Lest we forget: Wayne County taxpayers paying the price

Failed Wayne County jail project continues to cost taxpayers as county plans to demolish jail cell pods

DETROIT – $160 million wasted!

That is the true pain and horrifying corruption that resulted in the staggering financial fiasco that is the failed Wayne County Jail Project. The story died down over the winter after the scandalous blaze that burned breaking news stingers and headline after headline last summer. The fervor waned because Prosecutor Kym Worthy installed a one-man grand jury to investigate this errant public works project turned white elephant.

That investigation is grinding ever so slowly and Metro Detroit is doing what it always does -- wait for the other shoe to drop.

But today we received another reminder of the ongoing cost of this mess. As Local 4 first told you last summer, 111 pre-fab concrete jail cell pods sitting on the construction site where they were built might end up scrapped. Well, they will be.

One million tax dollars were spent to make these 30-ton cells that snap together like Lego blocks. They came custom built with specialized vacuum sewer and electrical systems. Those two things together add up to the reason they will have to be crushed. You see no other jail system uses these types of pods close enough to warrant spending half a million dollars to transport them elsewhere. In fact, it would cost nearly half a million dollars to ship them to the Mound Road jail site the state is pushing for the failed jail or the existing site on Gratiot.


So instead, they will spend $300,000 to haul them off to a contractor's site and demolish them, eight each day for more than a month. The contractor will get to keep whatever is left over from the pods -- the rebar and the doors and other metals. This process will start in the next 30 days and the pods will not exist by June.

This corner of the project is starting to show the frayed edges within the Wayne County budget. You see, Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano set up the new jail project to be overseen by the Wayne County Building Authority. It was to OK any changes in the project, which it never did, but it was designed to make the project run smoothly. Only Ficano made certain the Authority never saw any bad news until it was too late. He cancelled Authority meetings and contractor updates so the horse was already out of the barn before the Authority ever knew there was a whiff of scandal.

The Authority is backing the failed jail project move to the state's old and abandoned Mound Road Correctional Facility because it knows there is really no other choice since the County is all but broke and the State is going to pick up some of the tab to make certain it happens.

County Commissioners, starting with Chairman Gary Woronchak, are frustrated on many fronts. They were left out of most of the decision-making that might have provided oversight to the project and now that the Building Authority seeks to step away from the disaster, the Commission feels it is getting the blame for something it had next to nothing to do with.

Expect meetings with lawyers over the next week or two trying to sort out whose responsibility it is to bring this debacle to a close. Commissioners are not certain moving to Mound Road is the right answer. They voted to Thursday to require the Ficano administration provide numbers, real hard guidance on where the project is and what the costs will be in the future.

But the real casualty here is the beleaguered Wayne County taxpayer. The information on what happened has stopped but the cash register continues to ring. It is the taxpayer who will have to foot the bill for this disaster. It is the taxpayer who will pay to crush custom jail cell pods because it's the only right answer, and it is the taxpayer who trudges to work living their daily lives while the politics play out as if nothing ever happened here on Gratiot.

This is the price they the taxpayers must shoulder for mismanaged government; lest we forget.

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