Out of commission

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After deciding not to renew former Wayne County auditor-general Brendan Dunleavy’s contract last month, an ad hoc committee recommended his replacement to commission chair Jewel Ware last Wednesday. Ware makes the final decision on the recommendation, but had not done so by press time Monday.

Last week the committee chose Willie Mayo over Dunleavy (who re-interviewed for his position after being removed in September) and April Royster (the current internal audit chief for Detroit Public Schools). Dunleavy was removed after his contract expired, but the issue of his ouster was never placed on the commission’s agenda for discussion. Interestingly, the commission’s Audit Committee failed three times to reach a quorum leading up to his contract’s expiration date. When it expired by default, Ware decided to put together the ad hoc committee instead of renewing it.

It’s unclear how many commissioners knew about Mayo prior to his interview. Commissioner Kay Beard, a Dunleavy supporter who sat on the ad hoc committee, said she knew nothing about him. What the committee did learn pleased some, and raised eyebrows on others. Admittedly, it left us asking, why him?

“I was amazed that the gentleman [Mayo] hadn’t looked at the county charter to even see the duties or responsibilities” of the auditor-general, Beard said.

During the interview Beard questioned Mayo about his knowledge of changes made to the charter in 1996. He admitted he hadn’t read it, but instead reviewed the county’s Web site to learn about its audit department.

“The charter has about two paragraphs on the auditor-general,” Commissioner Bernard Parker said in response to Beard’s concern. Parker chaired the ad hoc committee and supports Mayo’s recommendation. Mayo’s lack of knowledge about the charter doesn’t concern him, he said.

Beard is also concerned that Mayo owns a Southfield-based accounting firm that has performed audits for almost 300 of the Wayne County Mental Health Board’s group homes. Though his company isn’t currently doing business with the county, Mayo said he would have the deputy auditor-general conduct future audits if Willie Mayo & Co., P.C., is involved.

That didn’t exactly appease Beard. She told News Hits that the conflict of interest is crystal clear, as in “clearly inappropriate.”

Mayo, reached at his office, declined to comment.

Parker says Dunleavy’s contract was not renewed because, after seven years, it was time to see what other candidates were out there. But he may have other reasons to support his removal.

Dunleavy was the proverbial house tattletale. Depending on who’s talking, he was a champion for internal accountability or a thorn in officials’ sides. His past audits included an investigation of cost overruns at Metro Airport that led to the prosecution of Wilbourne Kelley III, deputy chief operating officer for the McNamara administration, and his wife Barbara.

The former AG was working on two more important audits when his contract ended. One was of Wayne County’s Juvenile Assessment Center, which is part of the Wayne County Child and Family Services department. The inspection could involve Operation: Get Down, the East Side Detroit outreach organization co-founded by Parker, and run by his wife, Sandra Bomar. The center receives funding from Family Services.

The other is a forensic examination of County Executive Robert Ficano’s finance director, Bella Marshall. Forensic audits require accountants who have expertise in detecting fraudulent practices, and are specifically undertaken when fiscal wrongdoing is suspected. The Ernst & Young firm was hired to conduct the exam.

Mayo, who joked during his interview about money the county still owes him, seems less intent on tattling. His emphasis on conducting independent audits was softer than Dunleavy and Royster, who stressed that auditors “should be seen as a resource on how to make operations more efficient.”

Of Mayo, Parker says, “He recognizes that he has to work with the county to solve problems, versus some others’ approach of going in to find things wrong. I happen to think that’s the proper way to approach it.”

Sounds like cozy auditing to us.

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