Fired Detroit police board secretary to lead City Charter Commission

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Detroit charter commission unanimously elected their executive director Saturday, Gregory Hicks, a former city police commissioner who was fired last year and was the only candidate for the position.

During a virtual meeting Saturday, the nine-member commission was set to determine if another candidate will be selected to compete with Hicks for the executive director position. Hicks was fired last year amid an investigation that alleged he improperly hired staffers.

A motion from Commissioner Richard Mack to postpone the vote to find more candidates in July was rejected by members who said the position was dire to fill.

"There is only one horse," said Commissioner Barbara Wynder. "I've known him for 40 years and this is the first instance anything has come up.

"I’d rather take (Hicks' word) than the word of the existing commission from which he was terminated,” she said just before the vote.

Gregory Hicks

More than 60 people tuned in to the nearly four-hour meeting Saturday and some residents tried to interrupt the deliberation between commissioners who took the vote without public comments.

Hicks was chosen due to a tight time constraint, commissioners said during their discussion. The director is needed immediately to resolve current budget distress and meet deadlines to turn in annual proposals to the city by July 31, they said.

"It is desperately needed at the executive level," Commissioner Nicole Small said. "I'm deeply concerned that we'll be going before City Council again without an executive director. ... We need to be able to show them that we are capable of hiring someone."

Hicks was the only candidate left in the running after another candidate, Shari Williams, a senior program manager at the nonprofit Detroit Future City, pulled her name from the running Wednesday due to a possible conflict of interest.

This isn't the first time someone has dropped out of the running, Small said, "but we need to move forward."

“We need an executive director that already understands the organizational makeup of the branches, departments… someone who has good sound knowledge of that to get the board running," Small said. "There may be residents who do not support us electing this candidate, but when they will be really upset and disappointed in this commission is when we have to filter through those proposals in less than a month's time. I want to get this job done, the right way."

Hicks brought up his termination in December from the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, where he had been its secretary.

The police board voted unanimously to remove him nearly two months after a report produced from a year-long probe by the city's inspector general alleged he had improperly hired "key staff members" and lied during an investigation that, the report said, he tried to impede.

Among the findings in the investigation: 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 enabled him to qualify, according to the report.

The report also found that the police oversight board "abused its authority" by delegating hiring power to the secretary.

Hicks has disputed the findings of the report and said he didn't abuse his authority.

On Wednesday night, he told the charter commission the board fired him "because, in my view, I was fairly aggressive in trying to implement the elements of the Detroit City Charter as it relates to the board police commission and its relationship to the Police Department."

Hicks said he has since filed a lawsuit against the city and pointed out, if selected to lead the commission, he would not be a Detroit employee.

"I wanted you all to know because I believe that your staff should be very direct with you and you should not hear something out on the street from your staff if they’re involved in it," he said on Wednesday.

Hicks could not immediately be reached Saturday for comment.

Commissioner Quincy Jones fought on behalf of Hicks saying he was impressed by his ideas to quickly move forward with an organized commission.

“We need somebody behind the wheel right now,” Jones said. “I was impressed by his ideas on how to make the charter move in the right direction… We need to a director that will hear the voices of the people."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_