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Detroit chief development officer Ryan Friedrichs to leave city post

Detroit — A Duggan aide disciplined last fall after his staffers were directed to delete emails involving a controversial nonprofit is stepping down, The Detroit News has learned.

Detroit's Chief Development Officer Ryan Friedrichs, the husband of Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, is leaving the city, two sources familiar with his departure told The News. His last day with the city will be March 9, and he intends to join a company affiliated with philanthropist and real estate developer Stephen Ross, one source said. Benson previously worked for Ross.

Ryan Friedrichs

"... Moving on to be employee #1 for new Related team in Detroit & continue to fight for City I love," Friedrichs wrote in a tweet.

Mayor Mike Duggan said Wednesday night that Friedrichs and his team did "extraordinary work to build a professional development and grants office" that drew more than $1 billion in outside funding in the past five years.

"We are sad to see Ryan go but I understand this is the opportunity of a lifetime to help lead a project like the Detroit Center for Innovation and the many other great things we expect Stephen Ross and Related (Companies) to do in Detroit," he said on Facebook. 

The city said in December that five years since its exit from municipal bankruptcy, it had attracted more than $1 billion to support city initiatives, including those to reduced lead hazards in southwest Detroit, fund 400,000 free lunches for students, support 38,369 summer jobs through Grow Detroit's Youth and 3,079 affordable housing units for low-income residents.

Last year, Friedrichs was among three senior staffers disciplined by the city's administration following a six-month probe by Detroit's Office of Inspector General that found the mayor "unilaterally" directed city resources toward assisting the nonprofit Make Your Date and that Friedrichs and two other top aides abused their authority by directing staff to delete emails detailing those efforts, undermining "the public's trust in an open and transparent government."

The inspector general's lengthy review had recommended that Friedrichs, the mayor's Chief of Staff Alexis Wiley and another senior-level staffer, Deputy Chief Development Officer Sirene Abou-Chakra, face discipline. Duggan later announced each would undergo document management training. 

The allegations involving emails tied to Make Your Date are also the focus of an investigation by the Public Integrity Unity of the state Attorney General's Office. 

Friedrichs, a Harvard graduate, joined the city in 2015 with a focus of ushering in new investments from foundations and others to help advance city initiatives and services. 

The mayor has said he stands behind the work of Make Your Date and that the directive from the top aides to have lower-level staff delete emails was "a mistake out of the best of motives."

The mayor has said he wasn't aware nor did he direct staff to delete the emails but later learned that the decision came amid scrutiny that Duggan contends was fueled by criticism from Detroit businessman Robert Carmack. The direction to delete emails, Duggan has said, was done "to protect two junior staff people" from being dragged into scrutiny by Carmack.

The auto shop owner, who is locked in a legal battle with the city, had aired private investigator footage on a billboard truck outside City Hall of the mayor's comings and goings. Duggan's relationship to Dr. Sonia Hassan, who heads Make Your Date, has been publicly questioned. 

Duggan previously said he'd learned of the emails being deleted last spring. The administration, he's said, acted quickly to produce them. Ultimately, the hundreds of previously deleted pages of correspondence were posted on the city's website. 

In November, the Attorney General's Office executed a search warrant on the city's information technology department focused on the email accounts of Duggan and the five aides as part of its probe into the deleted emails. 

The search sought any and all electronic records and attachments for city email accounts belonging to Duggan, Wiley, Friedrichs and Abou-Chakra as well as two other lower-level grants staffers, Monique Phillips and Claire Huttenlocher.

Courtney Covington, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Dana Nessel's office, in an email to The News on Wednesday noted that the investigation remains open and ongoing.

Kennedy Shannon, an attorney formerly employed as an associate director in the grant's office, filed a whistleblower lawsuit against Detroit in July, arguing she was fired last spring for flagging the federal government about concerns tied to a city grant program to aid entrepreneurs. That program, Motor City Match, is also being investigated by Nessel's office. 

Shannon also has said she brought the allegations of the deleted emails to the city's inspector general while she was still an active employee prompting the office to widen its investigation into Make Your Date.

Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia has claimed Shannon's dismissal stemmed in part from concerns involving her time cards.

cferretti@detroitnews.com