DETROIT (WXYZ) - Wednesday night, Scott Lewis and the Action News Investigators exposed what insiders call a Wayne County shell game: county executive employees and salaries hidden in budgets where they do little to no work.
There’s been plenty of reaction to the story and now swift action is being taken by at least one county commissioner.
As Robert Ficano takes an axe to the county’s budget, he insists small staff is composed of only seven people, but high-level county sources say that’s laughable.
Thursday morning, Ficano’s constituents were talking about the Action News investigation on the radio airwaves; no one was laughing.
"He is taking money, using it for what he wants to do, instead of what it’s allocated for, what he’s supposed to do," said one listener on Thursday morning’s edition of Inside Detroit on WCHB radio with Mildred Gaddis.
"It is very disturbing to see money, which is our money—instead of going places we need it and expect it, it’s going to appointees and people in the Guardian building that are serving the county executive," said another listener.
Detroiters were reacting swiftly to Wednesday night’s Channel 7 investigation. We reported, through reliable sources, that employees who work primarily for the county executive are hidden away and paid out of department budgets where they do little or no work.
Their salaries reach as high as $115,000 a year.
"So is this a shell game with employees?," Lewis asked former Wayne County Auditor Brendan Dunleavy. "Yes," he responded.
"A way to hide people?," Lewis asked. "Absolutely," Dunleavy responded.
The news comes as other county departments are being slashed and Detroiters are facing the possible closure of their only water park. County watchdogs are upset because when Ficano pays his appointees from other county budgets, it siphons off money that could be used for critical services.
"I wonder too how many, I think, how many people are in the executive staff budget that we don’t know about," said Wayne County Commissioner Bernard Parker, responding to Channel 7's investigation.
Parker, who chairs the commission's Ways and Means Committee, says he and other commissioners have long been suspicious that Ficano is hiding a fat payroll. He says the county executive's office has stonewalled his requests for information, but now he’s turning up the heat.
"I’ve already asked for that information," Parker said "and I expect to receive it before the budget deliberations are over, by the end of August, to see exactly every staff person, their salaries, and where they’re paid out of."
Meanwhile, Detroiters are planning a protest Tuesday morning outside the Guardian Building, speaking out against the County’s plan to close the city’s only water park.
"It’s disrespectful to that community, it’s disrespectful to the people that use that park," said one listener.
"All of us who are taxpayers should be insulted that recreation for young children...is not being met at its total potential," he continued.
"You cannot take money for this, and use it for that," said another."He must think everyone is stupid!”
While Bernard Parker is speaking out, the rest of the Wayne County Commission has been silent on the issue, even though their own auditor general says paying Ficano appointees out of the Roads Department could be illegal.
Ficano insists his administration is doing nothing wrong, and that they rotate people in and out of different budgets because they multi-task during hard economic times.
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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