Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan has appointed LaJuan Counts to head the city’s new demolition department, he said Monday.

The announcement comes as the city's demolition program prepares to fully transition back to the municipality's control.

“LaJuan is an exceptionally talented project manager and we will be looking to her to lead the effort to bring the demolition program fully under the direction of the city, and full oversight of City Council,” Duggan said in a statement. “We are fortunate to have someone of her deep experience and managerial ability already on our team to help us reset the demolition program and make the transition as smooth and effective as possible.”

Counts, a resident of the Grandmont Rosedale neighborhood, previously served as the director of the city’s General Services Department and oversaw more than 750 employees across several divisions, including park development, facilities maintenance, forestry, the city’s vehicle fleet, landscape design and project management.

The mayor said Counts brings years of experience in construction management and contractor management. Her salary will be $150,000 and she will begin her new position Jan. 27. 

Duggan said the last of the city's federal $263 million Hardest Hit Funds are being spent and once that's done, administration of the city's demolition program will shift fully from the Detroit Land Bank and Detroit Building Authority to the city government for the first time in six years.

The transition is expected to be finished by July 1, he said.

Over the next several months, Counts will be assessing current operations of the demolition program to determine staffing needs and develop a new organizational structure.  She also will develop a proposed budget for the new city department to present to the City Council.

Detroit's demolition program has been a source of controversy. In November, an audit of the city-funded demolition work raised allegations the Detroit Building Authority failed to meet contract requirements or comply with city policies and procedures, state and other local rules.

Duggan made the demolition of abandoned homes a cornerstone of his administration. Since spring 2014, Detroit knocked down more than 19,000 houses. Of those about 12,000 were razed with federal funds.

But the effort came under review of city, state and federal officials amid concerns over soaring costs and bidding practices. A Detroit News investigation revealed a lack of controls allowed demolition contractors to charge the federal government whatever they wanted for more than two years for dirt used to fill holes at demolition sites.

Twitter: @CharlesERamirez

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