City council violates state law ahead of vote on $34.5M Pistons subsidy

Pistons mural erected at the new Red Wings arena months before council voted on the subsidy. Photo by Steve Neavling.

Update: Detroit City Council approved the $34.5 subsidy to Pistons owner Tom Gores on Tuesday morning. 

The Detroit City Council violated state law by taking round-robin votes on whether to give billionaire Pistons owner Tom Gores $34.5 million in taxes to move to Detroit. 

Three city council staffers told Motor City Muckraker that a majority of the nine elected board members pledged months ago – before a public hearing was even held – to support today’s vote on the tax subsidy to a man who spent $100 million on a mansion in L.A. County late last year. The idea was to assure Mayor Duggan and Gores that there were sufficient votes to approve the deal, which was hashed out last year in illegal closed-door meetings of the Downtown Development Authority. 

The expected vote is 7-2.

The Michigan Open Meetings Act requires public bodies to vote in public and makes it a crime to conduct “round-robin” votes in which several council members meet to begin secretly tallying votes before passing on the information to others until a majority of the board has been polled. 

And sure enough, the council collected enough YES votes and passed that information on to Duggan and Gores. That’s why the Pistons already began selling season tickets, spent tens of thousands of dollars on advertising and held a celebration for the last game at the Palace of Auburn Hills. 

Earlier this month, seven of the nine council members approved $20 million in brownfield tax credits for Gores to build a practice facility for which he does not have to pay property taxes, even though Gores refused to guarantee a single job to Detroiters. The only council members to vote NO were Brenda Jones and Raquel Castaneda-Lopez. 

In a lawsuit to stop the subsidy to Gores, D. Etta Wilcoxon and Robert Davis also argued that city council violated the open meetings act by deciding how to vote before holding a public meeting. 

Had city council members not made promises to fund Gores, they may be more likely to reject the funding today because the Pistons now have little choice but to move to Detroit because the 2017-18 season starts in October. 

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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.