DETROIT, Mich. (WXYZ) - For the first time since the Action News Investigators broke the story of a pricey payout to one of the Wayne County Executives top appointees, Robert Ficano faced questions today.
The excuses about how the taxpayers paid for Turkia Mullin to voluntarily resign for a new position have changed by the day.
One of the biggest questions remaining is who wrote this undated letter that was released last week to explain Mullin’s severance – and when was it written?
Robert Ficano clearly doesn’t want to answer that question – and now he’s claiming he doesn’t know what letter we’re talking about.
“When was Ms. Mullin’s severance letter actually written,” asked Action News Investigator Heather Catallo.
“We’ve already given our statement, we answered all the answers to the commission, and there’s uh, currently a review,” said Ficano.
“We’d like to speak to you about when that letter was actually written. Was it written last week,” asked Catallo.
“At this point, there’s a review going on, we’ve given the statement, we’ve taken responsibility, we’ve done all the things necessary, in the process of doing the review,” said Ficano.
Last Tuesday, the Action News Investigators broke the story that Robert Ficano’s former economic development chief took a $200,000 severance payout from the taxpayers. In August, Turkia Mullin voluntarily quit to become the new CEO of Metro Airport, earning $250,000 a year.
At first the county defended the parting gift, releasing a written statement on September 27th that said, quote: “This was a pre-negotiated component of her contract which the county was obligated to honor…”
County workers who have endured 20% pay cuts were furious and Wayne county commissioners say they were blindsided someone could walk away with that many taxpayer dollars when the county is facing a $160 Million deficit.
“It was part of my contract, part of my agreement,” said Turkia Mullin last week.
Ficano was in Asia on a trade mission as the fury grew – but on September 29th, he defended the deal.
“This is a standard type contract. Her predecessor had the same type of contract,” said Ficano on WJR.
But there was nothing standard about Mullin’s so-called “contract.”
Since the contract was the defense – we wanted to see it.
“Are you willing to release that to us,” Catallo asked Mullin.
“If I have a copy of it, sure,” said Mullin.
But Mullin delayed. After our repeated requests, though, her public relations folks finally released this one-page letter that discusses severance and confirmed that this was her only contract with the county.
The letter is only 7 sentences, and it has no date on it. The only signature on it is that of Robert Ficano. And the letter strangely echoes several of the excuses provided by Ficano staffers while they defended the severance.
During the Wayne County Commissioners meeting yesterday – a top Ficano appointee could not explain that letter – and admitted Mullin never actually had a contract.
“There were mistakes in process. There were mistakes in paperwork. And at the end of the day, and the ultimate question – there were mistakes in judgment,” said Wayne County Assistant County Executive Alan Helmkamp.
“Did you personally sign the letter yourself,” Catallo asked Ficano.
“I don’t even know which letter you’re referring to,” said Ficano.
Clearly, Ficano can’t explain it either.
“Why did Ms. Mullin not have a contract, and why did you say she did? I told you, mistakes were made, she’s paid back the money. And so, she’s you know, we’ve rectified the situation,” said Ficano.
“These are very basic questions about dates, and when things were written, I don’t understand why you can’t answer them,” said Catallo.
“They remedied – there’s a review going on. I’ve told you that,” said Ficano.
The issue of this undated letter isn’t the only time we’ve seen Wayne County officials change their stories. A year ago, the Action News Investigators were the first to expose a little-known non-profit called the Wayne County Business Development Corporation. Despite our repeated requests to know who donated to the fund – Ficano’s press secretary at the time gave us 3 different stories. Then just hours before our interview with the County Executive – a website was hastily created, listing some of the corporate donors – many of whom also happen to be county contractors.
That fund is related to the severance scandal. Turkia Mullin was the Executive Director of the non-profit. Action News has been asking for months is she was getting extra salary from it. Our investigation into her severance deal has now revealed that Mullin did get an extra $75,000 from the non-profit.
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