Ypsilanti Mayor narrowly avoids censure for China trip
Ypsilanti city council Tuesday night decided not to censure Mayor Amanda Edmonds for ethical concerns related to a developer-funded trip to China that Edmonds and other city officials took last fall.
A censure resolution failed by one vote. The council did decide to send Michigan State Police the findings of an independent investigation that discovered the source of funding for the trip.
There were concerns Edmonds may have violated Ypsilanti’s ethics standards by participating in the China trip. Earlier this month, independent attorney Ed Plato reported his findings that private developer Amy Foster paid for Edmonds and other city officials’ travel to China.
Councilmember Beth Bashert said Edmonds made "mistakes of omission" but didn't do anything malicious or intentionally corrupt. Bashert said she supported censuring Edmonds to preserve public trust in city council.
Councilmember Brian Robb voted against the censure, but said Edmonds missed “all the signs” that Foster was too closely involved with the planning of the trip.
“I just couldn’t come to grips with punishing someone because they’re really bad at their job,” Robb said.
Earlier this month, Plato reported the findings of his investigation of the China trip, and determined developer Amy Foster paid for Edmonds and other city officials to go on the trip. Ypsilanti City Attorney John Barr has said it would be a violation of the city's ethics ordinance for city officials to travel on a private developer's dime.
Plato was hired by Ypsilanti city council to determine what city employees or elected officials knew about the true source of the funding for the trip, now known to be Foster. Edmonds said she previously believed a Wayne State student group provided the city with “scholarships” for the trip to China, funded by the Chinese Consulate in Chicago, which wasn’t actually involved with the trip at all, but Edmonds said that’s what Foster told her before traveling to China.
Plato’s summary of his report called Edmonds testimony during the investigation “questionable” because she didn’t respond to a LinkedIn message she received last fall before the trip to China. The LinkedIn message was from a member of the Wayne State student group in response to Edmonds inquiring about the source of the “scholarship” funding. A representative for the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) at Wayne State responded that a private limited liability corporation owned by Foster provided the funds. Yet Edmonds maintains she forgot to check LinkedIn and didn’t see that response containing crucial information about Fosters’ inappropriate involvement in the trip until returning from China.
In a statement prior to Tuesday’s council meeting, Edmonds said Plato’s report shows she tried to investigate the source of the money, but was misled.
“I really wish other people would have joined me in asking questions [about the funding],” Edmonds said after the meeting last night. “No one else at the council table asked questions, no one else on our staff.
“I feel pleased that enough people didn’t vote for [the censure] to not question my ethics anymore,” Edmonds said. “To be scapegoated into a political game isn’t fun.”
Some Ypsilanti residents attending the council meeting called the censure a “political maneuver” with no practical purpose, others called on Edmonds to resign.
The summary of Plato’s report shows former Ypsilanti Director of Economic Development Beth Ernat lied about what she knew about the source of the funding, and failed to ask obvious questions about where the money came from. Ernat also admitted to receiving a jade necklace from Foster. City Council documents say the necklace was recovered from Ernat’s former office and will be sent to Michigan State Police along with Plato’s report, for possible further investigation. Ernat’s contract with the city expired earlier this month and was not renewed.
Edmonds announced in February that she won’t seek re-election. She said the findings of the investigation into the China trip itself was not a factor in deciding not to run for office again, but she didn’t like how she was treated personally.
“Some of the treatment of me during the process, the behavior of people; the public, councilmembers and the media to some degree, really really grated on me… and that very much affected my consideration [not to run for re-election],” Edmonds said. “The beatings and the scapegoating, yeah, I’ve experienced bullying for all of my time on council.”