DETROIT (WXYZ) - This story is about the Wayne County Executive, a county building and just who’s benefiting from its sale.
Last year, Wayne County put a nearly 100-year-old county building on Temple St. in Detroit up for sale. Only a few blocks from Little Caesars Arena, it attracted a bidding war with at least four companies submitting offers.
Two companies tied for the highest bid: $11 million. But Evans’ team picked Temple Group Holdings, saying their proposal was stronger. A few weeks later, two members of Temple Group would form a new business with Wayne County’s CFO, Tony Saunders.
When it came time to start fixing-up the nearly century-old building, the Temple Group developers hired a construction company not based in Detroit or even in Wayne County. Instead, turned to a firm out of Grand Rapids, Rockford Construction.
The head of Rockford's Detroit office is a blood-relative of the Wayne County Executive: Matthew Evans, the CEO’s half-brother.
Wendy Lukianoff is a union representative for scores of struggling Wayne County employees who haven’t seen a raise in 10 years.
“We’re paying more for our healthcare,” Lukianoff said. “And we get less wages than our counterparts in other counties. And it’s demoralizing hearing more and more stories.”
Throughout his government career, Evans’ friends and family have often found themselves in the right place at the right time.
While he worked in the prosecutor’s office, Evans made the news when a company he owned with his brother received a county contract. Evans said his shares were in a blind trust and he sold them the following year.
In 2010, Evans was ousted as Detroit police chief after an internal investigation found that he gave preferential treatment to an officer he was dating.
“Chief Evans, some of his decisions I think compromised his position as chief,” said then-Mayor Dave Bing when he announced Evans’ departure.
Commissioner Diane Webb says the coincidences keep adding up.
“The pattern is scary,” she said.
While it’s not illegal to hire a company that employs the CEO’s relative, Webb says it is curious.
“To find out later that the person that was chosen to buy 640 Temple over the other party who bid the same amount is doing business with a family member?” Webb said. “On the face of it, it sure doesn’t pass the smell test. I mean it sure doesn’t look good.”
We sent Evans a list of questions about when he learned that his relative was involved in this deal. What we received from the CEO's spokesman was was an e-mail that didn’t answer any of them, but it did say that Evans had “nothing to do with the selection of subcontractors.”
This week, 7 Action News attended Evans’ press conference to ask the questions he didn’t answer by e-mail. While Mayor Mike Duggan and other dignitaries continued taking questions, Evans snuck out early. We caught up with him anyway.
“The county sells a building to the developer, that developer hires a company that employs Matthew Evans. Is that just a coincidence?” asked Channel 7’s Ross Jones.
“You have sent questions to my office, we have answered them,” Evans said.
“What about this one?” Jones asked.
“We have given you our position. I have nothing else to say,” Evans said.
Evans wouldn’t answer our questions then or the next day through his spokesman, who said in part “…this line of questioning does not warrant further response.”
“I really think he should answer to those things,” Webb said. “We should easily be able to justify all of our actions to the public, if all of our actions are appropriate.”
Reached on his cell phone, Matthew Evans told 7 Action News that we had the “wrong number,” then hung up. When he was reached later, he told us he would only respond to questions via e-mail. He never responded to WXYZ’s inquiries.
In a statement, Rockford Construction said:
“Rockford Construction has been active in the Detroit area for more than 20 years, completing over 100 projects totaling nearly $500 million. Rockford was contracted to complete renovations at 640 Temple owned by Temple Holdings, and we look forward to working with our local trade contractor partners to provide exceptional service and results.”