The daughter of Wayne County Executive Warren Evans has collected more than $130,000 in payments from her father’s campaign, according to recently released campaign finance records.
Evans is essentially assured re-election, facing no opposition in the Aug. 7 primary and one of two unknown Republican candidates in the November general election.
Evans' daughter, Nikki Studstill, is the campaign’s finance and political director.
Hiring a relative for your campaign isn’t illegal, but for Evans, it represents the latest example of a family member or loved one benefiting during his time in public office.
While he worked in the prosecutor’s office, Evans made the news when a company he owned with his brother Blair, Evans Solutions, 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.
In 2017, 7 Action News exposed how Evans’ wife was the only person interviewed for a $70,000 a year county job in the Wayne County Treasurer’s office, despite no previous government experience or even a college degree. She was in line for a promotion but, once our story aired, she quickly resigned.
The same year, a Grand Rapids construction company where Evans other brother Matthew heads their Detroit office was selected to renovate a longtime county building after county officials sold it.
“It appears that it pays very well to be a relative of Warren Evans,” said Brendan Dunleavy, a former Wayne County auditor general.
“What type of messages does that send to county employees and what type of message does it send to other politicians?” Dunleavy asked. “That this self-dealing is okay.”
Campaign finance records show steady monthly payments to Studstill's company, Studstill Signature, as high as $9,950. Studstill's company was founded in 2015, the same year her father took office.
Searchable campaign records for the county and state show no other campaign compensating Studstill as an employee.
“Just as a rule, I stay away from the friends and family deals,” said Commissioner Diane Webb (D-Livonia), who said hiring relatives in a campaign erodes faith in government.
What makes Evans’ big spending campaign so surprising is his opponent: for this month’s primary, he doesn’t have one. Evans is the only candidate—meaning he’ll be on the ballot in November.
It’s unclear who he’ll face in the November general election, but re-election is virtually guaranteed in heavily Democratic Wayne County, where they’ve never elected a Republican executive. Evans is running against two Republican opponents who haven’t reported raising any funds.
“Would you ever pay someone more than $100,000 for a race where you’re essentially assured victory?” Jones asked Webb.
“No, I wouldn’t,” she said. “That’s crazy in my mind. Why would you? Why do you need to?”
Jeanette Plummer works for Warren Evans too—not on his campaign, but in his Department of Public Services. After more than 30 years with the county, she says she doesn’t even make enough to buy a used car. She’ll make about $35,000 this year, about what Evans’ daughter collected since April.
“That’s called the family and friends plan,” Plummer said. “If you’re his family, within the last four years, your income has increased.”
In a statement, Evans defended hiring his daughter:
In 2014 Nikki Studstill (who is my daughter) led my successful election campaign. In 2016 she signed on again as my Finance and Political Director for my re-election campaign. We remain fully transparent about her roles. I am fortunate to have a daughter who has been able to devote her time and skills over the last two years to support and maintain the political/campaign responsibilities that come along with running and holding elected office. I have the utmost respect for what she does and I’m confident in her abilities. She remains the best person for the job based on history and her pay is commensurate with her performance. 2017/2018 Compensation is reflective of the two roles she has been providing my campaign.
Nikki Studstill declined an on-camera interview, but said in a text message:
In 2014, I was asked to join my father’s campaign staff. My efforts were successful and with the help of the electorate, brought forth a leader this region needed to turn Wayne County around.
I’ve been involved in his campaign since and handle the political functions that are necessary to someone holding public office. As the only contracted resource for the campaign, I handle day to day operations, administrative functions and more.
I am fairly compensated for my role(s).
While it’s not illegal to bar family members for your campaign, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson both say they never have. Evans’ predecessor, Bob Ficano, said he didn’t do it either.
Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (248) 827-9466.