August 10, 2012 at 8:37 am

Commission rejects Ficano's removal

Detroit —Wayne County commissioners killed a proposed charter amendment Thursday that would have allowed them to remove Executive Robert Ficano from office.

Instead, voters likely will be asked in November whether to give the governor power to oust Ficano or future executives.

The group split 8-7 on asking voters to give the panel removal power. A second measure to give it to the governor passed 14-1. A final vote is expected Aug. 16.

Commission Chairman Gary Woronchak, D-Dearborn, warned that both proposals are fraught with legal questions. But he said the panel's own attorneys found an amendment allowing the commission to oust executives is "not legally defensible."

"Voters should have a reasonable expectation that it's something that could happen and not give them false hope," he said.

The vote follows months of scandal and a federal grand jury investigation into Ficano's administration — and frustration among commissioners that there's little they can do.

But critics, including Commissioner Laura Cox, R-Livonia, said the 15-member panel has failed to pass measures to increase its oversight. In June, the commission voted down a symbolic request for Ficano's resignation, approving instead a censure that initially didn't name Ficano.

Cox called the compromise a "step in the right direction in establishing the necessary checks and balances."

A quirk in state law allows for the governor to remove Wayne County's sheriff and other elected officials for misconduct, but not the executive, said Commissioner Alisha Bell, D-Detroit.

"When I'm long gone and Ficano is long gone, giving the commission power of removal could be problematic," said Bell, who voted against giving the commission the power and for giving it to the governor.

Woronchak favored the governor amendment, but warned it could be "window dressing" since only the state — not the county — can give the governor powers.

Ficano is up for re-election in 2014. His spokeswoman, June West, said in a statement: "The commission has to look at any proposed charter amendments within the framework of what's allowable under state law. Today's discussion examined their proposal within that context."

Detroit News Staff Writer Christine MacDonald contributed.

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