This time it's Bob Ficano's blood in the water
Published: October 19, 2011
For weeks now, there's been the smell of blood in the waters surrounding Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, and the media sharks have been dutifully circling, churning up one incriminating story after another.
The ongoing scandal resulted in Ficano doing a little bloodletting of his own on Friday, when he suspended two high-ranking members of his administration for one month without pay and canceled a six-figure contract with a third person neck-deep in the scandal.
Big Bob has to be hoping at this point that the furor will die down now that some punishment has been meted out to those he says were responsible for the $200,000 "severance" handed Turkia Mullin a few months back when she left her job as Wayne County's economic development director to become CEO of the Wayne County Airport Authority.
What remains to be seen is whether the actions announced by Ficano at a news conference Friday, along with Mullin's promise to return the money, will prompt the area's reporters to swim off in search of new prey.
Our guess is that there's been enough dishonesty, evasiveness and shady dealing exposed in recent weeks to convince anyone with even half a nose for news that more scandal could well be found lurking not far from the surface of this administration.
These troubled waters are new territory for a county administration that, until now, hasn't been subjected to much media scrutiny. For most of his time at the helm of Wayne County, the former sheriff benefited from the fact that so much media attention has been aimed at the felonious former mayor of Detroit, Kwame Kilpatrick.
But that started to change on Sept. 27, when Channel 7's Heather Catallo (working in conjunction with her investigative producer Ross Jones) first broke the news that Mullin received a $200,000 going-away gift when she voluntarily gave up her job with the county to go run the airport authority.
The following day, Wayne County commissioners began calling for an investigation. Two days later, Detroit's daily papers and other area media were all over the story. (As far as we can tell, though, neither the Detroit News nor the Free Press had the good graces to credit WXYZ for landing this blockbuster of a scoop.)
From that point on, things have gotten increasingly bizarre.
On Sept. 29, Ficano, on radio station WJR, claimed that the payout was a "standard-type contract." Mullin — who, as it turns out, also received an additional $24,000 in compensation for unused sick leave and vacation time — also claimed that the $200,000 "severance" payment was guaranteed in a contract.
Since then, we've learned that there was never any legitimate contract. Instead, the Ficano administration served up a seven-sentence undated letter that was initially purported to be a contract. It was printed on discontinued stationery that is now no longer in use, but was in use in 2008 when Mullin took the development job.
But Ficano, according to published reports, subsequently said he had signed the letter just last month — on Sept. 2.
WXYZ has reported that the FBI is looking into the matter, which is a good thing. With a contract that never was, and a letter that appears to have been deliberately designed to deceive (why else would it have been placed on outdated stationery?) this has all the appearances of being not just inept bungling on the part of Ficano and Co. but outright chicanery.
Once the severance story broke, other revelations quickly began to surface.
One story that grabbed our attention was last week's piece by the Freep's John Wisely, who reported on the contents of a sworn deposition provided by former Wayne County Human Resources Director Timothy Taylor. Taylor, who (as we reported on metrotimes.com last week) retired in April but was almost immediately rehired as an independent contractor at an annual salary of more than $117,000, signed off on a separate severance deal Sept. 3, granting Mullin an extra $24,567 payout for unused sick and vacation time.
As in indicator of just how cozy (and lucrative) things can be for higher-ups on the Wayne County payroll, Taylor, along with collecting a pension of more than $8,838 a month plus the six figures he was earning annually as a contractor with the county, also signed a contract with the airport authority that was worth as much as $10,000.
Or maybe he didn't sign a contract with the airport.
A particularly interesting thing about Wisely's story was the way those involved in Taylor's airport deal tripped all over themselves trying to explain exactly what was going on.
Taylor, according to the article, testified in a sworn deposition that he began working for the airport toward the end of August, and had put in about 21 hours worth of work, but had not yet submitted a bill.
On Tuesday, Oct. 11, according to Wisely's story, airport spokesman Timothy Johnson confirmed that Taylor had a contract to work on labor relations issues for the airport. Hours later, the airport released a statement from Mullin saying Taylor's services as an independent contractor began in mid-August, but that his work for the airport "has since concluded."
Late that same day, spokesman Scott Wintner, according to Wisely, "said Taylor never did any work for the airport authority, never billed the airport and never got paid."
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