Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan says he will not punish staff members for deleting emails related to city support for a controversial program.
Duggan said Tuesday that three employees—including his chief of staff, Alexis Wiley—will instead undergo training in public document management.
Duggan says the employees made a “mistake in judgement” when ordering the emails deleted. But he says they feared younger staffers would be dragged into a legal dispute Duggan was having with local businessman Robert Carmack, who sent a private investigator to follow and record Duggan in his off-hours.
“While it was the wrong decision, it was made out of the best of intentions,” Duggan said. “None of these individuals deleted their own emails, they weren’t trying to cover up a program. We had two young staff people who they wanted to protect.”
Duggan’s announcement came on the heels of a Detroit Office of Inspector General’s report that found his office gave preferential treatment to Make Your Date, a Wayne State University program meant to reduce pre-term births.
Duggan is believed to have a personal relationship with that program’s director, Dr. Sonia Hassan. He declined again to comment on the nature of his relationship with Hassan Monday.
The OIG report found that “While the Mayor did not violate any City policies, procedures, or laws in providing preferential treatment to MYD, such treatment was not best practice or good governance.” It also concluded that an arm of the Mayor’s office “successfully assisted MYD in raising grant funds, in direct contradiction to the initial public statements made by the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, Alexis Wiley.”
The report also found that Wiley and two other staffers “abused their authority” by ordering or reiterating orders to delete emails. It recommended they face discipline for their actions.
Duggan says he felt bad that he put members of his Administration “under enormous stress” when it came to the situation with Carmack. He said he feared that innocent staff members would be drawn into the “media circus” surrounding their ongoing dispute, and subject them to invasions of their privacy.
As for the emails, “They made a mistake in judgement. There’s no question about that in what they did,” Duggan said of Wiley and the two other staffers. However, he noted that nothing in the OIG report indicated they had violated any city laws or policies.
Duggan also pushed back against the conclusion that he singled out Make Your Date for unwarranted special treatment that “was unilaterally selected by the Mayor based on his experience and the advice of members of his transition team.”
Duggan said he simply knew from experience that Hassan, as the Wayne State University Medical School’s Associate Dean of Maternal, Perinatal and Child Health, was best-equipped to lead the city’s fight against infant mortality. Detroit has among the highest infant mortality rates in the nation.
“We picked the right program. The program has worked,” Duggan said. “And there is no finding anywhere in this report that says Make Your Date doesn’t work, that a dollar was misspent, or that says this wasn’t the right program.”