Building authority deputy director resigns

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city on Thursday announced a new operations manager for its demolition program in the wake of the Detroit Building Authority deputy director’s resignation.

Authority Director Tyrone Clifton said in a news release Thursday Timothy Palazzolo will now oversee the massive blight-removal program.

Palazzolo takes over from Jim Wright, who resigned Wednesday. The resignation does not include a severance and was effective immediately, the release notes.

Clifton on Thursday said Wright sent his resignation via email. Wright had held the deputy post since February 2014 and was initially paid $205,000 annually as a contract worker. Later, he was paid $175,000 as a city employee.

“He resigned. I wish him all the best,” Clifton said. “We’re going to move forward.”

When asked Thursday if he was surprised by Wright’s departure, Clifton said “nothing surprises me.”

“It’s a lot of work,” he said. “It’ s not easy work.”

Wright’s resignation comes amid federal and local reviews of the city’s federally-funded demolitions.

In April, Detroit’s auditor general received a subpoena from the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Auditor General Mark Lockridge has said his office received the federal subpoena after it released preliminary findings from a months-long audit into the city’s demolition activities.

The report, issued in mid-April, flagged potential conflicts of interest between the city and executive leadership of the city’s building authority. Lockridge told The Detroit News the SIGTARP subpoena was seeking documents supporting the preliminary audit.

Clifton took over as head of the building authority in May. His appointment came shortly after Lockridge’s April audit. The report criticized then-director of DBA David Manardo, who also holds office as Detroit’s group executive for operations.

Detroit’s City Council last fall requested the audit of the building authority and land bank demolition activities in response to questions over bidding and costs. In July, sources told The News the DBA and the Land Bank Authority also received federal subpoenas. One of the city’s largest demolition contractors, Detroit-based Adamo Group, confirmed it received and fully complied with a subpoena seeking documents related to the firm’s contract with the Land Bank Authority for the federal Hardest Hit Blight Elimination Program.

The Duggan administration’s demolition program came under scrutiny last fall amid concerns over soaring costs and bidding practices. In May, the FBI’s Detroit office acknowledged it’s investigating the program. The city’s Office of Inspector General is also conducting a review of an aspect of the program.

Detroit officials have defended the demolition program and said they are cooperating fully with all investigations.

The city has taken down more than 10,000 blighted homes since 2014. Clifton noted officials hope to take down 5,000 this year and 6,000 next year. The scale of the program and funding, he said, lends itself to heightened scrutiny but the program is constantly evolving and improving.

“We are always, throughout the process, looking at it to see what we can do better,” he said.

A representative for the land bank did not comment Thursday on Wright’s resignation. A spokesman for Mayor Mike Duggan’s office said the administration would not comment on personnel matters.

In the press release, Clifton said Palazzolo has been with the authority since April 2015, and has most recently managed Detroit’s city-funded commercial and residential demolitions.

Before joining the DBA, Palazzolo spent 12 years at the city’s Planning & Development Department. There, he worked in master planning and the Neighborhood Enterprise Zone program, and was the environmental officer for HUD-funded programs, including the Community Development Block Grant program, officials said.

“Tim has done a tremendous job managing our city-funded demolitions, so he is a natural fit to take on this added responsibility,” Clifton said. “He knows the ins and outs of the program and has been dedicated to making sure these demolitions are done as fast and as safe as possible.