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Wreck dreck 

Barbara-Rose Collins and some of her colleagues on the Detroit City Council are raising an ethical red flag regarding the Board of Wrecking examiners. And News Hits is paying heed, at least in part because Collins, who was once investigated for allegedly misusing public funds while a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (the inquiry was dropped after she was voted out of Congress), should know an ethics violation when she sees one.

The seven-member board, which advises the Department of Buildings and Safety Engineering, is composed of two employees from that department, two Detroit residents, two licensed wrecking contractors, and a registered professional engineer. Wrecking Board members are appointed by the mayor.

Under current guidelines, contractors serving on the board are eligible to pick up demolition work from the city. Concerns arose last year when some contractors complained that board members were getting an unusually large percentage of jobs.

On Feb. 23, the council discussed an ordinance that would prohibit contractors who serve on this board from accepting demolition contracts.

Opinions were mixed, but Collins and fellow ethical expert Alonzo Bates were sure where they stand: Serving on a board that deals with demolition issues while getting paid by the city to demolish buildings should be a no-no. “That leads to cronyism and camaraderie,” said Councilmember Bates.

And here we thought camaraderie was a good thing.

Bates is currently under investigation by the feds for allegedly paying a staffer $30 an hour while she was in grad school in another state.

In 2004, according to Kevin Cavanaugh of the Law Department, the city’s Board of Ethics issued an opinion that serving on the board and accepting contracts didn’t constitute an ethics violation.

“I don’t subscribe to the Board of Ethics,” said Collins. “They seem to be blind to so much going on in this city anyway.”

Councilmember (and mayoral hopeful) Sharon McPhail isn’t buying the Board of Ethics’ decision either.

“I don’t think lawyers making money off the city should be on the Board of Ethics,” McPhail says. “It doesn’t mean the makeup of the board is wrong, it just doesn’t look good.”

Three members of the seven-member Board of Ethics are appointed by the mayor, three by the City Council and one is a joint appointee of both.

Cavanaugh warned that an ordinance like the one being discussed by council would reduce the number of qualified experts willing to serve on boards citywide.

“It’s a slippery slope,” says Councilmember Sheila Cockrel, one that could affect the city’s whole array of advisory committees. “I share some of the concerns, but that’s not a concern that begins or ends on the wrecking board.”

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October 14, 2020

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