Wayne County: See how they run

By Rod Meloni - Reporter, CFP ®

DETROIT - We all have lots to do; places to go, family to tend to, work to be done.

It is likely Wayne County residents don't give much thought to how their county government works until they see icy roads on that first icy day in winter or they hit the voting booth come election time. Let's face it: the railroad appears to be working well. But it's the appearances that get you. Those in charge of this county are counting on apathy to avoid accountability. You see, Wayne County is NOT a smoothly running railroad. Here, deficit spending is what you do before you get the first cup of coffee in the morning.

Wayne County is roughly $200 million dollars in debt this year. Its chief executive Bob Ficano and the county commission are right now working on a 2014 budget that by all accounts will not have a chance of being in balance the day it is passed. Prosecutor Kym Worthy sued the county trying to get more money for her overspent budget this year. She ended up going to the state for a hand out.

Sheriff Benny Napoleon is $30 million over budget. He spent his year's budget by June 30. With every second the clock ticks now until the end of September the Sheriff's office is over budget. And this is no new development. The county has been working on a deficit reduction program in the hopes the state would approve for a couple of years now. After four cracks at it, the state is still saying no. You might wonder how this is all possible.

How can spending tax dollars as if they were in a never ending ATM continue? Well take a look at this audit report and you get a pretty good idea.

View: Jail Commissary Unit Audit Report
Read more: Auditor General's report: Wayne County Jail commissary money not spent appropriately

Wayne County Auditor Willie Mayo audited an obscure little corner of the old Wayne County Jail called the commissary. It is a small store where jail inmates can buy shampoo, deodorant or snacks. They also use pay phones that add to the revenue stream. Family or friends put money into an electronic account and any profit turned here is supposed to be used to help inmates with things like earning a GED.

What does this audit report show? Very little of that is getting done. Instead the two millions dollar a year the commissary reported is used for things like buying computers and printers for the tether unit. The tether unit monitors the felons who are turned out onto the street because the jail is overcrowded. While under house arrest they wear electronic tethers that tell the sheriff's office where the inmate is at any given moment by computer and GPS. While the tether unit may need this equipment [and many on the commission have serious doubts about that] county ordinance says that is not what the commissary money is supposed to go to.

The audit shows Sheriff Benny Napoleon has hired employees with $101,000 of this money and there is no way of knowing whether they have anything to do with the commissary program. What's more, legally the county commission is supposed to approve any contract above $50,000.

The report shows that did not happen here. There is no inventory control, required quarterly audits are not done, there is no proper accounting of timesheets for the employees who do work in the program, no one seems to know how much money is coming in or going out and there is no mechanism in place effectively accounting for anything going on in these stores. This is supposed to be a no cash program and yet jail employees have been buying items from the store using cash. There is no accounting for how much cash comes in or out. But those are just the unpleasant nuts and bolts of a county operation run amok. The real telling finding in the audit shows unethical governance.

Sheriff Benny Napoleon gets to appoint one person to an oversight committee. County Exec Bob Ficano gets to appoint another and the commission the third to make certain this program runs effectively and within the law. Napoleon appointed jail manager Jariel Heard. Ficano's office appointed the Jail finance director. County Commission member Ilona Varga ended up the commission representative and she tells Local 4 when she first started going to meetings she discovered they were held inside the jail complex where the public is NOT allowed.

So let's just review. The head of the county jail and one of his finance people are the ones who set up a jail store business model that with no accountability rules, and runs in a fashion that flies in the face of county ordinance and get to vote on whether to continue operating this way. The auditor general called the Sheriff and executive's oversight appointments a conflict of interest. One might wonder what prosecutor might think of this.

Now, it is important to point out a couple of things. The Sheriff did not make himself available to discuss this today. Jariel Heard had a family emergency today could not talk but offered to sit down next week to discuss the report. The audit looks back to 2011 and 2012. It came out in late June. In that time, some of these problems have been fixed. Jariel Heard is no longer on the oversight board nor is the executive's appointee. The meetings are no longer held inside jail property. There are still some unresolved issues. A Sheriff's Department spokesman today pointed out there is a federal consent agreement that forces Napoleon to spend a million and a half dollars a month on jail overtime alone The intimation is that it is not anyone's fault inside the sheriff's office. Yes, the consent agreement is helping put Napoleon's budget out of whack, but more than a couple of county commissioners will tell you not to the extent it is. They say the federal government's intervention in no way gives the Sheriff or his staff carte blanche to do anything they want when it comes to running the place.

So in Wayne County we have a jail $100 million over budget and the construction has to stop because the county can no longer afford the project and needs state help bailing it out. We still do not know where all the money went, as the jail audit is being withheld by prosecutor Kym Worthy as she does her own investigation into that boondoggle.

We have a jail commissary run more like a country store with illegally tacked on employees not required to account for any of their actions. We do see how they run and the budget deficit just continues to balloon.

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