Can you say "ethics"? 

The last time we heard from attorney George Ward, a group of taxpayers he represented was raising hell about the sale of state property out at the Michigan State Fairgrounds. Irate that middlemen were about to reap an $11 million profit on a deal involving Detroit Public Schools, the taxpayers called upon Ward last year to represent them pro bono in a lawsuit that attempted to block the deal, which has since been scuttled.

That same group of taxpayers is now trying to clean up county government, and they’re again relying on Ward to champion their cause.

“As residents and taxpayers of Wayne County, we are very concerned about the growing evidence that county contracts were awarded without competitive bids, on rigged bids, without approval of the county’s legislative body, and without proper administrative oversight, and that millions of dollars of public funds were wasted by county officials,” they wrote in a letter sent last week to the County Commission.

Their solution is a proposed amendment to the county charter severely curtailing campaign contributions from people doing business with the county.

“We believe it way past time for a strong ethics provision for the safeguarding of public funds …” stated the letter.

Although the proposal has several features, a key provision limits those doing business with the county and their immediate family members to a combined maximum of $500 per year in contributions to a particular officeholder, candidate or candidate committee.

As it stands now, the maximum contribution is $3,400 per four-year election cycle. Add in cash from a contributor’s spouse, children, parents, etc., and the amount one individual can funnel into a particular campaign is almost “unlimited,” says Ward.

“We’re not saying people can’t give the maximum allowed under state law,” he explains. “What we're saying is that, if you decide to give beyond an amount that we consider excessive, you can’t do business with the county. Our intent here is to eliminate a species of bribery at the county level by deterring inbreeding between contractors and officeholders. What’s been going on here isn’t healthy.”

Ward was the No. 2 man in the county prosecutor’s office before taking on big Ed McNamara’s political machine in a failed attempt to become prosecutor. He hopes the county commissioners will simply decide to put the measure on the ballot. If they don’t, supporters will face the challenge of collecting an estimated 50,000 signatures to place the issue before voters.

If said voters have any doubt as to the need for such a measure, they need look only at the ongoing scandal involving contracts at the county-run Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Which brings us to our next item

Curt Guyette is Metro Times news editor. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or cguyette@metrotimes.com

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