DETROIT – For the past month Local 4 has been digging into a lot of Wayne County's business practices. The spending is nothing short of staggering.
The Sheriff's Office is $30 million dollars over budget. The Prosecutor's Office is $10 million over.
Yes, they are all about public safety and more than likely need more money than they are budgeted in these troubled times. Still, deficit spending with impunity has been allowed for years and much to most everyone's chagrin is now about to end. To be fair here, these two Wayne County departments are not the only ones spending like there is no tomorrow.
Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano's new jail construction project is likely more than $100 million over budget, and is so far off the rails that they are in the process of redesigning a smaller jail to fit the budget. Worse yet, even as the jail construction continues, the County Executive's staff is attempting to negotiate a deal that would sell the jail property to Quicken Loans Founder Dan Gilbert [which would likely require knocking down the current half complete jail at a massive multimillion dollar loss] and move into the state's vacant Mound Road Correctional Facility in Northeast Detroit in the future.
That this deal became public tells you all you need to know about the dire financial straits the county is in. But if you are unconvinced I'll remind you the County has taken three stabs at a deficit elimination plan with the State of Michigan and has yet to hit a mark the State can live with. So, this means an Emergency Manager could be waiting in the wings.
None of this is encouraging considering how the Emergency Management process is taking hold one block from the Guardian Building [Wayne County's offices] at the City/County building that houses the City of Detroit's offices.
So when Local 4 went after a $700,000 Wayne County Community College District security contract it might have seemed like small beer. But the reality is it exemplifies the kind of spending sailors on shore leave might find embarrassing. The Community College needs its students to feel safe on campus. So, the school went to the Sheriff's office offering to pay for patrols. When the program started in 2006 there were seven officers and plenty of patrols. But when Sheriff Benny Napoleon took over the job he slid a cute little wrinkle into the contract. He wanted "community outreach."
As he explained it to Local 4 news it is largely a program of promoting community safety by the Wayne County Sheriff's Office. It's largely public relations, paid for by the college. In fact, Napoleon paid one of his public relations appointees along with another office worker onto the contract for roughly $150,000. This also had the effect of reducing the number of deputies patrolling the three WCCCD locations.
Then he gave a $50,000 contract to participate in the community outreach campaign to a company called Alpha, owned and operated by Inkster Mayor Hilliard Hampton. It just so happens that Hampton is a retired Wayne County Sheriff's Office Deputy receiving a county pension. He is also Benny Napoleon's brother's employer. Hilton Napoleon is the Inkster's police chief. Yes, Benny and Hilton are friends. Go figure!
This contract came up for renewal this month and Local Four started looking into it and found county commissioners, deeply concerned about that Emergency Manager, looking at the contract and wondering what in the world is going on? Napoleon says the contract is perfectly legitimate, the College is happy with the program and wants to keep it. Still, County Commissioner Ilona Varga, chairperson of the Public Safety committee, went to the school's chancellor and wanted to know if that was true. She claims the chancellor wanted the community outreach portion of the contract removed and would send a letter.
That letter never came. Still the Wayne County Auditor General weighed in on the contract and said the jail overtime budget is so excessive, any deputies at WCCCD should immediately be moved to the Wayne County jail. The contract was supposed to be voted on tomorrow by the full county commission. But after several Local Four stories there is enough odor emanating from this smelly contract, late this afternoon the Wayne County Budget Office pulled the contract from tomorrow's agenda for another review.
The contract, at least for the immediate future, is dead. There is another move afoot in the Ways and Means Committee to kill the contract entirely based on the auditor general's reasoning.
It is this kind of spending that put this county in its current position. It appears those in power know they have a monumental problem. The question remains whether the deficit spending continues with impunity.
If it does, there is decidedly no happy ending to this story.