Bankole: After AG report, end demolition program scandal
Detroit’s demolition program continues to be a scandal that raises questions about the fiscal knowledge and the management skills of those designated to run it.
Unless Mayor Mike Duggan overhauls the administrative structure of the program jointly run by the Detroit Land Bank Authority and the Detroit Building Authority, it will continue to generate embarrassing headlines for the city.
The latest embarrassment is a blistering report issued March 22 by Detroit’s auditor general Mark Lockridge, who found that 19 demolition sites in the city had not been completed since last July and that the unfinished sites present a “clear and present danger to the community.”
Such inaction is a sign of noncompliance with the program’s contractual obligations, according to the audit, which intimated there may be additional sites in similar hazardous situations.
The program is already under federal probe for questionable bidding practices, and dozens of officials connected to the program have reportedly been subpoenaed.
In his review, Lockridge wrote: “Our preliminary findings indicate escalating administrative costs in both the Land Bank and DBA. We question the ability of the Land Bank and DBA as it relates to demolition program management activities to be self-sustaining in the short and long term.”
The auditor’s report also noted a lack of proper oversight by the city building authority in managing the program. It also questioned the decision by the Land Bank Authority to dissolve its “approval committee” that was set up to check on the kinds of properties being demolished.
The chairwoman of the land bank authority, Erica Ward Gerson, dismissed the auditor’s report.
“I am very disappointed that the auditor general’s report today was full of errors and misinformation. It is normally the process of an auditor general to give a draft of response to the department for this very reason to avoid obvious factual inaccuracies. Unfortunately, the auditor general inexplicably failed to do that in this case,” Gerson said in a statement.
Gerson’s response raises several issues:
■Did she have the same information the auditor general used in making his determination?
■What information does she have that shows where the auditor general’s report is dead wrong?
What Gerson should do is simply release the facts that she believes the auditor general did not include in his special report.
Her instant dismissal of the report reminded me of the battles the administration of former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick used to wage against then-auditor general Joseph Harris. Harris’ audits were seen as the bitter pill always challenging the former administration’s fiscal integrity.
Instead of following the corrective measures Harris had recommended, the Kilpatrick administration would dismiss the reports as rants by a man harboring some political ambition.
As the land bank authority report goes, Gerson is only official challenging the accuracy of the report. She and officials of the institutions in question should convene a question-and-answer session with the media to explain the discrepancies in the interest of the public good.
Meanwhile, let’s bear in mind that an auditor general’s report is supposed to be a hard-nosed look at the numbers to arrive at a factual determination of what is going on.
While we wait for Gerson to give us some facts to counter the auditor general’s report, the mayor should take a second look at this program. This time around he needs to do a serious surgical operation on the Detroit Land Bank Authority.
Detroit is no stranger to scandals that in the past have raised issues about the effective functioning of city government. The hallmark of Duggan’s tenure has been the promise of doing things differently. The mayor’s administration should ensure the Detroit Land Bank Authority is keeping in line with that solemn vow.
The writer hosts “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Super Station 910AM. This column appears Mondays and Thursdays.