Burning questions

If there had been an effigy of Detroit Deputy Mayor Anthony Adams handy at the Coleman A. Young Building last Wednesday, chances are City Council members would have burned it.

Adams was a repeated topic of discussion as council members reviewed a new analysis of the master concessionaire agreement made between the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority and the Ambassador Port Company (APC), one of the companies owned by local transport baron Manuel "Matty" Moroun. As we reported earlier ("Port In a Storm," MT, April 26), the agreement named Moroun's company the sole manager (or "concessionaire," in lawyer-speak) of the city's ports and threw in a host of deal sweeteners, including minimal city oversight of its operations and tax-exempt status for its properties. It also allowed APC to extend the same advantages to its sister companies, which could be a boon for Moroun's Detroit International Bridge Company in its efforts to build a new span adjacent to its Ambassador Bridge.

Adams, who signed the agreement, was a main negotiator of the deal. He and mayoral appointee Lucius Vassar, the city's chief administrative officer, were supposed to sit down with the council to discuss the deal's ramifications two weeks ago, but the two men postponed the meeting. At the rescheduled date the following Monday, they didn't show up, giving the council no word as to why.

Neither Adams nor anyone else in the Kilpatrick administration returned repeated calls seeking comment.

If council members had been wary of the deal before, they were enraged after reading a new analysis commissioned by the Gateway Communities Development Collaborative and conducted by Justin Boose, a New York-based lawyer from the firm King & Spaulding.

We don't want to warp readers' brains with too much legalese, but a passage near the end of Boose's analysis should suffice:

"A careful analysis of [the agreement's] terms reveals a fairly one-sided agreement whereby the Concessionaire benefits from various tax exemptions and funding sources available to the Authority as a public entity, while at the same time retaining the majority of the revenues from operating the Facility. The Concessionaire has loosely-bounded discretion with respect to the development and operation of the Facility, and is permitted to use it as a tool for incorporating and developing its other properties and businesses within the scope of the concession despite any conflicts of interest that may exist."

Even Councilmember Sheila Cockrel, who had supported the agreement earlier, expressed reservations after reading Boose's report.

"I relied on the Law Department's analysis of the original deal" in approving the assignment agreement in May 2005, she said. "Looking at this new analysis, there's some very, very serious issues raised."

Certain other council members were less, shall we say, measured with their responses.

"We have been the victims of a diabolical plot," said Councilmember Barbara-Rose Collins. "We should be ready to go to court and file charges against people who have ulterior motives" in negotiating the port agreement. She then took a handful of papers, which we think were port-related, ripped them in half and threw them over her shoulder.

Cooler heads prevailed, however. Councilmember Kwame Kenyatta argued against flying off the legal handle until the city's Research and Analysis Division and Legal Department study the consequences any legal action may have. But one way of revoking the agreement, he said, may be in questioning whether it was even binding.

"Does the deputy mayor, a non-elected official, have the authority to sign a document that binds the city without a thorough analysis by the Law Department or council approval?" he asked.

The research and law departments promised to have an answer this week.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]
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