Ficano campaign chief pressures county employees to politick, calls it "necessary and expected"

DETROIT (WXYZ) - There have long been allegations that Robert Ficano and his political machine pressured appointees to work on his campaign – and the 7 Action Investigators have obtained new documents that show high-level officials putting the hard sell on at-will employees.

In this latest lawsuit against Wayne County’s embattled CEO – former Ficano communications appointee James Wallace says he was let go from the county after he resisted working on Ficano’s political campaigns on county time.

Now the 7 Action News Investigators have obtained emails that show just how much pressure was allegedly being put on appointees like Wallace to donate time and resources to Team Ficano in the run-up to the 2010 election.

According to Wallace’s lawyer, this is an email from Wayne County Deputy Director of Public Services Terry Spryszak.  He was also the campaign manager for Robert Ficano’s re-election.

The email addressed to Wallace from October of 2010 lists activities such as phone banks and canvassing.  Then in bold it states:  “Your participation is necessary and expected.”

Wallace’s attorney Deborah Gordon says it’s illegal to require public employees to participate in the campaigns of elected officials as a condition of employment.  She says an email from Assistant County Executive Alan Helmkamp also highlights the focus that the Ficano administration had on making sure appointees worked on the re-election effort.

Gordon says Wallace felt pressured at the time to use his graphic artist skills on four pieces about Ficano’s opponent.  The email from Helmkamp says, “As we discussed yesterday the importance of keeping track of the participation of our appointees in this political cycle, I wanted to give a special commendation to James Wallace.”

In his whistleblower lawsuit, Wallace alleges he was also forced to do campaign work on county time – which is also against the law.

“That’s not what the taxpayers want done with their tax buck.  They want the county to be operated run… It’s absurd to think that taxpayer money goes to this,” said Gordon.

Now there’s also an email from Robert Ficano himself coming to light.  It’s addressed to Wallace and says, quote, “Given that County Offices will be closed on Election Day, I trust that you will all be able to volunteer to help that day.  If you do not commit as a van driver on Election Day, you will be assigned to cover a Detroit polling location. “

“The employees who are more susceptible to pressure to participate and make contributions are those who are at will appointees,” said campaign finance expert Rich Robinson.

Wallace alleges he lost his job because he refused to break campaign finance laws.

Ficano has been saying Wallace was one of 13 at-will employees who were laid off in January as part of budget cutback. 

“We have continuously been downsizing, this individual is 1 of 13 that was laid off.   And it’s unfortunate because he was never pressured to do anything politically, if they did anything they did it voluntarily,” Ficano said on WJR.

“He lost his livelihood because he pushed back and said no this isn’t right, I shouldn’t’ be doing this,” said Gordon.

Today, James Wallace released this statement about some of Ficano’s comments:

“With regard to Mr. Ficano's statement that my ‘lawsuit is an attempt to enrich himself  by capitalizing on the current, enflamed environment,’ I would point out that the reverse is true: Mr. Ficano has for years enriched himself and his friends by capitalizing on his position with Wayne County - at the taxpayer’s expense.  My firing was clearly not an attempt to reduce the budget for Wayne County taxpayers. I stand by all the statements in my lawsuit.”

Deborah Gordon also released this statement today: “Mr. Ficano has stated that by filing this lawsuit my client is improperly attempting to enrich himself at the taxpayer’s expense.  This is just false.  I look forward to discussing with Mr. Ficano, at his deposition under oath, the evidence he has to support his statements. I note that the cost to defend this litigation, and any money judgment that results from it, will be paid for by the taxpayers, who are once again stuck with the costs of this administration's folly.”

As for the campaign email, late on Tuesday, Terry Spryszak released this statement:

“In 2010, I sent this e-mail to a list of supporters who had a history of volunteering for the campaign on my own time. I did not seek Mr. Ficano's approval or make him aware of the content of the email before I sent it out.  As is common in campaign correspondence, I used urgent language in an effort to convince people to volunteer.

Here is the full text of the email from Spryszak from October 18, 2010:

Dear James

The CEO needs you over the next two weeks.

Thanks to all of the

hard work Team Ficano put in very early this year, we have all been able to enjoy an unusually quiet campaign year thus far. However, over the last few weeks, there have been some disturbing and uncomfortable trends that must be taken seriously.  Democratic voter apathy and fatigue coupled with the strongest anti-incumbency trend since 1994, and the surprising strength of Tea Party activists and candidates in Western Wayne County mean there is nothing that should be taken for granted - even for candidates like Robert Ficano and John Dingell.

The CEO is committed to working hard over these next two weeks to assure that the unthinkable does not happen and he needs your commitment and efforts too.

Team Ficano is ramping up our campaign efforts and we will be operating phone banks, walking precincts and participating in a very large Get Out The Vote operation on election day.  

All of our efforts over the next two weeks will be specifically focused on promoting the CEO and educating voters on the bizarre and literally criminal background of our Republican opponent.

Your participation is necessary and expected.

In the right hand column are activities that we need your participation.  Please commit as soon as possible by e-mailing me specific dates that you will be helping.  Please also remember, Wayne County Office are closed on Election Day, Tuesday, November 2.  It is expected that you will put in a full day working to get the CEO reelected that day.

Here is the full text of the email from Ficano from October 22, 2010:

Dear James

I need your help

With only 11 days to go before election day, I am asking all of you to please volunteer some extra effort to help out in our campaign.  We have phone banks up and running in the Buhl Building office from 5pm - 8pm every Monday thru Friday until November 1st, and we also have walks planned for the next couple of weekends.  In addition to the activities leading up to election day, I have also committed to playing a major role in the election day get out the vote activities that are taking place throughout the County.

Specifically, I am asking you to either work a poll in Detroit on election day or serve as a van driver for a large out-county flushing operation. 

You should have already received some emails from Terry Spryszak detailing the needs that we have and I encourage you to commit to helping out as soon as possible.  Terry can be contacted at and I'm sure you'll also be hearing more from him over the next 11 days.

Given that County Offices will be closed on election day, I trust that you will all be able to volunteer to help that day.  If you do not commit as a van driver on election day, you will be assigned to cover a Detroit polling location. 

I appreciate all that you do for me and the citizens of Wayne County and I look forward to celebrating a great victory with you on November 2nd.

Regards,

Robert A. Ficano

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