April 18, 2009 at 1:00 am

State ousts Blackwell as Highland Park manager

Blackwell )

Lansing -- State officials fired Arthur Blackwell as Highland Park's emergency financial manager Friday and announced his replacement over objections from the city's mayor, a state lawmaker and about 30 supporters.

State Treasurer Robert J. Klein called $280,000 in overpayments to Blackwell a "breach of trust." The firing comes the same day The Detroit News reported that Blackwell received $11,000 monthly payments from the city and the state at the same time. Wayne County prosecutors have reviewed the documents detailing the overpayments.

The Local Emergency Financial Assistance Loan Board named Robert Mason, a former Chrysler management consultant who served on the Farmington Hills City Council, Blackwell's successor. He has a three-month contract for $11,000 a month.

Mayor Hupert Yopp and state Rep. Bert Johnson, D-Highland Park, objected to the appointment, asking the state to end the city's receivership.

But if the city must have a manager, Yopp said it should be Blackwell: "He's brought our city out of the red and back into the black."

The state seized control of Highland Park's finances in 2001 when it had $7 million in debt and all personnel, including police, were laid off indefinitely.

Blackwell, who began as manager in 2005, originally agreed to work for $1 a year. He said the board gave him until his contract expires at the end of this month to return the money.

"The misunderstanding is so minuscule ... the whole thing is blown out of proportion," he said.

State Budget Director Robert Emerson, a board member, said it would be "premature" to discuss criminal charges.