Bankole: Detroit City Council still won’t call for indicted Gabe Leland’s resignation

Bankole Thompson

Detroit City Councilman Gabe Leland was indicted on bribery corruption charges in 2018 by the federal government for allegedly demanding payment from a local business man in exchange for favors. He's now facing a new misconduct charge from prosecutors in Monroe County.

But his legal woes don’t seem to be a problem at all in City Hall where Leland continues to report to work and vote on issues before the deliberative body. Neither his colleagues on the City Council nor Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan are willing to publicly ask the councilman to vacate his seat.

They act as if it's normal to conduct regular business with a public servant whose judgment and character is now called into question after the allegations of corruption.

Detroit City Councilman Gabe Leland, left, leaves Detroit federal court with attorney Steve Fishman after being released on bond in a public corruption case in 2018.

Hiding behind the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, the mayor and council are holding off any calls for Leland’s resignation. Leland should have his day in court and should be considered innocent until the court decides otherwise. But presumption of innocence has nothing to do with calling on him to resign immediately to spare the council of further disgrace and embarrassment, especially after the city’s own past experiences with public corruption.

Councilman James Tate said in a statement: "I do not plan to call for member Leland to resign at this time because while he has been charged, the adjudication process is ongoing. The allegations if proven true, will serve as a betrayal to the office that we have sworn to represent. Jumping out to call for his resignation is premature right now. While I understand that elected officials are held to a higher standard due to our authority, this is the same approach that I take with any criminal case. That’s why we have a justice system.”

Tate was the only council member who responded to questions I sent to the legislative body asking if it has tabled Leland’s misconduct allegation for discussion.

“Detroit City Council as a body has not discussed the federal allegations of corruption against member Leland and what steps the body would take in that regard,” Tate said. “The City’s Charter outlines what happens if the member is found guilty by a court of law or a guilty plea is issued by the member accused of the crime alleged. I plan to follow the Charter’s mandates regardless of how the case is resolved.”

Tate’s comments explain why the council has remained mum over one of its own for over 18 months after Leland was first charged. His remarks reflect a certain kind of unacceptable thinking that it is OK for any indicted public official to continue to hold office and conduct business as usual while allegations of corruption and bribery hang over their head. That kind of mindset undermines public trust in democratic institutions like the City Council, whose members should be held to a higher level of public accountability as Tate himself admitted.

The fact that the council did not see Leland’s issues worthy enough of a public deliberation is disturbing and very revealing. It further explains why Detroiters are dealing with a legislative body that seems to be in near paralysis and in urgent need of reform in the next election cycle. It is difficult to comprehend how council can make well-informed and well-reasoned decisions on behalf of Detroit taxpayers, when it doesn’t see the need and urgency to address corruption allegations involving an indicted member.

Duggan is adopting the same neutrality stance on Leland, who recently voted in favor of the mayor’s $250 million bond proposal.

“This is a very unfortunate development for our city at a time when so many things have been going right. For now, we just have to let the justice system do its work,” Duggan said when news broke that Leland was indicted.

The mayor’s spokesman, John Roach, said that continues to reflect Duggan’s position despite the latest development from the Monroe County Prosecutor’s office.

When a sitting member of any public body is accused of corruption by authorities, it is not a private matter. It is a crisis of confidence in public leadership that must be dealt with responsibly to advance the public good by calling on the individual to resign.

Failure to do so sends the wrong message.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which broadcasts at 11 a.m. weekdays on 910AM.