Duggan aides to undergo training over deleted emails
Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan on Tuesday said several trusted aides will undergo document management training in the wake of an independent investigation that found the workers abused their authority by directing lower-level staff to delete emails related to the controversial nonprofit Make Your Date.
The mayor's decision comes a day after Detroit's Office of Inspector General released findings from a six-month probe into whether he and city staff gave favor to the initiative aimed at reducing preterm births being led by a doctor who has been linked to Duggan.
The report concluded that the mayor's chief of staff, Alexis Wiley, abused her authority by ordering staff to delete emails pertaining to the program through Chief Development Officer Ryan Friedrichs, the husband of Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, and Deputy Chief Development Officer Sirene Abou-Chakra.
Duggan said the disciplinary decisions were based on the fact that the investigation found the three didn't delete any of their own emails and haven't broken any rules.
"There has never been any question about the integrity about any one of these three individuals," Duggan said during a Tuesday news conference. "They are outstanding public servants. But I put them in a position where they were under enormous stress."
The mayor said he wasn't aware nor did he direct staff to delete emails but said he learned that the stress stemmed from scrutiny fueled by Detroit businessman Robert Carmack.
The auto shop owner locked in a legal battle with Detroit had aired private investigator footage on a billboard truck outside City Hall of the mayor's comings and goings among other stunts, calling into question Duggan's relationship with Dr. Sonia Hassan, who leads Make Your Date. The mayor on Tuesday declined to clarify their relationship, standing by a past vow to never discuss his personal life.
Carmack, Duggan said, "literally had me followed night after night for months and displayed that on a video board."
"It was very clear he was obsessed with getting the city to back off of litigation," he said.
Wiley, Friedrichs and Abou-Chakra, he said, acted in response to worries over Carmack and associated Freedom of Information Act requests that could have landed the two junior staffers "on his radar screen," and "they were going to become part of the media circus."
Duggan told reporters Tuesday that he'd warned his staff in a cabinet meeting that they, too, could be subject to similar personal pressures at the hands of Carmack.
Carmack and his attorney, Steve Haney, have rejected Duggan's assertion as "ridiculous."
"The mayor is trying to discredit Carmack in any way that he can," Haney told The News. "It's really, to me, unimaginable that someone could look at this and not see how obvious the facts are."
Duggan said he first learned in May that the emails had been deleted.
"What they did, while it was the wrong decision, was made out of the best intentions," he said. "We had two young staff that they wanted to protect. I don't think there's any question that that was the motive."
Wiley declined to comment Tuesday on the discipline being imposed. In a statement provided Monday, she said she's built her career on integrity.
"I would never knowingly do anything that would jeopardize or undermine that," said Wiley, adding she was truthful when interviewed by the inspector general and stands by her statements.
According to the inspector general, the grants staff were directed to delete emails "in an attempt to hide the amount of work done by the department to secure grant funding."
The program received a total of $358,368 in grant funds from the Detroit Health Department, the inspector general's report notes.
The staff was twice instructed through Wiley, the report concluded, to delete Make Your Date emails. The first time was in December and then again in February.
Friedrichs said Wiley called him soon after the surveillance video of Duggan was broadcast outside City Hall and told him to have the two staffers — Claire Huttenlocher and Monique Phillips — delete the outreach emails pertaining to the program.
Wiley admitted she spoke with Friedrichs. But she "did not recall" directing him to have his staff delete the Make Your Date emails, the report says.
Once the administration found out about the emails, Duggan contends, they acted quickly to produce them.
Inspector General Ellen Ha also found that Duggan "unilaterally" directed city resources toward assisting Make Your Date but he did not violate and rules and his actions did not rise to the level of an abuse of power.
Duggan said he stands by the city's decision to partner with Wayne State University —the leading research institute on preterm birth — on the program and doesn't agree that the treatment was preferential.
The state Attorney General's Office's Public Integrity Unit is conducting its own investigation into claims that city workers had been directed to delete Make Your Date emails.