Dozens cited for violations in Detroit demo program

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Nearly three dozen citations and several bidding suspensions have been issued in the past six months to contractors in the city’s federally funded demolition program over improper data reporting to health and safety offenses.

Detroit Building Authority officials made the disclosure during a Thursday board meeting after it was revealed Wednesday that the city’s largest demolition contractor could face a 90-day suspension from bidding on new properties for mistakenly demolishing a land bank-owned house last month that wasn’t under its contract. It had intended to tear down a neighboring property.

Tim Palazzolo, an operations manager for the building authority, noted there were approximately 32 violations in the last six months among the 600-plus properties torn down. They range from “minor infractions like failing to report data in a timely and accurate way to health and safety violations to wrongful demolitions, which we consider very serious,” he said.

Data provided to The Detroit News Thursday shows two contractor bidding suspensions for health and safety violations. One for using unauthorized backfill materials and the other for failing to use water during the demolition process and install fencing. The building authority declined to identify the contractors cited.

Another 30 “letters of disappointment” were issued to contractors for varying offenses, including failing to provide adequate photographs and meet deadlines, permit issues, inaccurate invoices and other data entry errors. Of those, just over half didn’t appeal the citations. Others were rescinded, resolved or found by the appeals panel to be unsubstantiated.

The data also lists a “stop work order” from November over health and safety concerns tied to backfill.

Separately, the building authority said there have been 35 Michigan Department of Environmental Quality violations, one of which was rescinded, since January 2016. The data provided Thursday did not identify which contractors committed the violations, or what they were for.

“This is important work, and we take even the smallest violation seriously,” said Brian Farkas, director of special projects for the building authority, which oversees the blight elimination program along with the Detroit Land Bank Authority. “We think that the relatively small number of serious violations shows that our compliance efforts are working.”

Adamo Group, which faces the suspension over demolishing the wrong structure, admitted its error to the building authority, prompting officials to issue a violation notice on May 10. Adamo has seven days to challenge it.

An attorney for the Detroit-based contractor said Wednesday that Adamo was declining to comment at this time. On Thursday, it remained unclear whether the company would pursue an appeal.

The suspension from bidding on properties, officials said, would take effect if Adamo does not seek to challenge the violation, or if it does proceed with an appeal and is unsuccessful.

The city’s demolition program currently has 10 contractors, nine of which are active, according to Palazzolo.

News of the Adamo incident prompted some board members to inquire Thursday about the volume of violations in the program and whether those citations should be publicly posted on the city’s information dashboard along with other demolition data.

“It’s taxpayer dollars. It’s all public,” building authority commission member Maggie DeSantis said during the Thursday meeting. “Our obligation is to the taxpayers. I think we’ve got to keep the right perspective about maintaining transparency.”

Palazzolo told commissioners that conversations about making citation information publicly available already have been initiated.

Detroit Building Authority Director Tyrone Clifton told commissioners Thursday that Adamo’s leadership was displeased with what occurred and was “trying to rectify it as best as possible.”

Adamo, he noted, did self-report and is a “responsible vendor.” But any time a vendor doesn’t follow proper procedures, the building authority has a set of protocols it follows.

“We try to police our program as best as possible,” he said. “Adamo as a vendor is no better, no worse, than any other vendor that we have in the program.”