:18 PM by  Charlie LeDuff

The morning a bombshell report landed, detailing the patronage doled out by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan to a girlfriend's charitable organization, that woman quietly received a promotion.
   
Dr. Sonia Hassan, then associate dean of medicine at Wayne State University and the person who spearheaded a women's health program called Make Your Date, was promoted to associate vice president in charge of the university's new Office for Women's Health. That same day, last April 4, the Detroit Free Press ran a lengthy front-page article headlined: “Mayor Mike Duggan set her up to succeed. That raises questions.”

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Dr. Sonia Hassan and Mike Duggan

And now there are more questions.

The announcement of Dr. Hassan's new job at Wayne State was posted the next morning on the medical school's website, and the day before, in an email to students and employees of the med school. But that announcement was internal, and went unnoticed by the media and the university's Board of Governors.

It was, to put it charitably, an odd oversight not to issue a press release, considering the wild public scrutiny the program received after the mayor was surreptitiously caught on video making multiple trips to the doctor's suburban home.

That video was commissioned by Bob Carmack, who's in a bare-knuckle brawl with Duggan over a murky real estate deal in which Carmack faces trial for fraud. Carmack premiered the video in November 2018 on a giant video screen mounted on a flatbed truck circling city hall.

Series of inquiries

Whatever the personal accommodations, the professional relationship between the mayor and the doctor has led to multiple investigations after it was discovered the mayor's people had deleted public records in connection with Make Your Date.

The mayor's full-throated denials that he offered the Dr. Hassan special treatment or city resources were torpedoed in that Free Press report, even before it was discovered that emails had been destroyed.

The city's inspector general, Ellen Ha, in a scathing report, found that not only had Dr. Hassan's program received special treatment from the mayor's office, the idea was Duggan's in the first place.

Duggan has called Make Your Date a great program that he strongly believes in, and that it has helped pregnant women and at-risk children immeasurably. But looking at state health data, infant mortality and preterm births have increased in Detroit since the program began in 2014.

Ha wrote last year that Duggan's silent hand in the affair amounted to preferential treatment and that senior members of the mayor's staff should be disciplined for deleting emails. That has not happened.

Moreover, investigators from the Michigan Attorney General’s office have seized records related to Make Your Date. That investigation is still ongoing.

New source of strife

Last December, about nine months after her appointment, the Michigan Chronicle reported on the new program and Dr. Hassan's position, in which she went from the med school to a schoolwide post. WSU also put out a press release at that time.

Members of the bitterly divided Board of Governors are – quite naturally – divided on whether the new appointment should have been approved by its members.

“We are to be informed by report, but we do not vote on positions below those of deans and vice-presidents," Marilyn Kelly, chair of the board and former Michigan Supreme Court justice. "That is a matter for the president.”

Board governor Michael Busuito, disagrees: “An associate vice-president is above a dean,” he laughed. “This is another way the administration works in a lawless fashion. This is the same as the suspect real estate deals, the skimming of Medicaid dollars and tuition increases without bringing it to the full board. To me, it's another clear example of cronyism and a lack of transparency.”

Dr. Hassan's base salary is about $280,000 in her new position, said Matt Lockwood, an associate vice-president of communications at Wayne State and mouthpiece for President Roy Wilson. That's about half of what it was in her previous post, though it's possible she could get more if additional federal monies are obtained.

Lockwood also insists that Dr. Hassan's job "isn’t one that would generally go before the board," and cites the board's statute regarding appointments. 

“In talking with the vice-president of research,” Lockwood writes, “talk about creating an office dedicated to women's health started back in the summer of 2018.”



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