Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan says emails related to investigation were deleted to protect employees

Mayor's chief of staff accused of telling employees to delete emails

DETROIT – Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan claims emails related to an investigation into the city's support of a nonprofit organization were deleted to protect two employees.

READ: Detroit mayor's office told employees to delete emails related to investigation, OIG says

"You had a time a year ago of enormous media scrutiny," Duggan said. "We had two junior staffers doing their job well, and they were motivated by keeping them out of that media circus."

The Office of Inspector General finalized a report on the city's alleged preferential treatment toward Wayne State University's Make Your Date program.

Officials were investigating the decision-making process that led to the city supporting the program and whether Mayor Mike Duggan had a conflict of interest that played a role in that decision.

Authorities said Make Your Date was selected by Duggan based on his experience and advice of members of his transition team.

OIG officials said any entity given support by the city should be selected through a fair, transparent process to ensure the public that taxpayer dollars are being used correctly.

"We partnered with Wayne State University, America's foremost preterm birth research institution on a Make Your Date program that resulted in a 37% reduction in preterm births earlier than 32 weeks," Duggan said. "Thousands of at-risk pregnant women benefited from this effort and delivered healthy babies. The success of the program speaks for itself."

The Office of Inspector General found Alexis Wiley, the mayor's chief of staff, ordered certain employees in the Office of Development and Grants to delete emails related to Make Your Date, according to the report.

The order was made through Chief Development Officer Ryan Friedrichs and Deputy Chief Development Officer Sirene Abou-Chakra, officials said.

"The deletion of emails only serves to undermine the public's trust in an open and transparent government," the report says. "Therefore, the OIG finds such conduct as abuse of authority."

"The very fact that they were ordered to be deleted alone casts a shadow over transparency," Inspector General Ellen Ha said.

"We agree with the OIG's assessment that the emails' deletion was not in the best interest of transparent government, which is why the administration made every effort possible to retrieve the emails and post them publicly on the city website," said Detroit CFO Dave Massaron, who led the effort to retrieve the emails.

City officials said Duggan will consult with HR Director Denise Starr on the OIG recommendation on potential discipline for the three employees. He will also seek a recommendation for a new policy relative to personal use of email, officials said.

Here's more from the city's statement:

"After reviewing the OIG report released this morning, Mayor Duggan noted that the report specifically found that the Mayor's actions did not "violate any policies, procedures, or laws."  The report also specifically found that Mayor's actions did not constitute conflict of interest under the City Charter. And the report found that it is "entirely appropriate that City time and resources be allocated" to the goals of the program.

"With regard to email deletion, the OIG report also made no finding that any law, ordinance, or city policy was broken. The report specifically noted that the deletions were made prior to any FOIA being received before the documents were deleted.

"As the report notes, the only email deletions were on the part of two junior staff members in the Office of Development and Grants. The emails have been largely recovered and have been available on line on the city's website for two months. They contain nothing problematic -- they are routine conversations that no one had any reason to cover up.

"As the report indicates, the reason for the deletion was to keep the two junior staff people outside of the publicity on the issue and off of the radar screen of Bob Carmack. The report itself notes that all interviewed confirmed that the 'events of email deletion were consistent in that the order was given in the best intention to protect employees.'"

About the Authors:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.

Jason anchors Local 4's 5:30 p.m. newscast. He joined WDIV in January 2015 as a general assignment reporter and has a Journalism degree from Michigan State University.