Lawsuit: Duggan conspired with school board to prevent public Pistons vote

Pistons banner on the site of the new Red Wings arena. Photo by Steve Neavling.

A federal lawsuit claims that Mayor Mike Duggan conspired with Detroit’s school board to deprive voters of the right to decide on more than $55 million in tax subsidies to billionaire Pistons owner Tom Gores.

The suit, filed by activists Robert Davis and D. Etta Wilcoxon, alleges that “majority of the Detroit Community Schools District Board of Education are actively attempting to stop and to derail” a ballot proposal on whether public money should be used for the Pistons to move into the Little Caesars Arena and build a new practice facility.

On Friday, Davis urged the board to approve the ballot proposal, but he said he was shut down because most of the board members “were supported financially and otherwise by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.”

Davis and Wilcoxon also alleged that the Detroit City Council failed to properly notify the school board of two council meetings in which the public financing was approved. They said state law requires notification to all public agencies that stand to lose money under financing from the Detroit Downtown Development Authority.

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The board’s attorney maintains the school board has no legal standing to issue a ballot proposal, a position that Davis says is wrong.

“The citizens have the right to vote on the question as it relates to the school tax dollars,” Davis told me.

Duggan’s office declined to respond to the lawsuit’s claim that the mayor worked behind closed doors to prevent a ballot proposal.

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“This is just yet another frivolous lawsuit from Robert Davis,” the mayor’s Chief of Staff Alexis Wiley said.

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Earlier this month, Davis and Wilcoxon sued two Detroit taxing authorities on claims that they unlawfully used public money intended for the city’s public schools to relocate the Pistons. A judge dismissed the claims, saying the plaintiffs were unable to demonstrate a constitutional violation.

In May 2015, Motor City Muckraker revealed that Duggan conspired to get approval from the city’s Historic District Commission to demolish a historic building on the construction site of the publicly funded Red Wings arena.

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.