Andre Spivey was indicted days ago. Where is Detroit City Council?

July 30, 2021, 2:16 PM by  Violet Ikonomova

Councilman Andre Spivey urges passage of a $250 million demolition bond in 2019. (Photo: Violet Ikonomova)

It's been 72 hours since word came that Detroit City Councilmember Andre Spivey would be charged with taking taking bribes and two days since the feds filed an "Information," meaning he's waived his right to a grand jury review and is expected to plead guilty.

With Spivey the second councilmember member to face federal corruption charges in three years, his colleagues are left with the task of upholding the body's legitimacy. But so far, all we've heard from the majority of them is crickets.

We called, texted and emailed each councilmember to learn what action they may take against Spivey, and received a response from only Councilmember James Tate, who issued a statement saying, in part, "Spivey deserves the protected due process afforded to anyone accused of such a matter and I will reserve personal judgement until all the facts have been laid out in the proper legal forum. Though the complaint has yet to be proven in court, the allegation is disturbing and unfortunately adds to the distrust that too many residents have developed in city government."

Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield said on Thursday that a statement was forthcoming (one never came), and Councilmember Scott Benson declined comment. Both are running for re-election unopposed. 

The council had more to say after ex-District 7 councilmember Gabe Leland's indictment on bribery charges in 2018 — when it was criticized for not doing enough. Then, it quickly issued a joint statement saying work would continue unaffected, but stopped short of further action.

That didn't sit well with critics. With his case pending, Leland continued to serve for years in the same capacity, voting on contracts, remaining on committees, and holding onto his city-issued vehicle.

Word that Spivey and a staffer allegedly accepted $35,000 in bribes from 2016-2020 in exchange for possible votes came down during council's final session before summer recess and during a final push to the Aug. 3 primary.

But that doesn't mean councilmembers haven't found the time to comment on other issues: President Brenda Jones, for example, in just the past 24 hours posted to Facebook about lane closures on I-75, the coming resumption of in-person public meetings, and looking for unpaid social media interns. Scott Benson has posted his support for Janice Winfrey — the embattled City Clerk up for re-election, an endorsement from the Detroit Regional Chamber, and about a long bike ride he took through Oakland County.

Mayor Duggan, for his part, responded to the Spivey situation swiftly, but didn't say much of anything: "This is a sad day for Detroit and a sad day for Councilman Spivey and his family. We do have a process in this country where people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Councilman Spivey is entitled to that presumption until he has his day in court."

We decided to open the floor to some of Spivey's possible replacements to see if they might take a harder line on those accused of public corruption. The District 4 candidate is not seeking re-election, along with Jones and District 6 Councilmember Raquel Castañeda-López. Leland resigned in May when he finally entered a guilty plea.

We contacted District 4 candidates Latisha Johnson, Toson Knight, ML Elrick, and Virgil Smith. Two responded. Here's what they had to say. 

ML Elrick:

"The silence undermines confidence in governance. People don’t know why you aren’t speaking out. Did Andre Spivey not speak out against Gabe Leland because he knew he was under suspicion? This is when our council and our mayor and our elected officials need to speak. This is the time to let people know … I’m not afraid to speak because I’ve got nothing to be afraid of.

"(If elected,) I would call for, first of all, the person under suspicion to have their authority limited, committee assignments removed and city vehicle taken away. If we had a city employee suspected of misconduct we would suspend them and restrict their duties until we found out what happened. 

"This city has been through too much over the last 20 years to once again have people wondering whether their elected officials are more concerned with self service than public service. This is why I’m running, so people know they have at least one person they know they can trust and who won’t be afraid to call a rat a rat."

Elrick also previously called on Leland to resign and, as a journalist,  broke stories on his improprieties.

Toson Knight: 

"Our democratic process allows citizens select those that they feel are best to represent them and our justice department is there to ensure that those who have abused that position are brought to justice. At this time, we should allow the Justice Department to do their work and citizens should have faith that the checks and balances in our democracy works. As a council member I will uphold my duty, responsibility and trust that the public has given me to execute the office and would encourage my fellow council members to do the same."

Spivey is chairperson of the Rules Committee, and vice chair of the Budget, Finance & Audit Committee and Neighborhood & Community Services Committee.

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