DETROIT (WXYZ) — One day after a 7 Action News investigation revealed a nepotism scheme orchestrated by the CEO of the state’s largest mental health network, the agency’s board voted not to renew the CEO’s contract when it expires in two weeks.
By a vote of 8-2, board members expressed no confidence in CEO Willie Brooks after 7 Action News revealed that he concealed that his daughter married an attorney hired by the Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network, or DWIHN, after Brooks suggested he apply for the job that he ultimately received.
Sean Riopelle was hired as legal counsel in 2019 and paid a salary of $103,000. Within months of his hiring, Riopelle became a problem employee, according to internal records.
An investigation showed Brooks intervened in his son-in-law’s disciplinary hearing, elevated him to a larger position with the legal department and was untruthful with the board after 7 Action News revealed their relationship.
The vote came as outrage swelled among mental health and substance abuse agencies as well as former agency board members and mental health advocates.
“Under no circumstances, in my opinion, should the CEO remain with the agency,” said Constance Rowley, who served 20 years on the DWIHN board until 2018, who urged board members before today's meeting to cut dies with the CEO.
Brooks, who receives $265,000 per year in salary plus a bonus of up to $60,000 per year, did not speak before today’s vote was taken.
He has served as CEO of the Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network since 2018. In April 2019, his daughter married Sean Riopelle at a ceremony held at Brooks’ home.
Two months after the two were wed, Brooks told Riopelle about an opening in the health network’s legal department, according to an internal investigation prompted by 7 Action News’ questions.
Riopelle ultimately landed an interview that summer and, during his second interview, met with Brooks. Neither man let on that they were well acquainted.
He was hired the following month as legal counsel for the DWIHN and paid $103,199 a year, but his relationship with the CEO remained secret.
Within Riopelle’s first few months on the job, his supervisor—deputy general counsel Callana Ollie—documented numerous performance issues related to his work.
According to an internal DWIHN memo, the problems included “failure to meet deadlines, refusal to accept complex assignments and failure to complete work in an acceptable manner.”
Riopelle’s problems continued to escalate and by July of last year, he was called to a meeting with both his supervisor and the director of human resources. Potential remedies, according to Ollie, ranged from putting Riopelle on a performance improvement plan to termination.
But any talk of discipline was quickly scuttled, when Brooks himself attended the meeting, surprising everyone in attendance. Riopelle avoided any discipline.
“(The) presence of Mr. Brooks diverted the discussion,” according to an internal memo written by compliance officer Bernard Hooper. “Ms. Ollie asserts that Mr. Brooks participation was an act of intimidation and that she did not understand the reason for Mr. Brooks’ interest in Mr. Riopelle’s employment matter.”
Brooks also attempted to advance Riopelle’s career, according to Hooper’s investigation, asking Ollie during a meeting whether she felt Riopelle was prepared to take her job should she advance to the position of general counsel.
Ollie insisted he was not performing well in his current position, Hooper wrote.
Still, when Ollie separated from the DWIHN in November, records show Brooks “elevated” his son-in-law to interim deputy general counsel anyway, though an official promotion was not processed through human resources.
One week after 7 Action News confirmed Riopelle and Brooks were related, Riopelle resigned from DWIHM.