Wayne County’s Agony

Feb 17, 2012

Some years ago, there was a scandal involving fiscal improprieties at Michigan Public Media, which operates this radio station. When the then-director discovered the suspicious financial practices, he immediately told the University of Michigan about them.

Then, though he was in no way implicated in the wrongdoing, he resigned, saying the irregularities happened under his watch, and therefore he was ultimately responsible for them.

That was a classy and appropriate thing to do. Now contrast that with the embarrassing mess in Michigan’s largest county. Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano is sitting atop what may be the biggest and most far-reaching scandal anyone can remember, and he refuses to even consider taking responsibility.

Since last fall, there have been a staggering amount of revelations about the way the county does business. This all began to come to light when it was learned that Turkia Mullen, the county development director, got a two hundred thousand dollar goodbye kiss when she left that job to take a better paying one running Detroit Metropolitan Airport, which is also largely controlled by the county.

Mullen was also selected for the airport job over a number of other better qualified applicants. She was fired soon afterwards, but major and still unanswered questions have been raised about her appointment and her severance, which Ficano approved.

Those include why county commissioners apparently didn’t know about large outlays of money they are supposed to approve.

Ficano eventually said the severance was a mistake, and Mullen said she was going to pay it back, though she now has also filed a lawsuit asking for her job back or financial compensation.

But the hits have just kept on coming. A FBI probe is ongoing, and earlier this week, two Wayne county officials were charged by federal agents with a variety of crimes. Tahir Kazmi, the former chief information officer was charged with extortion, theft and obstruction of justice. An IT person whose title was “director of enterprise operations,“ was also charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly helping Kazmi cover his tracks.

Ficano’s standard response to every  revelation has mostly been what fans of the old  TV show Hogan’s Heroes call the Sgt. Shultz defense, in other words, “I knew nothing, nothing.”

But that is unacceptable, even if true. Yesterday, two elected Wayne County Commissioners said something that was clear weeks ago: It is time for Ficano to resign. But the former county sheriff is digging in his heels and flatly refusing. “There have been no allegations of wrongdoing made against me,” he shot back.

Legally, that may be true. But he has certainly failed in every way to mind the store. My guess is that his fellow Democrats are getting nervous, or should be. This is a national election year, and though Ficano doesn’t have to run for two years, his administration is is the perfect poster child for Republicans attacking government corruption.

Yesterday, Bernard Parker, one Democratic Wayne County commissioner, called on Ficano to “put Wayne County above himself and step down.”  You would think Ficano would have done that already, if he really cared about the county and his constituents.

But that’s not how he sees it, and meanwhile, everyone in Michigan is in some way paying for this.

There’s got to be a better way.