Let Them Eat Cake

Sep 29, 2011

A while ago, somebody asked me what the biggest thing was that I had learned from a lifetime in journalism.

What instantly popped into my mind was this: Common sense is a very uncommon thing. And that keeps a lot of journalists in business. You don’t need fancy degrees to know that it risky, not to mention wrong, to steal money, tell lies that can be easily uncovered, or cheat on your dying wife when you are running for president.

However, that doesn’t stop brilliant, well-educated people from doing such things and self-destructing, all  the time.

What people also forget is that appearances matter. When everybody else is out of work, flaunting conspicuous consumption is likely to breed resentment, even if you aren’t mugged.

Which brings us to today’s folly, which involves Robert Ficano, the elected executive of Wayne County, and an appointee named Turkia Awada Mullin. These are two intelligent people who seem to be utterly tone-deaf to any public relations sense whatever.

Mullin was the county’s chief development officer until earlier this month, a post that paid two hundred thousand dollars a year. Then she got a new job running Detroit Metropolitan Airport, for a quarter million dollars a year. Nice salaries, in a recession.

But that’s not the problem. The problem is that Mullin was given “severance pay” amounting to a full year’s salary at her old county job when she left to take the new one.

Basically, she got a two hundred thousand dollar bonus paid by the taxpayers, from a county with fourteen percent unemployment. A county that has laid off workers who make a small fraction of her salary because it says it can‘t afford to pay them.

I have never heard of anyone getting a full year’s salary to go from one job to another for the same government.

Nor has anyone else. With one exception: Wayne County. For years, it was operated as an old fashioned political machine by one of the last great political bosses, Ed McNamara. He did things like that all the time.

Once the voters approved funds for a new prison for young offenders. McNamara spent the money on something else, because he wanted to. Well, the world has changed.

But neither Ficano, now traveling in China, or Mullin, seem to have any more clue about public relations than Marie Antoinette did.  When a reporter reached the county executive, he shrugged and said that her predecessor got the same deal.

This is a man who just imposed a twenty percent pay cut on unionized county employees. Turkia Mullin was even more tone deaf. “I’m paid what I’m worth,” she said.

“I need to be paid what my value is.” She then said questioning her salary was “a ridiculous level of scrutiny,” and said it was sexist.

Actually, not questioning this would be nuts. By the way, if Mullin quit her new job tomorrow for any reason, they’d have to give her another one hundred and twenty five thousand.

What is fascinating is that the county executive, who has to run for reelection next year, apparently thought nobody would mind his using county funds to make one woman employee rich.

One thing’s for sure: You just can’t make this stuff up.