Detroit police board secretary fired after IG report

George Hunter
The Detroit News

This story has been updated to correct the identity of the police commissioner who voted no on the appointment of Melanie White as interim board secretary. It was Elizabeth Brooks.

Detroit — The Detroit Board of Police Commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to remove Gregory Hicks as board secretary, two months after a report from the city's inspector general found he had improperly hired "key staff members" and lied during an investigation that, the report said, he tried to impede.

The 9-0 vote to remove Hicks came following a discussion during a closed session after the regular board meeting. The board voted 8-1 to appoint policy director Melanie White to replace Hicks as interim secretary. Commissioner Elizabeth Brooks cast the lone dissenting vote.

Hicks declined to comment. 

Also Thursday, the board voted unanimously to accept the resignation of fiscal executive manager Faye Johnson, who also was criticized in the Inspector General's report, including a charge that she provided false information.

Johnson, who sent a letter to the board tendering her resignation, effective Feb. 1, was unable to be reached for comment Thursday.

Earlier Thursday, commissioners Willie Burton and Darryl Brown held a press conference calling for Hicks' removal. After Thursday's board vote, Burton said his colleagues "did the right thing."

"When you violate the public trust, there have to be serious consequences," Burton said. 

From left, Detroit police commissioners Willie Burton and Darryl Brown at a press conference Thursday calling for the commission's secretary to be fired.

The Detroit News obtained a memo Hicks wrote to the board in October, in which he said he wanted to "clean up the record" and assure the board he acted properly. Hicks acknowledged writing the memo, but declined further comment.

Hicks was criticized in an October report by Detroit Inspector General Ellen Ha, who concluded after a nearly year-long investigation that Hicks had manipulated the hiring process in order to give jobs to "key staff members." Ha also said Hicks "provided false statements" during her probe and tried to impede the investigation.

Ha noted in the report the board's job as a civilian oversight body is to ensure Detroit cops act ethically.

"Therefore, members and staff of the BOPC should be held to equal, if not higher, professional standard, which exemplifies honesty and integrity that the BOPC demands from the DPD officers," Ha wrote.

Hicks wrote in his Oct. 17 memo: "The OIG's findings suggest I have abused my authority and operated to engender favors for friends and acquaintances. The OIG findings are administrative interpretations of information (that) when viewed through their report suggest wrongdoing.

"These findings largely disregarded all of the corresponding information provided by the Board and myself," Hicks wrote, adding that he was unable to challenge Ha's "investigative biases."

"I suggest that the Board and the general public withhold their final judgment until a reasonable airing of the work of the Board is complete," Hicks wrote. "I nor the Board can un-ring the bell suggesting something nefarious has occurred."

Among the findings in Ha's investigation: That Hicks purposefully changed the minimum qualifications for the board's official posting for an executive manager. The description had required a four-year college degree but was amended to reflect only "knowledge and experience" to benefit Robert Brown, who had worked for the board for more than a decade, and enable him to qualify, according to the report.

Brown declined to comment on Thursday.

When Brown was placed in the management role on July 3, 2017, his $55,261 annual salary rose to $80,500, Ha said. The increase of $25,239 per year came “without any substantial change in job duties,” the report said.

The investigation revealed past attempts to raise Brown's pay in a prior job position failed, leading Hicks to create the executive manager position to increase Brown's salary, Ha said. 

Ultimately, Brown was unappointed from the job, and his salary knocked down to $61,041.

The action, the inspector general wrote, "further supports" a finding the board "recognized that Brown was improperly appointed by Mr. Hicks in 2017."

Ha also found Hicks tailored a job description to hire Johnson on Oct. 31, 2016, as the fiscal executive manager. 

The investigation found Hicks exchanged more than 40 emails with Johnson between July 20, 2016, and Oct. 10 of that year, most before an official job posting was made in August 2016.

One email begins with Johnson asking “What am I applying for?”

Hicks then informs her of the fiscal oversight position, “a new position that I am creating" and he "coaches her on how to complete the online application," the report notes. 

Also, Hicks modified the job description, requiring a CPA certification, to fit Johnson's professional qualifications. She was the only applicant of five who met the requirement, it says. 

The inspector general was unable to locate any emails confirming an interview of any kind was conducted in Johnson's hiring. 

Ha said Johnson also "provided false statements" during the investigation.

In his memo, Hicks said he didn't abuse his authority. "I was hired into this organization to provide administrative leadership ... I evaluated the organization and introduced for board consideration and approval a re-organization plan to allow for the agency to do its work."

Hicks wrote that on June 30, 2016, the board approved a vote "authorizing me to take specific steps to re-organize and hire staff ... I canvassed best practices from around the country in fashioning the design for the re-organization plan.

"The report alleges that I created favors in the hiring process," Hicks wrote. "The report does not recognize that the overwhelming number of employees of the Board are appointed staff. For appointed staff named in the (City Charter), the Board and the Board alone approved the hire.

"For operational staff ... I sought and selected the best staff and exercised the authority under the re-organization plan," Hicks wrote in the three-page memo.

"I was singled out because I was too aggressive in building the necessary apparatus to provide civilian oversight to the police force," Hicks wrote.