Exclusive: State privately pressured Detroit City Council to fire top attorney Crittendon

Just a month ago, Detroit City Council members hailed the city’s top attorney, Krystal Crittendon, as a hero who courageously defended the city against a state takeover.

Then on Tuesday, a majority of the council voted to fire Crittendon – to her surprise – without cause on the recommendation of Mayor Dave Bing.

So what happened between then and now?

State officials, including Treasurer Andy Dillon, have been meeting privately with council members – possibly in violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act – to forge a massive budget-cutting plan, two council members told the Motor City Muckraker on condition of anonymity. The hope, they said, is to avoid the politically explosive appointment of an emergency manager.

During those meetings, the state threatened to appoint an emergency manager unless council members met certain conditions, including the removal of Crittendon. The state and mayor viewed Crittendon as an impediment to correcting the city’s budget because of her opposition to a consent agreement, the step before the appointment of an emergency manager.

At risk of losing their authority and salaries, council members buckled under pressure, as they have in the past.

The three council members who opposed the firing of Crittendon – JoAnn Watson, Brenda Jones and Kwame Kenyatta – expressed outrage over the termination.

“It’s a disgrace to this city,” Jones said.

Added Councilman Kwame Kenyatta: “It’s clear that leadership is out of control. Maybe it’s time for bankruptcy.”

Council President Charles Pugh insisted Crittendon was fired only out of respect for the mayor’s right to appoint a new corporation counsel – a reversal of his position in the autumn, when he said Crittendon should not be penalized for defending the law.

Crittendon responded Tuesday with shock, saying she was pushed out of the city by state officials who manipulated the city council.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.