Protesters: Probe bids in Detroit home demolitions
Detroit — Protesters affiliated with Al Sharpton’s National Action Network took to the office of Detroit Inspector General James Heath on Monday to file complaints seeking to trigger an investigation into allegations of bid-rigging in Detroit home demolition contracts.
The Rev. Charles Williams II, of Historic King Solomon Baptist Church, led the demonstration while other protesters wrote complaints in letter format. But they were greeted by a surprise Monday when they reached the inspector general’s office on the 32nd floor of Cadillac Tower: A letter from the office explaining that an investigation was already ongoing into demolition practices.
The letter read: “Dear Complainant: On Oct. 24, 2015, the City of Detroit Office of Inspector General opened case no. 2015-CC-0179 into issues regarding the City of Detroit demolition process. The investigation is currently ongoing. If you would like to file an additional complaint go to detroitmi.gov/inspector general, in person at 65 Cadillac Square, Suite 3210, or call 313-964-TIPS (8477).”
Williams told The News he is concerned that under Mayor Mike Duggan, the price of a home demolition has exploded from what it cost the city under ex-Mayor Dave Bing.
“This was not just a protest to protest,” Williams said.
Protesters came prepared to file complaints, he said, to ensure that their frustrations were turned to action.
The protesting also comes after questions were raised whether city building officials improperly met with contractors last year to set prices for bulk demolitions — before requests for bids were official.
“We’re happy the homes are being demolished but the price has doubled,” Williams said. “Three contractors from outside the city of Detroit are getting paid double to knock down houses.”
Protester Kenneth Curry called the pricing of home demolitions a “gross injustice.” After going to the 32nd floor to file a complaint, he told The News he suspected there was “some misappropriation going on,” and that the powers that be in city hall were “padding the pockets of its friends.”
Protesters revealed their view of two Detroits — one growing and flourishing, the other left behind. Protesters were as likely to mention that home demolition contracts were awarded to non-local firms as they were to take issue with the price of demolitions.
Duggan’s office tells a different story. While describing the Rev. Williams as a longtime Duggan critic and bid-rigging allegations as “irresponsible,” spokeswoman Alexis Wiley said the home demolition program as a success story that has benefited Detroiters and local demolition firms.
Wiley said the Duggan administration would comply fully with the inspector general’s investigation, and that city hall is “confident” that the inspector general would find what the state and the Obama administration found in awarding $21 million more in demolition funds to Detroit — that the city’s process is above board and the funds are well-spent.
Wiley credited the home demolition program with the fact that a record-low 52 homes were set ablaze in Detroit on Angels’ Night this year.
“The home demolition program is paying off,” Wiley said.
Since Duggan took office, the city has demolished some 7,000 homes at an average cost of $14,000, Wiley said.
Detroit’s Office of Inspector General was established in the city’s 2012 charter. Its purpose is “to ensure honesty and integrity in city government by rooting out waste, abuse, fraud, and corruption.” The inspector general has the power to investigate the conduct of any city official, including those in the police department, as well as city contractors. The office has subpoena power, and can compel city employees to cooperate.
When complaints come in, inspector general Heath has sole discretion to determine whether each complaint is worth pursuing. That decision comes down to the validity of the claim and the impact of the alleged wrongdoing on city government, said OIG spokesman Kamau Marable. Some complaints come in without enough information for investigators to follow up on.
If wrongdoing is found, the punishment can range from administrative charges, including terminations, to sanctions, to criminal charges. If it’s a criminal matter, the office of inspector general can present its findings to prosecutorial agencies at the local, state and federal level, Marable said. If the inspector general recommends sanctions against an employee, it falls to that employee’s department to mete punishment out, Marable said.