DETROIT (WXYZ) - Are Wayne County road dollars being misused by the millions? That’s the allegation made by a former top county official, and you saw it in scott lewis’s latest investigation. And now, some county commissioners are taking notice and demanding answers.
Last night’s story set off a flurry of activity inside Wayne County headquarters, and early this morning, Robert Ficano took the airwaves.
“Nobody is saying that anyone is doing anything illegal or anything like that. It’s just like smoke and mirrors that there must be something wrong," Ficano said on WCHB's "Inside Detroit with Mildred Gaddis."
Responding to last night's Action News investigation, Ficano insisted Channel 7 has it all wrong, saying our report was driven by disgruntled former employees whose motives he said were “clearly political.”
Ficano insisted the county has done nothing wrong with how it’s spent millions from the county road fund, but he also made statements we know to be untrue.
“Only 47% of that comes from road funds. The rest of it is other funding that the county supplies,” said Ficano.
But that’s not what the county’s records show. Yes, half of the funding for the road’s fund comes from the state, but virtually none of the funding is supplied by Wayne County. It comes from other sources, like the department of transportation, federal grants, and other revenue.
"MDOT said they didn’t find anything inappropriate that Wayne County was doing. That was never mentioned in the story," he said.
But the Michigan Department of Transportation has never performed an audit of Wayne County’s road funds. They haven’t, because the only state agency allowed to audit Wayne County is the state treasury department. And an audit hasn’t been performed by them in more than 10 years because of a lack of funding.
Ficano’s comments come in response to what James Jackson, ficano’s former director of the county’s Department of Public Services, alleged in last night’s report. Jackson and numerous other sources told us that for years, the Ficano administration used millions in road funds, your tax dollars, to pay the salaries of appointees who didn’t work for the road’s department.
“When the question was asked, ‘Why are these people on our budget,’…The response would be, ‘Well, that’s where we need to put them so you know, don’t really worry about that. We got that taken care of.’ Not a good answer for me," Jackson said.
And now, the Wayne County Commission is stepping in. Late today commissioner Ilona Varga told Action News that her audit committee will hold a hearing in response to our report in about 2 weeks.
They want to know if people being paid with road funds are really working for roads.
“We will ask the tough questions and then we’re going to put policy in place and I think the executive will want to work with us in light of what’s happened here," she said.
Varga says they also want to know why the Ficano administration didn’t make changes when the issue was first raised in a 2007 auditor’s report. At that time, the administration was told to make employees document daily, on paper, what hours they worked on road business and exactly what they did.
“I spoke with the auditor today and he said that if they would have just put everything in place that we suggested in back in 2007, none of this would be in question today,” said Varga.
Wayne County officials insist that even though the state hasn’t audited them in more than a decade, they’ve been given a clean bill of health by other independent audits performed annually.
Also last night, we told you about Ernest Johnson, a former appointee who was paid with roads money, but admitted he never worked in the roads department. Well last night, we spoke with the former director of community relations, Dan Shriner, who had his $75,000 salary paid with roads money. The problem? He said he never worked on the county’s roads, either.
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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