January 3, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Ware clears out of top office

Action fuels talk the Wayne commissioner won't seek to retain her leadership post.

Ware )

DETROIT -- Wayne County Commission Chairwoman Jewel Ware isn't talking, but she's cleared out her office, fueling existing speculation that she won't seek to retain her leadership post when the panel returns Tuesday.

Ware, a Detroit Democrat who was elected chairwoman in 2003, has been under fire for two months as state and federal agents investigate claims she hired no-show county employees to work at her husband's resort in northern Michigan. Her spokesman said Friday she hasn't publicly disclosed whether she would seek the post. Others on the commission have said she won't.

Edward Boike, commission vice chairman from Taylor who will begin his 11th term in office, has confirmed he's seeking the chairmanship, but he'll face a challenge from longtime Commissioner Bernard Parker, D-Detroit.

At least one commissioner said Boike is the odds-on favorite to succeed Ware.

"He's ready to assume the position and, as far as I can tell, the votes are there. I think he's in good shape," Commissioner Burton Leland, D-Detroit, said. "Boike is a reasonable person, and he invites everybody into the tent. He's going to have an inclusive front office. It's going to be a much better place."

The chair, who is elected by the commission to serve a two-year term, is one of the most visible elected officials in the county, overseeing a $2.2 billion budget and setting policy on everything from parks to mental health initiatives. Commissioners make about $68,676, but receive an extra $12,000 as chair and an office about the size of Executive Robert Ficano's.

Ware cleaned out that office over the holidays, staffers confirmed.

Tuesday's vote on the commission's chair follows last month's release of a 79-page report by Auditor General Willie Mayo, who faulted Ware for to keep tabs on the commission's $9.4 million payroll and 72 employees.

The report found that Ware's bookkeeping was so sloppy that Mayo couldn't conclusively prove accusations involving no-show employees. But he wrote that he could find no paperwork that showed ex-convicts who worked for free at Morton's Motel in Idlewild did any work for the county. One of them, although listed as a central staffer, was rarely in the office, the report found.

In a letter to colleagues, Ware denied most of the accusations and blamed the controversy on "Anonymous Robin Hood," whose unsigned letter detailing the accusations sparked the investigation from the auditor, FBI, State Police and agents for the state attorney general.

Ware disputed other claims in the report, including her use of a county car for 27 days and its characterization of the work by onetime county employee Kwasi Akwamu, whom Ware said deserved his $83,000 salary. Akwamu, an ex-convict, did time with Ware's husband, Jesse Long-Bey, who owns Morton's Motel and went to prison for manslaughter. He no longer works for the county.

In response, the commission has passed new rules that strip the chair's power for the next 60 days and create a five-member personnel advisory group that will make recommendations to the panel's leader on staffing issues. A blind draw at the beginning of each term will determine members.

"It looks like we're going to have a change in leadership. This is going to be a great day," said Commissioner Ilona Varga, D-Detroit. "What the (leadership change) will do is bring in an open and transparent commission, which we have not had. You'll see a more unified commission who is going to work together. You'll see a different commission than you've seen in the past."

A letter drafted during the controversy in November called for Ware to step aside and for Boike to serve as chair.

It was signed by Varga; Leland; Laura Cox, R-Livonia; Joseph Palamara, D-Wyandotte; Gary Woronchak, D-Dearborn; and Keith D. Williams, D-Detroit.

You can reach Darren A. Nichols at (734) 462-2190 or dnichols@detnews.com">dnichols@detnews.com.