Local 4 investigation: Wayne County veteran services

Rod Meloni looks into millions of money earmarked for veterans that isn't getting to them

By Rod Meloni - Reporter, CFP ®

DETROIT - When last we saw Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano, he was marching in the Dearborn Memorial Day Parade. It's the annual-smile-and-wave-fest for most Metro Detroit politicos.

This year, Ficano waved and smiled knowing full well his Veteran Services Department was less than worthless. An auditor general's report that came out in January told him his director Joseph D. Howard was not doing his job.

It was so bad, Howard was sitting on more than $4 million in taxes collected specifically earmarked for indigent veterans.

"Sitting on" as in not giving it out!

The report says Howard not only did not hand out desperately needed money, he gave no guidance to his staff on how to do the job and did no marketing to alert any area homeless veterans the program even existed. Howard's department [with four other staffers working from a downtown office tower] costs the county half a million dollars in salary and benefits.

Ficano hoped no one would find out. Well, we did. That sent the County Executive scrambling to right the ship. 

The first move came after our series of reports on Memorial Day and the day after.

WATCH: Wayne County leaving vets out in the cold?

Local 4 News confirmed Veteran Services Division Director Joe Howard has been driving a county owned car for the nine years he's held his job. As part of Ficano's Veterans Services Division changes, he is removing the department from underneath the Health and Human Services Department to the Senior and Veteran Services Department. It turns out, Senior and Veteran Services Director Kevin Kelley does not have a county provided car. Kelley told Local 4 he ordered Joe Howard to turn in his vehicle to the Wayne County Roads Central Maintenance Facility today. Obviously he did not need his car.

Shortly after 1 p.m. Howard did just that.

Howard ignored our attempts to ask him questions and disappeared into the garage. He somehow slipped out of the gated facility without being seen.

We did some research on the car Harris flipped the keys back to the county.

The county today confirmed the value of the executive perk runs about $5,500 a year over the past four years [Yes that comes to $22,000].

The car came with a computer chip that allowed him to simply pull up to the pump at any Wayne County Maintenance facility, top off the tank and drive away with nary a worry. The computer system even told him when his car needed maintenance he did not have to pay for. For some perspective, Harris spent exactly no money on indigent veteran transportation in 2009 and only $9000 in 2010 and 2011.

Clearly Joe Howard does not like the publicity about his car and his poor job performance. Apparently the situation is weighing on his health. This we know because Local Four also learned today Howard submitted paperwork with the county yesterday asking for a medical leave of absence. We are uncertain what health problems he is suffering. He walked into the Wayne County Roads garage this afternoon appearing in fine fettle. The paperwork is not processed so we do not know whether he will be granted his medical leave and whether he will use pent up sick and vacation time as part of this request [that is the norm].

Bob Ficano says one of the redeeming qualities as County Executive is when he learns when there is a problem he deals with it immediately.

Well, it's June and the official movement of Howard's department has not taken place just yet; it will come next week. The order to relinquish the county owned car did not come until after Local Four embarrassed both Howard and the county on the air.

There is a new outreach officer inside the Veteran Services Division now on the job per the Auditor General's report.

To be fair that person started on the job the day after Memorial Day and was in the works as a result of the Auditor General's report. But the report also says there are many other problems with this department that include not properly bidding out emergency construction work.

Kelley says he is in the process of changing that problem as well. It's not pretty, it's not particularly "immediate" either but it is happening. For now that's the best we can ask for. Are there larger problems with this and other departments under Bob Ficano's administration?

We're looking; stay tuned!