DETROIT (WXYZ) - Turkia Mullin is finally turning over documents Action News has been asking for since last week. They have legal experts and county officials scratching their heads and us asking: Has Wayne County been giving us the straight story?
As we first told you Tuesday night, Mullin was given a $200,000 severance payment on her way out the door from her old county job as Economic Development chief. She left to accept a job that paid her $250,000 as the new CEO of Detroit Metro Airport.
Mullin said from the start that her severance was negotiated as part of her contract with the county.
"It was part of my contract, part of my agreement," Mullin said Wednesday. She has now agreed to give the severance back to the county.
But did Mullin ever have a formal contract? Since last week, we’ve been asking to see a copy. Now, her spokesperson tells us that all there is is a single page, undated letter signed by Mullin's former-boss, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano. Mullin signed nothing.
We asked long-time Bloomfield Hills employment attorney Deborah Gordon to analyze the documents.
"It’s a pretty short and skimpy contract," she said.
"What do you think about the lack of a date on the letter," asked Action News Investigator Heather Catallo.
"Odd, extremely odd not to have a date on the lette," said Gordon.
"I mean, the problem with not having a date on the letter, is when something like this happens, curious minds begin to wonder when this was actually written," she asid.
Ficano has insisted that Mullin got the same deal as the man she replaced, Mulu Birru.
"This is a standard type contract," he told WJR radio (AM 760). "Her predecessor had the same type of contract."
But according to new records just released, that’s not true. The undated letter from Ficano to Mullin says she’ll work “under similar terms and conditions” as her predecessor.
The letter states: “The County will only agree to 12 months of severance and not 18 months like your predecessor.”
But Gordon says that’s wrong--Birru did not get 18 months. According to his contract, he received $200,000 in severance, and then another $100,000 to continue working for the county in another role.
“That’s not severance pay, that’s pay,” said Gordon.
In fact, the contract states Birru was only entitled to severance “in the event of any change of control or a major reorganization which would affect your position.” Gordon says that means Mullin may not be entitled to that $200,000 parting gift from the taxpayers.
“The letter that the county’s calling a contract refers back to the Birru contract terms for severance," said Gordon.
“I don’t see anything in any contractual language that the county has submitted thus far which would indicate that Ms. Mullin should get severance upon resignation, voluntary resignation."
The undated letter also contains a very perplexing line that seems to line up with the recent arguments from Ficano and Mullin, defending the severance.
“Thank you for agreeing to take this position under terms less favorable to you than those of your predecessor," it says.
On Thursday Mullin disclosed that she was paid a second $75,000 salary from a non-profit group called the Wayne County Business Development Corporation. Last October, Action News was the first to report on the non-profit fund, and how the county refused to disclose who donated to it. Those donors helped pay for trade missions for county officials like Mullin, and helped foot the bill for her second salary.
Good government experts were concerned by the secrecy surrounding donors to the fund.
"Do they end up being campaign contributors, and what does that mean when it comes to the county giving out contracts," said Christina Kuo, then with Common Cause, a group that promotes transaprency in government.
Eventually, the county released a partial list of donors, and some of them are the winners of major county contractor: like the construction firm Walbridge, who was just selected as the general contract for the county’s new $300 million jail. The company’s president, John Rakolta, also sits on the non-profit’s board of directors.
Yesterday, Turkia Mullin told reporters that she’s actually taking a pay cut to take this new position at the airport. She says when you add her old county salary, with her second salary paid for by local corporations, she was making $275,000. So she’s actually taking a pay cut now that she’s working for $250,000 at Metro Airport.
You can read the documents in the box below.
If you have a tip for the Action News Investigative Team, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (248) 827-9466.
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