July 10, 2012 at 10:22 pm

Bernard Kilpatrick, 50 others get free health care from Wayne Co.

Detroit —The indicted father of former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is among the 51 former high-ranking Wayne County officials who receive free lifetime health benefits from the county, documents released Tuesday show.

Executive Robert Ficano rescinded the benefit for new hires last fall. But since it began in 1994, the list of those receiving the exclusive perk reads like a Who's Who in Wayne County politics.

Kilpatrick isn't the only beneficiary facing charges. Wilbourne Kelley, a former airport official who went to prison for extortion, gets them. So does Emma Bell, a former county official who was a longtime Kilpatrick fundraiser and pleaded guilty last year to tax evasion.

Arthur Blackwell II, a former county official who faces charges related to his compensation as Highland Park emergency manager, also is on the list. But he said the benefit isn't that great.

"Obviously, having health care is a benefit, but you don't get a lot. I'm waiting on Obamacare," Blackwell said.

Other beneficiaries include former top aides to Ficano and his predecessor, Edward McNamara, including Charlie J. Williams, David Katz, Airport Authority Chairwoman Mary Zuckerman, Larry Simmons and Eddie McDonald. Former commissioners including state Rep. Phil Cavanagh, D-Redford Township, also get the perk.

It was created following a court challenge in 1994. By ordinance, those serving as deputy or assistant executives, department heads or commissioners can receive it after eight years of service. Williams served about three years, but was allowed to credit time from the city of Detroit.

A handful of former aides are suing Ficano for the benefit, including former chief development officer Turkia Mullin and Ralph Kinney, a former assistant executive who was fired in 2007.

He didn't defend the perk, but said it was created because top aides generally serve fewer years in politics than civil servants.

"The average lifespan for a politician is eight years. That was part of the rationale," Kinney said.

But he said it is "preposterous" that some officials served fewer than eight years and still receive the money.

The indicted father of former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is among the 51 former high-ranking Wayne County officials who receive free lifetime health benefits from the county. / Steve Perez/The Detroit News