Detroit — Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano continues to excuse political work done by his appointees during office hours, saying staffers can send campaign emails on personal breaks, according to a recent deposition.
"A person can go, and they can do what they want in their off hours," Ficano said in the three-hour deposition filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court. "A lot of people actually enjoy political activity. That's something that they do. It's like a hobby or anything else."
James Wallace sued Ficano last spring, alleging he was let go as a graphic designer after refusing to do political work on county time. Ficano gave the deposition last week, answering questions about several appointees' campaign-related emails sent to other staffers during the day.
"You have actual criminals that have been under your employment and you didn't know anything about it," Wallace's attorney, Deborah Gordon, asked Ficano, referring partly to ex-Chief Information Officer Tahir Kazmi, who pleaded guilty last year to taking bribes. "Yet you tell me here today that I'm supposed to believe that some so-called policy made sure that these people were on their breaks when you couldn't be sure that Mr. Kazmi didn't involve — engage in obstruction of justice on county time? Why would anyone believe, sir, that your policy about taking breaks would be followed by your employees?"
"You know what?" Ficano responded. "That's a nice speech, Ms. Gordon, but at the same time what I'm telling you is we put in policies that we thought were best. Your client was very aware of the policies."
Ficano said he "didn't know if anybody from Wayne County" asked Wallace to do political work on county time. Asked if he probed Wallace's claims, Ficano said: "I asked and people said that he just generally was mixed up on what time was for where."
Ficano said rules don't bar working on nonprofits on county time. "It's appropriate for a person, an employee, to work on a nonprofit in order to advance the interests of the county and the people of Wayne County," he said.
Gordon grilled Ficano about ex-appointee Thomas Downey, who said in a November deposition he spent about a third of his $110,000-a-year job as Ficano's marketing director coordinating ads in community pamphlets with Ficano's photo, including the Grosse Pointe Little League.
"Is that an appropriate use of taxpayer time?," Gordon asked.
"Sure … Do you know why?" he said. "We have a Parks Department, right? And part of the whole emphasis of Parks, as well as Health and Human Services, is to make sure that there's exercise. … It was an ad to say, go ahead and get active."