DETROIT (WXYZ) - Turkia Mullin's severance sparked a federal investigation and put Wayne County government under close scrutiny. But 7 Action News has learned that more county officials were supposed to leave with payout, and they totaled a lot more than what Mullin was slated to receive.
Back in October, as the Wayne County severance scandal began to heat up, county commissioners wanted to know if there were any other deals in the works like Mullin’s $200,000 severance.
"Are there any other employees, appointees who have a severance package arrangement," asked commission vice-chair Alisha Bell.
Assistant Wayne County CEO Alan Helmkamp assured commissioners there were not.
"I'm not aware of, and I do not believe, that there are any other separations, severances, end of employment compensation, however you want to characterize it," he said.
Except that wasn’t true: the county had a plan to pay out even more. 7 Action News has learned that another 15 Wayne County appointees were in line for payments as high as about $80,000 just for leaving the county. Helmkamp said he didn’t tell commissioners because he didn't know about them until after October 4th.
The payments were offered to all appointees as part of a buyout program earlier this year. The county says the goal was to save money in the long-run by encouraging employees to leave back in the Spring with up to six-months salary. About 40 county employees took the original deal.
But the deal was changed for select appointees. According to the county, 15 appointees were too important to lose. So they were asked to stay, but were promised that they could still take advantage of the severance when they finally left for good.
Employment attorney Deborah Gordon reviewed the deal for 7 Action News and said it’s unheard-of in government.
"They create a policy that gives people the incentive to leave all within the same block of time, and then they go, 'Oh my God! What are we going to do if all these people leave at the same time? We’ll just not follow our policy and we’ll just say, you know what, whenever you want to leave, you go ahead. Here’s your money," Gordon said.
Some of the appointees on the list include Matt Schenk, Ficano's chief of staff, in line for about $50,000 in severance, as was assistant county CEO Cameron Priebe. Carla Sledge, the county's chief financial officer, would have left with about $80,000 and Deputy CEO Azzam Elder had roughly $75,000 coming his way. All told, the 15 severance payments totaled an estimated $850,000.
Gordon called the payments "nothing other than a bunch of freebie handouts."
The deals were written up in letters and given to each appointee, but soon after news of Mullin's severance was exposed by 7 Action News in late September, enraging taxpayers and bringing in the FBI, County Executive Robert Ficano scrapped the deals altogether. That happened on October 14: It was ten days earlier that Helmkamp told commissioners no more severance deals existed.
For now, those payments have been stopped, and no county official is expected to receive any severance payment when they finally leave Wayne County. Gordon says that’s how it should be.
"Let them leave," she said.
"There’s a lot of people that are unemployed. And goodness knows the way the county’s been run, it wouldn’t be too hard to find good replacements."
You may think that once those 15 employees had their severance payments taken away, they would quit their county jobs. After all, county officials told 7 Action News that told the promise of that money is all that kept them from leaving the county. But only one of those appointees has actually left: Deputy CEO Azzam Elder, who resigned last month for his role in the severance scandal.
As for who was responsible for offering the deals, county officials will only tell us that the letters were signed by then human resources director Tim Taylor.
If you have a tip for the Action News Investigative Team, contact us at email@example.com or at (248) 827-9466.
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