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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Detroit mayoral scandal has Plainfield echoes

The mayor's two bodyguards pose with her in a campaign flyer.
Click on image to enlarge.

Mayoral security details seem to be in the news these days.

Plainfield Dem chair Assemblyman Jerry Green's push poll over the past weekend included loaded questions about Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' bodyguards.

If you have been following the news out of Detroit, you will know that Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick may be facing perjury charges after testifying under oath that he did not have a romantic relationship with his top aide, Christine Beatty.

The perjury charges loom now that over 14,000 text messages -- many of them titillatingly romantic -- have been uncovered by the Detroit Free Press through a Freedom of Information Act request and summarized in the paper.

But Plainfielders will be interested in knowing that what set off the furor was the Mayor Kilpatrick's security detail.

Two police investigators looking into allegations of misconduct by members of the security detail, including collecting overtime that was not earned and covering up accidents with city-owned vehicles, were fired by Mayor
Kilpatrick in May of 2003.

In a whistleblower lawsuit, the two officers won what was later revealed to be a $9 million settlement from the city -- meaning, ultimately, the taxpayers. What seems to have brought the city to the table were the text messages between the Mayor and his aide which came to light in the discovery process and in which, besides all the romantic folderol and revelations of high living and hijinx at the public expense, they discussed firing the police officers who were investigating the security detail abuses.

The Detroit Free Press eventually learned of the existence of the text messages and obtained them from the city's messaging service supplier, SkyTel, through a Freedom of Information Act request. The story broke online last Wednesday and ran in Thursday's Free Press print edition (see here).


Questions surrounding Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' security detail have swirled since her bodyguards -- both of whom were prominently pictured with Robinson-Briggs in her campaign literature -- assumed their duties in 2006. That includes questions about overtime.

No justification for the assignment of two officers to guard Mayor Robinson-Briggs other than the say-so of Assemblyman Green has ever been offered, even though proper procedure -- both from a safety viewpoint and from the perspective of fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers -- would require a formal threat assessment by an independent, qualified authority such as the County Prosecutor or the State Police. Evidence that such a threat assessment was ever done -- or updated, as it should be periodically -- has never been offered by the Assemblyman.

Instead, Plainfielders get the push poll of this past weekend, in which the pollsters asked if the interviewees were aware of threats against Mayor Robinson-Briggs and to indicate whether they supported her having bodyguards or whether 'she should just ignore the threats'.

Sort of like the old 'Have you stopped beating your wife yet?' type question, in which the answerer really hasn't a way out.

The political powers-that-be are certainly aware that Mayor Robinson-Brigg' security detail is an issue about which the public has plenty of questions -- including both the necessity of it and whether or not there have been any abuses of the public trust.

At the very least, the public deserves to know that proper procedures have been followed in obtaining a bona fide threat assessment -- and having it updated -- to justify both the expense and the diversion of officers from fruitful crime-fighting duties.

Then, I'm wondering whether SkyTel is the supplier of the messaging service that was recently discussed at a City Council meeting. That might be interesting.

-- Dan Damon

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Anonymous said...

Hey Dan, have you been following this story. Checkout the latest about the confidential agreement that was not presented to the Detroit City Council when they agreed to the 9+million dollar settlement.