A Wayne County Circuit judge has ruled that Detroit Metropolitan Airport officials violated Michigan's Open Meetings Act during the hiring of ex-Chief Executive Turkia Mullin.
Judge Robert Colombo on Friday found multiple violations of the state act and issued an injunction against future violations.
"To me, it was a clear violation," Colombo said.
A scandal broke after Wayne County paid Mullin $200,000 in county tax money to leave her job with the county and take on her new position at the airport, which paid a salary of $750,000.
A statement from her attorney, Raymond Sterling, reads, "The ruling has no impact on Turkia Mullin’s employment contract with the authority; she was just one of the many candidates in a hiring procedure that Judge Colombo today ruled violated the law. The plaintiff did not ask for an invalidation of her contract nor did the judge order it."
Mullin herself is also suing the Airport Authority because she said they held a closed-door meeting to discuss her termination.
The plaintiff Sterling referred to is Wayne County resident activist Robert Davis. He is being represented by attorney Andrew Patterson.
"There were 11 secret meetings that we know of, that they've admitted to. There were hundreds of decisions made in the process," Patterson said. "There's all kinds of indications that we did receive in the limited discovery that we got that this was a put-up job."
Sterling said his client would be filing a breach of employment contract claim, arguing the authority is obligated to pay the remainder of her three-year contract.
"It was never the intention of the Board to violate the law. Wayne County Airport Authority intends to fully comply with Judge Colombo's ruling. The Airport Authority is planning an Open Meetings Act training session for Board Members and Executive staff," responded Board Chair Mary Zuckerman.
Earlier this week, the Local 4 Defenders revealed evidence uncovered by attorney Carl Marlinga. It showed the committee that hired Mullin as the airport’s CEO may have violated the Open Meetings Act.
"You had a group of people getting together deciding Turkia Mullin is going to get this job. Legalities were ignored. The Open Meetings Act was ignored," said Marlinga, attorney for Robert Davis, a Wayne County activist.
Marlinga attained an email sent to one CEO candidate by Jack Krasula, the president of Trust in Us, the company hired to help find the new airport CEO. The message told the applicant he had not been hired. Another person had filled the position, wrote Krasula.
The email was dated before the airport board met to nominate its CEO, violating the requirement that decisions be made before the public.
Airport Board Chair Renee Axt, who has resigned since the FBI began investigating Mullin’s hiring, selected the three person search committee from airport board members.
That committee was made up of Sam Nouhan, whose law firm was contracted for $1 million of work for Wayne County, Charlie Williams, who mediated the sale of Greektown Casino’s parking garage, earning $420,000, and Sue Hall, who is employed by the Wayne County Sheriff's Department.
Nouhan, Hall and Williams would decide who would be Metro Airport’s director.
Another email obtained by Marlinga showed that the group had withheld Mullin’s name from a report to Delta Airlines, Metro Airport's largest carrier.
Board member Nouhan wrote in the email that Delta is qualified to critique candidates with airport experience, but that it is not in regards to non-airport candidates, such as Mullin.
"That is why I didn’t reveal (Mullin’s) identity," Nouhan wrote.
Marlinga said that he believes withholding Mullin’s name is another deliberate attempt to hide the board's fait accompli selection of the ex-CEO.
Thursday afternoon, Wayne County Airport Authority Board Chair Mary Zuckerman released the following statement:
The Authority Board believed it acted in compliance with the Open Meetings Act in its CEO search process and it was never the intention of the Board to violate the law. Wayne County Airport Authority intends to fully comply with Judge Colombo’s ruling. In addition, because the Board is always interested in improving its processes, it is also committed to taking two specific actions:
1. The Airport Authority is planning an Open Meetings Act training session for Board Members and executive staff conducted by a law firm with special expertise in this area and which has provided OMA counsel to other governmental entities and municipalities.
2. If at some future date, the Board conducts another executive search, the Board is committed to reviewing the processes used by other similar organizations governed by the Open Meetings Act to determine best practices and implement such in the Authority’s search process.
As the new Chair of the Airport Authority Board, I recognize the importance of the Open Meetings Act and will take the necessary steps to assure that the Board conducts its business in compliance with the Act. The Board will move forward with a commitment to openness and transparency as is appropriate for a public body which is setting policy and guiding the operation of some of the state’s most critical transportation infrastructure: Detroit Metropolitan Airport and Willow Run Airport.