Detroit council keeps promise of professionalism

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DETROIT (AP) — The Detroit City Council, which has been criticized for bickering and scrutinized by federal authorities investigating city contracts, delivered on a promise of more professionalism in its first meeting of 2010.

But campaign promises by many on the nine-member board to end embarrassing, public infighting were tested early Tuesday when the four returning members and four of the five new members split over a pension board appointment.

New President Pro Tem Gary Brown’s nomination to a police and fire employees retirement board was defeated 5-4. Four of the five newest council members, including Brown, voted for his appointment.

Second-term Councilwoman Brenda Jones was then nominated for the retirement board. Her appointment passed unanimously.

“Everybody voted their conscience,” Brown, a former Detroit deputy police chief, told reporters after the meeting. “Brenda Jones lobbied hard for it, and the process worked. I’m disappointed I didn’t get the selection. I’m sure she’ll do a great job.”

Brown was fired by ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and was part of a successful $8.4 million whistle-blowers’ lawsuit against the city.

Kilpatrick was charged with perjury in March 2008 after sexually explicit text messages between the married mayor and his ex-chief of staff contradicted testimony each gave during the 2007 whistle-blowers’ trial. They lied on the stand about their roles in Brown’s firing and having a romantic relationship.

Detroit voters had already become disillusioned with the city’s leaders when Kilpatrick resigned in September 2008 as part of plea deals in two criminal cases.

Then last summer, volatile Council President Pro Tem Monica Conyers stepped down after pleading to federal conspiracy charges for selling her “yes” vote on a $47 million sludge hauling contract.

Conyers, the wife of U.S. Rep. John Conyers, is scheduled to be sentenced in March.

Two incumbents finished out of the top nine in the city’s Nov. 3 general election. Two others did not seek re-election.

Former WJBK-TV anchor and reporter Charles Pugh received the most votes in his first run for public office, elevating him to council president. Brown, another newcomer, had the second highest total followed by former president Ken Cockrel Jr.

“When we talk about unity, it’s going to be very rare that we get nine-nothing votes,” Pugh said of Jones’ selection to the pension board. “Don’t look at how the sausage is made, just eat it. I just want to make it very clear that we are a body of nine and we are going to take every issue by issue.”

The council agreed to discuss later a planned 10-percent salary decrease to cut into Detroit’s $300 million budget deficit. Jones wanted to allow the five new council members a chance to discuss the issue.

The salary reduction will take effect Jan. 18 unless the board rejects it. A voluntary 10-percent cut taken by the previous city council expired Dec. 31.

The new council likely will continue the pay cut, Cockrel said.

Mayor Dave Bing cut the pay of his office staff, appointees and nonunion workers by 10 percent in September. Some city unions have agreed to similar cuts.