Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner John P. McCulloch has asked a federal judge to let suburban representatives participate in oversight of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD).
Citing more than 30 years of mismanagement, fraud, corruption and continued violations of federal law, McCulloch has filed a motion in federal court asking that control of the DWSD be transferred to an interim regional management committee.
McCulloch’s motion requests that the regional management committee have the identical powers previously given to former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick as DWSD’s special administrator. The management committee would be comprised of Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco, McCulloch, the director of Wayne County’s Department of Environment and a representative chosen by the court.
In 2005, in addition to seeking a management committee, McCulloch asked Judge Sean Cox’s predecessor, Judge John Feikens, to look into questionable contract procurements. Feikens, presiding over a 1977 case originally filed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over Detroit’s violation of the federal Clean Water Act, denied the request and instead assigned a “special master,” F. Thomas Lewand, to investigate questionable contracts. Lewand concluded everything was fine, according to McCulloch.
Federal investigators have found otherwise and indicted Kilpatrick, former DWSD Director Victor Mercado and others, alleging that the same contracts that Oakland County had been complaining about for years were rigged and fraught with fraud.
According to McCulloch, a January 2000 court investigation found that systematic deficiencies within the DWSD contributed to its non-compliance problems. The court concluded that failures in the areas of capital improvements, finance, purchasing and human resources, including a chronic inability to adequately staff the skilled trades, engineers and other professional personnel, inadequate training, career development and succession planning were all contributing factors.
The proposed regional management committee can solve those problems because the counties have “decades of experience and expertise” in the areas in which DWSD is lacking, including engineers with years of experience operating and maintaining water systems and other experts in wastewater treatment, storm water management and environmental managers and supervisors, according to McCulloch.
He emphasized that the regional management committee would have no greater power than was given to Kilpatrick. The special administrator has broad powers to bypass the Detroit Water and Sewerage Board and the Detroit City Council. The administrator also has the authority to control, manage and operate the city of Detroit Wastewater Treatment Plant.
The DWSD provides water and sewer services for Detroit and approximately 130 municipal suburban communities.
Michigan lawmakers spurred by the recent indictment of Kilpatrick and others over their role in abusing the DWSD for their own gain have introduced various proposals to create regional water and sewer authorities to oversee the department.
Bing reportedly stated last week that he should be allowed to study the DWSD’s problems and come up with solutions, rather than let lawsuits and pending legislation shift control of the water and sewer system to suburban representatives.
State Rep. Chuck Moss (R-Orchard Lake) said he support’s McCulloch’s motion in federal court “100 percent.”
“I believe the motion is to try to use the current judicial structure to reform itself before we blow it up with a new legislative plan.”
According to Moss, although he believes Bing is an honest and honorable man, the need to regionalize control of the water and sewer system is institutional, not personal.
“(Former Detroit Mayor) Dennis Archer was an honest and honorable man, also; but look what came after him,” Moss said. “(McCulloch’s motion) is an intermediate step before proceeding to legislation. Let’s try diet and exercise before radical surgery or liposuction.”