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A desk job


Evil, wrote British true-crime author Brian Masters, “is something you recognize immediately when you see it. It works through charm.

One of the things you hear most often about Kwame Kilpatrick is his charisma. I agree. I’ve seen it up close.

When he sat in our offices, twice, for interviews in consideration of Metro Times’ mayoral endorsement in the August primary, he was open-faced, sometimes jovial, a little testy only a few times, all despite hard questioning.

He knew nothing, not a thing, about the Navigator until his wife’s city-owned car made the news. When he said it, he was sincerity made flesh. Same when he talked about the city’s budget problems in “the next term.” The mayor said, “We won’t be dealing with a $100 million deficit,” when there already was ample evidence that it would be much more. And when we got on the subject of public information and his administration’s dogged persistence in fighting any inquiries into things that had not been foreseen, prepped and spun by his often inept “information” officials, he proclaimed complete ignorance and innocence on the subject. These problems, he said sincerely, would be cleared up, and fast.

So I have a quick story to tell.

Unfortunately for the overburdened and underserved taxpayers of Detroit, the story is far from unique. Ask any reporter in town who’s ever tried to get an answer from the Kilpatrick administration about something not on its self-serving public agenda, and you’ll get many more examples of exactly the same thing.

Despite the requirements of the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, despite the public’s right to know virtually anything and everything it wants to know about the workings of its government, the Kilpatrick administration routinely stonewalls as though it were part of a big cat-and-mouse game. And, delaying its responses to FOIA requests for months and months in clear violation of the law, it forces news organizations to sue for public information that anyone should be able to simply ask for, and receive.

It’s nothing new. The FOIA “game” had gotten so bad late in Coleman Young’s reign that a reporter once walked into a city office, stood in line with others waiting to buy a city map and, when his turn came, was recognized by the functionary at the counter and told to go file an FOIA request.

Before I came to work at Metro Times just over a year ago, an FOIA request had been filed, asking for the cost of Kilpatrick’s nice new office desk. Last March 10, after repeated follow-up requests and well past the legally mandated response time, we were given receipts that showed $23,000 as the cost of Kilpatrick’s mahogany desk and credenza, which were installed within weeks of his taking office. (The Free Press recently reported that the “credenza and hutch” alone cost $31,000, so either they got it wrong, or the city didn’t give us all the facts, as required by law. I’m betting on the latter.)

You should know, too, that we rolled up more than $2,000 in attorney costs to get this information, which the city — the taxpayer — has to cover because of its stonewalling. Our lawyers are still arguing about the exact amount.

So there’s a cost, a significant one, that you pay simply because Kilpatrick and his people don’t want to tell you what you need to know.

He’ll deny it next time it comes up, if there is a next time, and many of you will likely buy it. The guy’s full of charisma. Just full of it.

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