DETROIT (WXYZ) — Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said his chief of staff had the "best of intentions" when she twice ordered suborindates to delete e-mails about a prenatal program embroiled in controversy.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Duggan pushed back against the city's Office of Inspector General report that found the mayor gave preferential treatment to a program, Make Your Date, founded by a woman with whom he had a relationship.
In the press conference, Duggan said "there was nothing to cover-up," and also said that Alexis Wiley, his chief of staff, and two other employees involved in the deletion of emails would receive training on record retention policy. According to Duggan, there will be no further discipline.
Duggan orders that Alexis Wiley and two other employees involved in the deletion of emails receive training on record retention policy.— Ross Jones (@rossjonesWXYZ) October 22, 2019
There will be no further discipline.
The report was released on Monday morning after a months-long investigation by the OIG into questions involving the Make Your Date (MYD) program, run in conjunction with Wayne State University, and its connection to support from the city of Detroit. The investigation started in April and according to the OIG, the office reviewed more than 400,000 pages of documents, interviewed about a dozen people and researched best practices.
According to the report, the most "egregious" conduct was that Alexis Wiley ordered certain Office of Development and Grants employees to delete emails relating to MYD.
"Ms. Wiley abused her authority by ordering ODG staff to delete emails related to MYD," the report states.
The report said those emails pertained to Make Your Date, and that Chief Development Officer Ryan Friedrichs and Deputy Chief Development Officer Sirene Abou-Chakra issued the directive to subordinates.
"The deletion of emails only serves to undermine the public’s trust in an open and transparent government. Therefore, the OIG finds such conduct as abuse of authority," the report states.
In an interview today, Duggan pushed back on the Inspector General's findings.
"They were trying to keep two junior staff people from being dragged into the media circus," Duggan said today by phone. He said that Wiley's intentions were good, it "made something look wrong when there was nothing to hide."
According to the OIG, Duggan didn't violate city policies, procedures or laws by giving preferential treatment to MYD, and it wasn't an abuse of power, but "such treatment was not best practice or good governance."
The report said that the city choosing to partner with MYD was done in a manner that "lacked fairness, openness and transparency," and that "ODG staff successfully assisted MYD in raising grant funds, in direct contradiction to the initial public statements made by the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, Alexis Wiley."
Wiley said "[n]o city funds were ever provided to Make Your Date nonprofit and no private money was ever raised for it," according to the report, but the OIG found that the statements were largely false and ODG staff worked with both WSU and MYD on fundraising efforts.
Duggan said most Detroit residents would applaud his efforts to combat infant mortality.
"What we did was take a critical problem in the deaths of babies in this community and partner with the finest research institution in America in a very effective way," Duggan said. "I totally dispute that that was preferential treatment. In my mind, we partnered with the best and got a good result."
The OIG's report also said that both Friedrichs and Abou-Chakra abused their authority. Friedrichs did so by "being complicity" in relaying the order from Wiley to delete emails, and Abou-Chakra by "reiterating the same order."
Both Duggan and Wiley also used their personal emails to conduct city business, according to the report.
"The OIG finds this practice extremely problematic. All City of Detroit public servants, including elected officials, are given a City email address. This is what should be used to conduct City business. When any public servant uses a personal email account to conduct City business, anyone seeking information from that account is at the mercy of that individual to produce the emails on their own. This is in contrast to City email which can be accessed by to recover the emails with or without the public servant’s knowledge," the report said.
In a response, the lawyer representing all four sent a letter to the OIG that said, in part:
"This letter serves as the joint response, on behalf of Mayor Duggan, Alexis Wiley, Ryan Friedrichs, and Sirene Abou-Chakra, to the OIG’s draft findings in case number 19-0013 INV. The draft report concludes, among other things, that (1) the Mayor provided “preferential treatment” to Make Your Date; (2) the City failed to follow its procurement processes with respect to Make Your Date; (3) Ms. Wiley made misleading statements to the media; and (4) Ms. Wiley, Mr. Friedrichs, and Ms. Abou-Chakra “abused their authority” in relation to a directive given to junior staff members to delete emails. For the reasons outlined below, we respectfully request that all of those draft findings be revised and reversed. The draft findings are not supported by facts or applicable legal standards. The draft findings, moreover, threaten to impose severe, unwarranted damage to the reputation of several public servants—and further threaten to stymie effective governance in the City of Detroit."