Detroit council heads seek pay data on city consultants

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The City Council’s highest ranking members are asking for records on city consultants and their salaries for the sake of transparency.

President Pro Tem George Cushingberry Jr. on Tuesday formally asked Detroit’s top finance official to give council a full list of all personal services contracts in every city department outstanding from the tenure of the city’s ex-emergency manager.

Cushingberry said his request of Chief Operating Officer John Hill was spurred by a Detroit Free Press report last month that revealed the city paid more than $626,000 to post-bankruptcy turnaround consultant Larry A. King.

“I just want to know all of them,” Cushingberry told Hill, saying he doesn’t want “any more surprises.”

“If somebody asks me a question, I want to be able to answer it.”

President Brenda Jones urged Hill to provide specifics on various job classifications, a list of city consultants with salaries exceeding $100,000 and how that pay is funded.

“If there is money that’s being spent — city funds and any other funds — there has to be some type of transparency,” she said. “This is a public, not private agency.”

Under Emergency Manager Order No. 41, Hill was granted the authority to modify job titles, roles, responsibilities and positions in support of the city’s finance and budgeting functions, and set compensation and salaries.

The order, designed to ensure the city’s financial well-being, was authorized after the Michigan Legislature approved a bill package that requires the appointment of a chief financial officer for any city with a population over 600,000, such as Detroit, to supervise financial and budget activities.

In King’s case, city records show his contract was authorized by former emergency manager Kevyn Orr in 2014. The Washington, D.C.-based professional, who specializes in human resources and management consulting, was contracted to assist in the city’s financial restructuring.

Between April 15, 2015, and July 7, 2016, King was paid $626,675. During that time, the city also paid $65,723.57 in expenses for King’s round-trip airfare, hotel stays, transportation services and food, according to records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Under King’s initial contract, he was to be paid $175 per hour, with total compensation not to exceed $115,000. Orr amended the contract without council’s approval in September 2014. Later, after Orr’s departure from Detroit, Hill signed off on another extension in June 2015.

Last December, Hill told council members he would no longer exercise the authority granted by the emergency manager to approve contracts without council’s consent. But just before that, the chief financial officer extended King’s contract, which was set to expire June 30, 2016, through Dec. 31, 2016.

Hill said he extended King’s contract to maintain resources needed for restructuring, and it had nothing to do with whether the council would approve it.

King, Hill stressed, is not holding a position with the city. King’s compensation as a contractor is appropriate for the level of work he has provided, Hill said.

Hill said King is the architect behind much of the restructuring in the Office of the Chief Financial Officer. He’s also working on restructuring other areas, including the Department of Innovation Technology and the city’s development and housing departments.

“He’s got 40 years of experience and has had senior level positions in other governments and has done this kind of restructuring work before,” Hill said.

Hill contends every action he took under the emergency manager order was provided to council members in monthly reports. But some members, including Jones and Cushingberry, said they haven’t felt fully informed.

“I’m going to work with council to find out specific concerns,” Hill said. “I’ll find out what they want and get it to them.”