Editorial: Detroit email cover-up deserves more than wrist slap

The Detroit News

As is so often the case, the attempted cover-up by the Duggan administration of the mayor’s special treatment of a charity run by a close friend is worse than the offense he is accused of committing. 

City Inspector General Ellen Ha investigated allegations that Mayor Mike Duggan used city resources to give special treatment to a Wayne State University-associated nonprofit run by a woman he’s close to. The Make Your Date charity seeks to address Detroit’s alarming preterm birth and infant mortality rate — about 15 out of 1,000 babies born do not see their first birthday (that's more than double the statewide and national average). 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.

The charity is run on a voluntary basis by Dr. Sonia Hassan, whose relationship with Duggan made news earlier in the year. Duggan was accused of deploying city staffers and resources in aid of the charity, giving it special treatment not available to other non-profits. Ha’s report notes that while it’s “entirely appropriate” for the city to spend time and money on the issue, “there must be a process by which any agency, non-profit or other organization is selected to receive these resources.”

More:Report: Duggan gave Make Your Date favor; chief of staff ordered emails deleted

More:Duggan aides to undergo training over deleted emails

Duggan says that he still stands by the city's partnership with Wayne State, and that efforts through the program have resulted in a 37% reduction in preterm births earlier than 32 weeks. 

That's fine, but the way in which his administration responded to the investigation is not. 

Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff, ordered that emails related to Make Your Date be deleted, according to Ha's report. Duggan said he was unaware of the decision to delete the emails. 

Wiley says she was acting to shield junior staffers who had gotten caught up in the process. Detroit Chief Development Officer Ryan Friedrichs and Deputy Chief Development Officer Sirene Abou-Chakra were also implicated.

The official explanation seems disingenuous. It is much more likely that the emails were killed to protect Duggan. 

Now, Duggan is saying that all three will be required to undergo document management training, and training will be headed up by Detroit's Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia. 

In her report, Ha recommended discipline for the staff who called for deleting the emails. Duggan's response is inadequate to send a message that his administration is committed to transparency. 

Deleting emails has become an all-too-common means of escaping public scrutiny. And while the emails have since been recovered, the attempted cover-up is what really stinks. 

Duggan has drawn attention to the fact the report did not find anyone in the city broke any laws, city rules or that money was misspent. There remain ethical questions, however.

And the attempted cover-up. An administration that has done nothing wrong should have nothing to hide.