Charles Pugh should take responsibility for his absence

Jul 3, 2013

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, what we call Independence Day, and a lot of politicians will say a lot of things, much of it nonsense, about what the Founding Fathers supposedly believed in 1776.

What is pretty clear, however, is that all of them thought we should have the freedom to determine our own destiny, and to be responsible for our actions. I know they were thinking mainly, if not exclusively, about the rights of property-owning white men.

But we've come a long way since. That is, in some ways. People sometimes accuse me of being a liberal, and I suppose in the context of our ever-changing political terminology, that may be true.

Yet most of us do have a conservative streak somewhere, and in my case, I am big on people living up to their commitments.

That’s what bothers me most about the whole Charles Pugh saga. Pugh, if you haven’t been following the story, is the President of Detroit’s City Council. Except that he hasn’t been in Detroit for a couple of weeks now, and nobody is too sure where he is.

Last weekend, a woman from the suburbs supposedly talked to him at a coffee shop in Seattle. Pugh, who was a local TV anchor before getting elected to council four years ago, vanished after vague allegations of an inappropriate relationship with a high school boy.

Since then, an even more vague complaint has been filed with the police. There are reasons to doubt these accusations, and nobody is talking about arresting Pugh. But the city council president IS guilty of something reprehensible: Job Abandonment.

Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr has stripped Pugh of his pay and most of his powers, but as far as I know, Pugh has neither announced plans to quit his job or come back to work.

Which is, in my view, morally wrong. Soon after Pugh was elected to city council, a former student of mine, Danialle Karamanos was elected to the Wayne State Board of Governors.

But she ended up having four children in less than five years, and concluded -- logically, I think -- that she couldn’t possibly do what she needed to do as a wife and mother and a fully committed member of the board, at a time when they were wrestling with budget problems and embarking on a difficult presidential search.

So, she resigned, so the governor could appoint someone else. Afterwards, she asked if I were disappointed in her. I told her that I admired her more for recognizing her limitations. Nobody made Charles Pugh run for office.

Some argue that he may never have been qualified to be on council, let alone its president. But that was up to the voters. But if he can’t do the job, or doesn’t want to do the job, he should do the honorable thing, and quit. City Council may now be only an advisory body, until, that is, the emergency manager turns Detroit back over to its elected leaders. But the city deserves a council president who is willing to do the job, to the best of his or her ability.

Charles Pugh should honor what the patriots started on the Fourth of July by deciding either to come back to work, or to resign.  

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst.  Views expressed in the essays by Jack Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management, or the station licensee, the University of Michigan.