Wayne Co. votes to terminate audit of unfinished jail

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Detroit — Wayne County commissioners Thursday voted unanimously to terminate an audit into cost overruns of the stalled, partially constructed county jail.

“The Commission and other county officials had been waiting more than two years to see the jail audit, which was frustratingly sealed by court order,” said commissioner Raymond Basham, D-Taylor, the chairman of the Committee on Audit.

He said the county’s Office of Legislative Auditor General recommended the audit be terminated because so much time has lapsed and almost all of the key people involved no longer work for the county.

However, there’s one bright spot, Basham said.

“The audit, though incomplete, showed many instances of how the jail project went off the rails,” he said. “It’s a lesson learned for all involved — a very painful, expensive lesson.”

The 15-member commission took the vote during its regular meeting.

County officials requested the report in June 2013 and two months later the auditor general reported suspected fraud to the county prosecutor’s office.

But the next month, Wayne Circuit Court Judge Timothy Kenny ordered the audit halted and its findings sealed. It’s estimated about 2,000 work hours were spent on the audit, but county officials haven’t calculated how much the audit cost.

A year later, in September 2014, a one-man grand jury indicted three people — the county’s former chief financial officer, Carla Sledge; a former county attorney, Steve Collins; and a former project consultant, Anthony Parlovecchio — as part of the project investigation.

Charges against Collins and Parlovecchio were dismissed. Charges against Sledge are pending and she is scheduled to appear in Wayne Circuit Court on April 4.

In December, Kenny unsealed the audit in response to a lawsuit filed by the Detroit Free Press.

The more than 170-page report alleges widespread wrongdoing, $29 million in no-bid contracts and concluded “several high ranking” county officials and contractors misled commissioners from the start about overruns — costing taxpayers nearly $96 million.

It also accused county officials of knowing the project would experience overruns as soon as the commission approved it.

Also Thursday, the Commission approved a second extension of an interim settlement with contractors AECOM and Ghafari Associates, who were hired to build the lockup in the city’s Greektown district.

Commissioners voted 13-2 without any discussion to extend the agreement until April 8. Glenn Anderson, D-Westland, and Terry Marecki, R-Livonia, were the two dissenting votes.

The commission discussed the settlement extension Tuesday as a committee of the whole. Most of the discussion was held in a closed session because it relates to a legal matter.

The unfinished, 2,000-bed jail project was started by then-County Executive Bob Ficano in 2011, but construction for the $220 million project at Gratiot and Madison was halted in June 2013 after $100 million in overruns.

In October 2014, the county sued jail project contractors, claiming errors and delays caused the project to fail. The companies counter-sued.

The contractors asked for the first extension in January because they said they needed more time to get additional precast concrete prison cells or would have to design a steel frame.

The companies are expected to submit two options, a 1,944-bed facility and one with 1,504 beds, with maximum construction costs of $175 million.

The county can pursue or reject either plan, and if costs exceed the target, the county can refile its lawsuit against the contractors, according to officials.

Once the county approves a plan, the project wouldn’t likely start until spring 2017 and take about 18 months to complete, officials said in January.

cramirez@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2058