LeDuff: Vote 'Not a Chance' on Proposal N, Detroit

October 20, 2020, 11:01 PM by  Charlie LeDuff

It is no secret to anybody that demolition in Detroit conducted under Mayor Mike Duggan has been impotent, incompetent and scandalous.

Now Hizzoner is asking the highest-taxed homeowners in America to pony up another $250 million to continue his mess under the Proposal N bond.

Voters should know that if it passes, the total costs for demolition under Duggan would surpass $1.1 billion (including interest), exactly the amount of the crooked Synagro sludge deal that helped land former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick in federal prison for public corruption.

More money for this? (File photo)

Duggan does not explain why he is hell-bent on a demolition tax at a time when the local economy has fallen off a cliff, crime is through the roof and water subsidies for the poor are about to run dry.

Is he angling for a pot of money to pay back the federal government for the abuse of the original $265 million sent by the U.S. Treasury to help with demolition? Remember, that four-year investigation continues.

And remember the lowlights:

In 2015, I exposed the secret meetings between city officials and preferred contractors where prices were settled upon before they went out for bid to other contractors. That's a no-no.

Those  preferred contractors who miraculously “won” the contracts, in fact, were the only contractors who bid on the mega-project. Soon after, the scope and terms of the work changed, the prices nearly doubled, and the work was never fulfilled. Still the preferred contractors got paid. A lot. In fact, they were paid a year before submitting paperwork. Another no-no.

You may remember the mayor admitted the fees were set in advance and the contractors preselected.

He said that, and a federal investigation – including multiple grand juries -- have been going ever since.

You may also remember when the Treasury Department called a stop to the program after state audits raised concerns of fraud and inflated billings. Few in the city were told about the shutdown, not even members of the Detroit Land Bank board of directors. Eventually, the city settled, sending back millions of dollars. The feds said at the time that a reimbursement of misused dollars does not constitute a remedy with the United States government.

Hizzoner said at the time that he was “very disappointed.”

Then remember the mayor claiming his demolition program was environmentally one of the safest in the country?

Not so much.

We raised questions in 2016 about airborne lead and asbestos. The city health department then conducted a study in concert with the state. Turns out kids were getting poisoned.

Duggan's minions promised that they would stop demolitions in five zip codes to protect children. They said they did. Except they didn't.

At the end of 2017, the city was fined $100,000 for violation of clean air laws and city officials promised the court they would not allow city contractors to do it again.

Screenshot from video of demolition. (File photo)

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development demanded in March that the city repay the federal government more than $300,000 after city officials allowed a contractor to tear down an apartment building without removing the equivalent of three football fields of asbestos, raining carcinogens on the neighborhood.

Oddly, the contractor who pulled that stunt is now the face of the mayor's push to pass Proposal N.

Then you may remember the dirt? The mayor repeatedly claimed that the primary reason for the price of demolitions nearly doubling under his tenure had to do with trucking in nice, clean, fluffy dirt to fill the holes where houses once stood.

But the feds released a report in March at the beginning of the Covid-19 panic when no one was looking. The report describes fill dirt with elevated levels of arsenic and construction debris. Not only was contaminated highway dirt used as fill, but in at least one case, the highway itself was used. 

The serial killer house. (File photo)

And finally, you may remember when Mayor Mike first floated the idea of Proposal N last summer at a hastily assembled press conference. You've got to hand it to Mike; he neatly turned a communal calamity into a political opportunity. After discussing a murdered woman found in an abandoned house, Duggan pirouetted, pitching his tax plan of $200 million to finish his disastrous citywide demolition project. Now the ask is $250 million plus interest. The serial killer house still stands, unbelievably.

Mike's got big troubles. But who knows how it plays out? Maybe his friend Joe Biden wins the White House and makes all the problems go away. But I get the feeling the feds will want their money back.

If Mike Duggan plans to use Proposal N money to pay back for dirty dirt, he should come clean.

Free Press editorialDuggan administration's unanswered questions mandate 'no' vote on Proposal N

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