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.

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