EXCLUSIVE: In new airport role, Turkia Mullin pushed to double Azzam Elder's Wayne County salary

DETROIT (WXYZ) - Azzam Elder was Robert Ficano's right hand man.  Some say he acted more like the Wayne County Executive than Ficano ever did. 

New e-mails obtained by 7 Action News show that then-Metro Airport CEO Turkia Mullin was pushing for Deputy County Executive Azzam Elder to get a hefty pay raise just weeks after Elder helped implement Mullin's own severance deal .

In an e-mail from September 25, 2011, she she tells two Ficano appointees they need to help prepare for criticism when word gets out of their plan to double Elder's more than $150,000 county salary. 

Mullin had left her county position as head of economic development in the beginning of September to become the head-up Detroit Metro Airport, but records show she still had a hand in county business.

In the e-mail, she directs the appointees to write a memo that will "pre empt [sic] the criticism that at a (time) of budget crisis we are doubling someones [sic] salary…"

"This is how the bs critics will view it," she writes.

The "critics" Mullin was no doubt worrying about were at 7 Action News.  Our reporters are mentioned throughout the county's e-mails. 

Mullin says "the most logical argument is that (Elder) has absorbed more roles and responsibilities…" and that the county will actually be saving money by paying him more."

It's not clear from the e-mail if Elder's title would change, or what new duties he would take on.

Within 48 hours of that email, 7 Action News exposed the $200,000 in severance that Mullin walked away with when she voluntarily resigned , and that sent county officials scrambling to justify her golden parachute.

They crafted a harshly written statement that insinuated Mullin was being targeted because of her sex and race. 

"We are disturbed by WXYZ employee Ross Jones's continued pattern of attacking Ms. Mullin, an Arab-American female and decorated army veteran," wrote spokesman Lynn Ingram, who has since left the county.

Jones learned of Mullin's severance in September. 

Mullin instructed Ingram to "take out the arab part and leave in the woman bias."  He did.

The e-mails also show that  Mullin had a hand in helping to write that infamous undated letter that laid out her severance , finalized just one day before she resigned from the county.

In an e-mail on September 1, 2011, Elder sends Mullin a draft of her severance letter.  Mullin wrote back, instructing Elder to make changes.  She says, "…state because the county would not agree to an 18 month severance similar to what your predecessor received… this could be the consideration for me agreeing to sign on…"

The next day on September 2, Elder forwards Mullin the final letter, signed by Ficano.  It includes Mullin's suggested changes about the severance.

Other emails we obtained show county officials were in damage control mode following WXYZ's September 27th report.

One email from Elder urged his co-workers not to panic, saying "this will pass."

Ficano chimed in next and wasn't as confident. He worried that "with the negative stories (from) the last 6 months our image is being shaped by the pounding."

Ficano directed his deputy to "keep helping Turkia for now."

It seems the fallout from Mullin's payout put the brakes on Elder's big raise, too.  He never got that $150,000 bump in pay, and almost a month later he ended up resigning from Wayne County.

The most interesting parts of these e-mails may be what's not included in them.  Blocks of text were redacted by the county.  Officials say they're allowed to keep "frank discussion" under wraps, and aren't required to disclose it.

As for the plan to double Elder's salary, a Ficano spokeswoman says it was never seriously considered. 

Mullin's attorney Ray Sterling said the e-mails prove "that she had a longstanding agreement that the county would pay her $200,000 compensation if she left on good terms..."

Elder's attorney Thomas Warnicke declined commenting until he could see the county's e-mails. 

If you have a tip for the 7 Action News Investigators, contact us at tips@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9252.

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