Mayor Mike Duggan is paying nearly half of his appointees salaries of more than $100,000 a year as Detroit moves to revamp itself for the post-bankruptcy era in city government.

Duggan, who took office in January as the city's 75th mayor, is paying 45 of his 84 appointees $100,000 or more a year.

That includes annual salaries of $250,000 for the director and deputy director of the Detroit Building Authority (David Manardo and James Wright, respectively); $195,000 to Detroit Water and Sewerage Director Sue McCormick, and the inherited $225,000 for Chief Financial Officer John Hill.

Hill was appointed in a joint decision of Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and Duggan in 2013.

Chief of Staff Alexis Wiley said the Duggan appointments have faced more scrutiny than previous administrations' appointees considering high-level staffers have to be vetted and approved by state officials and the emergency manager.

Show Thumbnails
Show Captions

"There're a lot of layers this has to go through," Wiley said. "We work really hard to recruit people who are talented, really committed to the city at a high level of service and bring substantive change to the city and improving the quality of life for the neighborhoods."

Duggan was allotted $6.9 million in his mayoral overall budget this year and $4.4 million for salaries. The budget will grow to nearly $7.2 million in 2016-17, according to the three-year budget passed this year. The salary amount is not increased.

By comparison, Mayor Dave Bing's office had a budget of $4.5 million and spent $1.9 million on salaries in 2012-13. In his first full year, the 2010-11 fiscal year, Bing was budgeted $7.3 million and used it on 77 appointees. The budget did not specify salaries.

During his term, Bing paid Chief Operating Officer Chris Brown $156,100; Deputy Mayor Kirk Lewis $150,000, and chief of staff Karen Dumas $141,000.

In the Duggan administration, several other deputy directors are also making more than $100,000.

And two Duggan appointees — Amy Sovereign and Richard Doherty — are just under the $100,000 threshold. Sovereign is an executive assistant in the Lean Processing area, making $99,750 year. Doherty is the city engineer making $99,229.

The city's most recent list of salaries, obtained by The Detroit News through a Freedom of Information Act request, does not include the pay for Gary Brown, group executive for operations. Brown, who is responsible for improving city services, was hired by Orr in 2013 as the chief compliance officer before joining the Duggan administration in 2014.

In one of his first moves as mayor, Duggan created a Department of Neighborhoods that he said would help solve blight and other issues in city areas. The move, Wiley said, added 20 appointees to the staff.

"We are determined to build a team of people who can really deliver quality services and our work is going to speak for itself," Wiley said.

Payroll like other cities

Michael Whitty, a retired professor of urban affairs at the University of Detroit Mercy who gives talks on the future of Detroit, said he thinks there's nothing out of the ordinary when you comparethe administration's payroll spending to areas such as Chicago and Cleveland.

"If the premise is we want an autonomous, effective and attractive city then it may be good news that some good people are attracted to good governance so that we're attractive to investors and we maintain regional and statewide support," said Whitty. "I'm not seeing anything that would raise my eyebrows. It's in no way pork barrel to what normal cities need to make them work."

Greg Bowens, a political consultant who served as press secretary under former Mayor Dennis Archer, said setting salaries for the Duggan administration is extremely difficult because the city is in bankruptcy court and city workers have taken hits to benefits and pay over the past few years.

But, Bowens added,Duggan is equipped to handle the pay scale decisions because he's worked in government and served as CEO of the Detroit Medical Center.

"In the best of times, trying to figure out what to pay staffers who work in government is a delicate dance because of the public scrutiny that comes with those public jobs," Bowens said. "If there's anybody who understands the delicate dance, it should be him. He sets the tone for everybody else in relationship to pay."

Bowens said it's hard for people to understand such high salaries when some city workers are paid $25,000 or $30,000 a year.

But he noted, appointees are at-will employees who serve under the call of the mayor. That means there's less job security.

"As much as people like to push and compare government to say it should be more like a corporation, it's almost always true except when it comes to pay," Bowens said. "The situation in relationship with the bankruptcy going on is there is no one that can really guarantee job security for anybody on the 11th floor. Who knows when the next (hammer) is going to drop?"

But political analyst Bill Ballenger said the real question hanging out there is whether the pay is necessary while the city is still under emergency management.

Ballenger, who acknowledged it's hard for him to compare it to appointments by previous mayors, said the current situation is awkward because Duggan is loading up on high-level staffers when he's not fully in charge.

People may not be talking now, but they may in a few months when they question whether they are getting their money's worth with city service and job performance, he said.

"Maybe this is not a top story right now because people are focusing on so many things with the bankruptcy trial," Ballenger said. "(But) with the passage of time, people are going to look at this more closely and ask what are they getting for their money?"

Still, city appointees are facing a tough challenge, he said.

"Once the emergency manager leaves, (Duggan's) got a huge challenge," Ballenger said. "There's going to be a lot of inspection of what the bankruptcy brought and how Detroit came out of it. Any way you cut it, Detroit's problems continue to be immense and they are going to be immense for a long period of time."

Challenge of fixing city

Whitty said some of the attraction to join the Duggan team is the challenge of trying to fix Detroit's numerous issues.

"They would only want to be hired if they were attracted (to Detroit) and the challenge was attractive to them. They like the challenge of the city," Whitty said.

The litmus test for political analyst Eric Foster is whether Duggan has hired the right people and what they could command in the private sector.

"It becomes problematic if a person is promoted in a position with minimal education and experience qualifications," said Foster of West Bloomfield-based LB3 management. "That's where the problems come in."

That issue became evident following some of the questionable hires of Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and ex-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

"I don't see that in (Duggan's) hires," said Foster, citing, among others, Chief Information Officer Beth Niblock, Civil Rights and Ethics Director Portia Roberson and Corporation Counsel Melvin "Butch" Hollowell.

"It's the type of mix and skill sets that you need to manage government in today's world. You have to deliver service in a way that people want to buy your product. You need a high level of competency in your management team, which means you have to pay."

Niblock is making $168,000; Roberson, $147,600; and Hollowell, $147,525, city records show.

(313) 222-2072

Staff Writer Christine MacDonald contributed.

Read or Share this story: