Attorney: Independent probe clears Weaver of wrongdoing

Jacob Carah
Special to The Detroit News

Flint — An Okemos-based attorney said he found no wrongdoing by Flint Mayor Karen Weaver over allegations by a former city administrator that the mayor misused charity funds.

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver appears after Monday’s news conference in Flint.

Brendon Basiga, who conducted an investigation on the matter at the request of the city, said Monday at a press conference at City Hall: “Simply put, I cannot find any evidence of unethical conduct by Mayor Karen Weaver.”

Weaver’s alleged wrongdoing first came to light last month when former Flint City Administrator Natasha Henderson filed a civil lawsuit that alleged she was improperly terminated Feb 12. Henderson claims she was shown the door in retaliation for asking the city attorney to look into the possibility charity funds were being sent to Weaver’s political action committee “Karenabout Flint.”

In a Feb. 10, email to Anthony Chubb, Flint’s legal adviser, Henderson relayed a secret conversation with the mayor’s assistant.

“Ms. Maxine Murray, the Mayor’s Assistant, spoke with me on February 9, 2016 while in the supply room of the Mayor’s Executive Office and reported an alleged conduct,” Henderson wrote.

“... Specifically, Ms. Murray fearfully stated that Mayor Weaver asked her and a volunteer in the Mayor’s Office to direct donations to a fund named Karenabout Flint created by Miller Canfield that I am unaware of and asked if she would be guilty of a crime to direct potential donors to this fund when they call the Mayor’s Office. I am only aware of a fund approve by Resolution of the Council named Safe Water/Safe Homes to be administered by the Community Foundation of Greater Flint that will be presented today for approval by the RTAB (Receivership Transition Advisory Board).

“As you are Chief Legal Counsel, please promptly initiate an investigation of this matter in your capacity. In the meantime, please advise appropriate actions I can take to protect employees from potential retaliation resulting from them reporting allegations such as this.”

Two days after sending that email, Henderson was fired. She had served as Flint’s city administrator since February 2015 after being appointed to the post by then-Emergency Manager Darnell Earley.

“In a community where the current water crisis repeatedly exposed how people failed to do the right thing, Ms. Henderson did the right thing and was fired for it,” said Henderson’s attorney, Katherine Smith Kennedy, last month. “Her goal was to ensure the integrity of the city at a time when its reputation has taken many blows. Instead, she was penalized for bringing forward these concerns.”

According to Basiga, he was provided bank statements by the city for a Friends of Karen Weaver fund and Karen for Flint fund. Basiga never addressed a Karenabout Flint fund and took no questions Monday.

“Neither bank statements indicate any questionable deposits, and the donation checks that were made or supported by the copies of the checks themselves,” Basiga said Monday.

Basiga was retained by the mayor’s chief legal officer, Stacy Erwin Oakes, to investigate the claims in Henderson’s lawsuit, including whether Weaver was diverting water crisis donations to personal funds.

To Basiga’s understanding, the checks in question related to the allegations “were turned over to attorney Erwin Oakes.”

Erwin Oakes said Monday the checks were delivered to her “on or about March 30th; those checks were subsequently sent to the Chief Financial Officer.”

According to Erwin Oakes, the money was donated to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint.

Within days of the lawsuit being filed last month, Weaver defended herself in an official statement, calling the allegations against her “outrageously false.”

Appearing after the presser conference on Monday, Weaver said the most disturbing part about the allegations "are just that."

"They're allegations, and that they're not true," she said.

Weaver was evasive, for apparent legal reasons, in answering further details about the case. Although she did say she was "glad that this investigation has happened, and I'm glad that it is over."