Bankole: Follow facts in Mayor Duggan probe

Bankole Thompson
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan addresses the media one day after federal investigators secured guilty pleas in a lengthy investigation of the city's demolition program. The Justice Department has said it does not expect to bring any more charges against public officials for wrongdoing in Detroit's federally funded demolition program.

There are many nonprofit groups in Detroit working in the trenches every day to help solve some of the city’s compounding socioeconomic problems. Though many of them are often absent in the coverage about the city’s recovery, they have not left Detroit. Sometimes, I receive the calls for help to publicize their work on my radio show.

But the difference between the groups that reach out publicly for help and Make Your Date, a prenatal nonprofit group that’s been in the news lately for its alleged ties to Mayor Mike Duggan, is that they don’t have access to top city officials.

They don’t have the mayor on speed dial. 

If the groups that reach out to us had high level government officials sending out emails on their behalf or connecting them to appropriate resources, they wouldn’t be publicly crying out for help.

After all, it’s a big deal to have any mayor endorse the work of a group no matter how long that nonprofit has been around. Because in the fundraising world, connection to power matters.

In fact, the donor community pays attention to who endorses the work of any nonprofit. And it certainly doesn’t hurt to say a particular program has the full backing of a sitting mayor who, in the case of the Make Your Date program run by Dr. Sonia Hassan, has reportedly directed attention to the work of the entity.

What should concern every advocate of good governance in our current dispensation is whether history is repeating itself given the past conflicts of interest at city hall that grew into full-blown scandals. The issue about whether city resources were directed to Make Your Date at the expense of other lesser known groups is deserving of a probe. 

At the heart of this growing crisis is whether the mayor and other city officials abused their authority in their engagement with Make Your Date, possibly giving them preferential treatment.

That determination will now be made by Ellen Ha, a longtime city bureaucrat, who was recently appointed inspector general. Ha previously worked for the mayor in the law department before getting promoted to the position of top watchdog for the city with the approval of the City Council.

Despite her assurance that her charter-mandated probe into this case will get to the bottom of the issue, questions remain about whether Ha can independently carry out such an investigation given her ties to the administration.

The issue is not whether Ha is competent enough to do her job. No one is questioning her qualifications in this regard.

The problem is whether she can fully investigate her former boss in a case that could potentially prove to be a political albatross for the administration, depending on the outcome.

Maybe an outside entity would have been more appropriate to conduct this investigation and ensure that Detroit government is still guided by the dictates of good governance.

Perhaps Ha could have recused herself from the probe in the interest of fairness and openness and to assure the public that the administration would get no special attention, as Make Your Date is accused of receiving from the mayor.

If Ha wasn’t a city insider, having worked for Detroit government so long, the questions about her office’s ability to conduct an independent investigation would perhaps not be an issue. I doubt anyone would be raising questions if the inspector general job had gone to a former police chief, federal prosecutor and other individuals not connected to city hall.

Because of the heightened interest in this issue, Ha has an opportunity to go where the facts lead, not political expediency. Members of the administration have sought to deride the media as overblowing what officials deem as the “facts” in this case.

This is a legitimate issue for the media to scrutinize. The media should not under any circumstance ignore allegations of preferential treatment by Duggan, because previous mayors including Kwame Kilpatrick were subjected to the same or even more level of media scrutiny.

Mayor Duggan is no different than his predecessors and should be treated as such. 


Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at 11:30 a.m. weekdays on Superstation 910AM.