Memo: Mayor Duggan may have broken state law with suspicious appointments

The Hotel Park Avenue (left) stands at the footprint new Red Wings arena in Detroit.
The Hotel Park Avenue (left) stands at the footprint of the new Red Wings arena in Detroit. Photo by Steve Neavling/MCM.

Mayor Mike Duggan may have violated state law when he recently appointed two members to a historic commission in an attempt to get approval for the controversial demolition of a 91-year-old hotel at the foot of the new Red Wings arena.

Mayor Duggan
Mayor Duggan

A city council memo circulated today pointed out possible violations of the Michigan Local Historic District Act after Motor City Muckraker revealed last week that Duggan was trying to replace preservationists with people who would approve razing the Hotel Park Avenue.

The council also responded today by refusing to vote on Duggan’s second appointee to the Detroit Historic Commission, Dennis Miriani.

State law requires the appointees to have “a clearly demonstrated interest in or knowledge of historic preservation.” Two appointees also must come from a list of recommendations from preservation groups to prevent politicians from installing pro-development interests.

“Representatives of Preservation Detroit, along with its statewide counterpart, the Michigan Historic Preservation Network, have indicated in conversations with our staff that they have not, during the tenure of any of the current members of the commission, provided such a list as required by the state act,” the memo from the council’s Legislative Policy Division reads.

Duggan raised eyebrows recently when he replaced an award-winning preservationist and long-time member of the Historic District Commission, Julie Long, with a former water employee and campaign supporter, Kenneth Sanders.

Long said she had another year left on her term but the city lost records to prove she was sworn in for a third term.

When we visited Sanders at his home last week, he struggled to explain his interest in historic preservation.

“I told the mayor I wanted something to do so I wasn’t playing golf all day,” Sanders said.

Mayor Duggan’s office released this statement today:

The City has been doing a detailed review of the history of appointments to the Detroit Historic District Commission Board (HDC) since an issue of qualifications was raised yesterday by Detroit City Council’s Legislative Policy Division.

Historic District Board Chairman Devan Anderson is a registered architect with experience in historic preservation who has served under two previous Mayors and confirmed by City Council. He was reappointed in July, 2014 by Mayor Duggan and reconfirmed by City Council.

Section 25-2-51 of the City Code provides that two members of the Board be selected by the Mayor from lists submitted by duly organized historical preservation societies, including historic district associations. City records reflect that members of the Historic Boston Edison District Board made a written recommendation in 2012 of James Hamilton and that Mayor Bing made the appointment of Commissioner Hamilton following those written recommendations.

Our review of the records has not found evidence of any other written recommendations of Board Members by historic preservation organizations prior to appointments by previous Mayors or confirmation by City Council for the last several years.

In July, 2014, Mayor Duggan appointed Lauren Hood, a Board Member of Preservation Detroit, to the HDC Board. Preservation Detroit is a well-respected historical preservation group and Mayor Duggan appointed her because of her strong ties to the historic preservation community. Preservation Detroit did not submit a written list or recommendation prior to Ms. Hood’s appointment.

We have asked the law department to review whether Lauren Hood qualifies as the second board member representing preservation societies. If the law department determines that she does not fulfill the requirements because the City had not received a prior written recommendation from Preservation Detroit, Mayor Duggan will fill Mr. Cartwright’s vacant seat with an individual nominated in writing by an historic preservation society/historic district association.

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.

  • banmar

    You know where the city should look for those “lost” records? Yearly reorganization meetings where most members of any committee are appointed. The secretary to that board should have that info, in resolution and agenda form, to prove Long has time left on her term. Each item would need an Open Public Records Act/Sunshine Law request.

  • Rasheed

    Duggan is unlike any Mayor the city has had in a long time. He’s a political expert and while one can find “sketchy” behavior, it seems his moves which were endorsed by the City Council are legal. He has a right to stock the various boards and commissions he has appointment power to fill with people of his choosing with the advise and consent of City Council. That’s how it works in most functioning political environments. Detroit was a non-functioning political environment for years. I think you and others are just shocked that there’s competent change going on and a Mayor with a vision for his city, a visions that is politically driven.

    • Trexinmichigan

      Bullshit. Read again the article and the requirements to sit on the Preservation board. Golfing does not demonstrate knowledge in preservation. In fact, he probably has no earthly idea what the board actually does. But it’s all good with you.

  • Rasheed

    The Mayor DID NOT break the law…….

    In the last month, commissioner Dave Cartwright resigned from the body because he is moving out of the city, said Tom Lewand, Duggan’s economic development chief; commissioners are required to maintain Detroit residency throughout their terms. During a routine check of board appointments, Lewand said, officials learned that commissioner Julie Long’s term had expired in 2013.

    Long told reporters that she remembers being reappointed, but Lewand said there is no record of that. Because mayoral appointments to the board are confirmed by the City Council, Lewand said, a third appointment should have been reflected in the council’s meeting minutes. It’s not. So Duggan identified and appointed a replacement. Nevertheless, two other commissioners continue to serve even though their terms have also expired.

    Team Duggan says it’s just housekeeping.

    “From our standpoint, the mayor’s been here 15, 16 months, we’re going over all the appointments that have different rules, trying to get a handle on that as we do a million things at once to turn the city around,” Lewand said. “It’s natural to sort out this board like all the other ones.”

    Why not simply reappoint Long, who had continued to serve in good faith after her term had expired?

    “I suppose it would have been an option, but it’s certainly not something we ever considered,” Lewand said. “She had not indicated any interest in being reappointed … maybe because she thought she had been appointed. When we realized it was an opening, we ID’d the best available candidates.”

  • bimbobread

    What a travesty lol They should just accidently knock it down. We have plenty of decaying buildings in Detroit.

  • bebow

    Sanders was approved on what basis?

    • Bruce Channell

      His outstanding golf game!!

      • bebow

        Well, I knew it wasn’t on the basis of his outstanding repartee.

    • javierjuanmanuel

      But what has long done. Has she on her own dime, and own time fixed up a dozen homes and businesses? If she has not done this, what is her judgement based on? All these people love spending other peoples money, telling them how to do it, and then resent them for wanting to make money.

      The problem with these commissions are they are full of hateful socialist, anti business people with no real world experience.

      I would love to hear the long list of homes snd businesses she has fixed up, sold and supported herself snd her family by working on

      • muckraker_steve

        Members of the HDC are very respected, successful members of the community. Every municipality with historic districts in Michigan have them, and they are not filled with “hateful socialists” and “anti-business” people. In fact, two members of the board plan to recuse themselves from the vote because they have business conflicts of interest. At least one is an architect. Others own businesses and are involved in nonprofits.

        • javierjuanmanuel

          Well not all of them, not for all of history, I do not know every ones name, but I have read things they have said, and heard things video and some of it is wildly unrealistic.

          You can tell they are ivory tower people, not people who successfully did what they want others to do.

          If they were successful at doing what they want others to do, they would just take the reigns and do it themselves. That would be easier, and personally profitable for them.

        • DCFC

          What’s your beef with the mayor-you want to keep the dilapidated old building or develop something that will benefit the city?

          • Shaun Phillips

            You can develop the old buildings into something that benefits the city. They’re not mutually exclusive. To tear down the Park Avenue for a parking garage/loading dock is an absolute travesty.

          • javierjuanmanuel

            Of course you can, but it changes the cost structure for the business that would occupy the building.

            If you cannot fathom the difference on the bottom line of a company paying say 3 mill for a building, or paying 10 million for a building, even if averaged out over 30 years, the means its not doable unless its some multihundred million dollar or multi billion dollar business that can do it for good public will and image stuff.

            You cannot run a small real estate company, dry cleaners, web design, even high paid gigs like lawyers or engineers, you cannot pay triple or more for rent/mortgage.

            If the owner of the business was going to make 300k per year, he is now running the business for free, and any money he would have made is going into fixing up an old hulk that just a couple years ago no one cared about.

            Its not about benefiting the city, the city is not fixing it up, I had to benefit the bottom line of the would be owner.

            The city has to make it a better deal for the would be owner, or they just look elsewhere.

          • javierjuanmanuel

            I agree, the nice part of all these old buildings was the handmade suff on the inside, old metal castings, brass, gold, copper, hand laid player, old marble, old growth wood, hand turned wood, hand carned stuff, antique tiles etc.

            Once that is all wet, rotted, stolen, its just an old brick build with all the good stuff gone, its now just a old building full of lead, mold, asbestos etc. Its a disaster.

            If you are going to build practically an entire new building, you may as well save money, do it right, have a new foundation, new steel, meet new disability act requirements, new energy saving products, put in a sturdy new foundation etc. It just makes sense.

          • Shannon

            Decisions need to benefit the PEOPLE of the city. Too many are being swept under the rug as big $$ comes in.People living down on the streets of Detroit, or RESIDENTS, should have as much of a say regarding the future of Detroit and the decisions being made as those with fists full of cash descending from up on high. People (oh, I’m sorry..I mean big business) cannot do and change what-ever they want to just because they feel the power that access to big bucks can create. It’s sick. Yes, Detroit has needed help. Money alone doesn’t “fix” things.I am grateful that there are folks like Steve Neavling who bring crap to the forefront.

    • muckraker_steve

      That’s a great question. Blind faith in the administration, I think.