Kawhnua Liggins takes her daughter to day care April 24; her D-DHS grant to pay for it has now been cut/Photo ClickonDetroit Channel Four

By Diane Bukowski

April 29, 2012

DETROIT – A union representing Detroit Department of Human Services (D-DHS) workers filed suit April 19, demanding the restoration of millions in federal funds withheld by Michigan Department of Human Services (M-DHS) director Maura Corrigan since Oct. 2011. The suit requests the maintenance of D-DHS’s designation as a Community Action Agency (CAA), and an injunction preventing Wayne Metro Community Action Agency (WMCAA) or any other entity from taking over its programs.

APTE President Dempsey Addison at first Occupy Detroit march in 2011

“As a result of Director Corrigan’s illegal cut-off of CSBG funds to the City of Detroit, the neediest Detroiters are being denied desperately needed services, services which are vital to their very survival,” says the lawsuit. It was filed by Attorney Jerome Goldberg on behalf of Dempsey Addison, President of the Association of Professional and Technical Employees, and DHS employee Cecily McClellan.

(Click on APTE lawsuit and letters to read suit as well as letters from APTE to the federal government.)

D-DHS assists residents in fighting foreclosures, evictions and utility shut-offs, provides food, clothing, day-care and transportation, and helps fund non-profits like Young Detroit Builders. It also ran the city’s home weatherization program, which was turned over to WMCAA April 1, with hundreds of workers and contractors left unpaid, and work on homes unfinished.

Funding for the city’s Head Start Program, amounting to $55 million, which D-DHS coordinates through contractors, is being transferred as well.

Detroit Head Start program; funding transferred from D-DHS

Kawhnua Liggins, who was taking her toddler to a day care program, told Channel Four reporter Paula Tutman April 25 that she needs the grant D-DHS provides. Tutman reported it had been cut the day before and that three-quarters of the families at the day care center have lost their grants beginning last fall.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing gets hug from Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who now controls him and city's government.

“If I don’t have that money, I could lose my job,” Liggins said. “Jobs are bad right now, so I only work part-time. Child care is every bit of $150 to $200 a week, and my check is only $120 a week. I can’t afford to pay rent and my other bills on top of child care.”

Council President Charles Pugh told Tutman that funds were cut due to alleged mismanagement, but was not quoted regarding the letter City Council sent to the state refusing to voluntarily de-certify D-DHS. (Letter is attached to lawsuit PDF referenced above.)

(Click on http://www.clickondetroit.com/news/Detroit-families-say-they-re-struggling-after-state-cuts-funding-to-human-services-department/-/1719418/11860610/-/o703bo/-/index.html to view full broadcast.)

Mayor Dave Bing, who now reports to the state under the recently enacted “Financial Stability [Consent] Agreement,” announced in his April 12 budget address that he would cut off all funding for D-DHS in the coming year.

Debra Taylor at earlier meeting of Detroit Financial Review Team

“Michigan has become up South, the new Jim Crow,” Debra Taylor testified during a state administrative hearing April 23. “You can’t just dress this pig up and put perfume on it. Turning over D-DHS has nothing to with the city’s deficit or with mishandling of funds. It is racism, another power grab along with the illegal Public Act 4 takeover of Detroit.”

The suit requests a temporary restraining order and writ of mandamus (to compel a government officer to perform a duty) against defendants Corrigan, Mayor Dave Bing and Kirk Lewis. A hearing is set for Friday, May 11, 2012 at 9 a.m. before Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen McDonald in the Coleman A. Young Center, 2 Woodward Avenue, Rm. 1507.

The suit says laws a review of any proposed termination of funds must be completed at both the state and federal levels BEFORE funds are cut-off. It challenges the state’s assertion that D-DHS has been responsible for massive misuse of funds. D-DHS workers face lay-offs this June as a result of the allegations. (Click on DHS Closing for documents APTE gathered containing favorable state D-DHS audits under Stacie Gibson, former director of the Michigan Bureau of Community Action and Economic Opportunity.)

“The state violated federal guidelines and the legal process when it withheld $8 million over six months ago,” lawsuit plaintiff Addison testified at the April 23 hearing. “It hurt thousands of Detroiters by cutting off essential services. What right do you have to sit here like a judge and mislead the people?”

D-DHS Commissioner Tia Comart speaks at state hearing April 23; Stephanie Comai is at right on judge's bench

Stephanie Comai, Acting Director of the Bureau of Community Action and Economic Opportunity, and an M-DHS employee, presided over the hearing in a State Court of Appeals (COA) courtroom in the Cadillac Building. She and two others sat at the bench normally used only by COA judges.

The little-publicized hearing was a step in adversarial proceedings brought by the state subsequent to the Detroit City Council’s earlier vote against voluntary termination of D-DHS’s CAA status. (Click on http://voiceofdetroit.net/2012/03/06/corrigan-demands-council-hand-over-control-of-city-dhs/  for earlier VOD article.)

Detroiters who opposed takeover of D-DHS at hearing April 23.

Mayor Dave Bing previously told the state the “city agreed” to the voluntary termination, but statutes require that the City Council also sign off.

Dozens of Detroiters who testified April 23 demanded copies of the state’s “comprehensive monitoring report” recommending de-certification of D-DHS and its specific reasons for doing so, which was not provided at the meeting. Comai referred to it in a March 23, 2012 letter to D-DHS director Ursula Holland, attached to the APTE lawsuit.

The lawsuit says such a report must be submitted to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, but “on information and belief, a report in conformance with [federal law] stating the basis for such a determination has not been prepared and submitted.”

Comai said she would send a copy to those who requested it at the meeting, including this reporter, but it has not yet been received.

WMCAA President Jodi Adamovich, board member Thelmas Chonko, CEO Louis Piszker, who operates for-profit Thornton Park LP out of WMCAA Ecorse office

Comai said M-DHS plans to temporarily turn D-DHS programs over to the Wyandotte-based WMCAA, while issuing a Request for Proposal (RFP) open to non-profits which will be “a high-performing effective service operators.” She said WMCAA would be opening offices in Detroit shortly to resume services that have been cut off.

Precinct Delegate and former Detroit School Board Member Marie Thornton challenged Comai’s statement that D-DHS is the ONLY one of 30 CAA’s in the state with compliance problems.

“You said the 29 other agencies are perfect,” Thornton declared. “Well, tell me about the 29 perfect agencies so I can say to Detroit, ‘Shame on you.’”

Precinct delegate and former Detroit school board member Marie Thornton at earlier meeting

She asked whether Comai would open an investigation into corruption at WMCCA. Testimony was given that WMCAA’s CEO Louis Piszker runs a for-profit real estate company, Thornton Park Limited Partnership, out of WMCAA’s Ecorse office, and that WMCAA sold a property to his business for $10. Confronted with an increasingly hostile audience, Comai reluctantly said she would.

Several speakers asked Comai why she is not investigating Mayor Dave Bing as well, since he directed former D-DHS director Shenetta Coleman to use $400 million in federal grant funds to help pay off the city’s $1.5 billion Pension Obligation Certificates (POC) debt, as well as to fund construction of new offices for D-DHS at the Herman Kiefer Health Complex on Taylor. (Click on lawsuit)

Several of the Department’s elected Commissioners testified angrily that they had not been consulted by the state about the proposed action, as required by state law. The failure to do so is also cited in the APTE lawsuit.

Les Little speaking at City Council hearing on consent agreement

Comai said they had spoken with the commission chair, but Commissioner Tia Collette Comart said the chair is appointed by the Mayor and has not shared any information with the rest of the commission.

“I am the first chair, and am in an elected position,” she said. “No one said anything to the first chair, the second chair, only to Mayor Bing. “I am a Head Start parent and assistant secretary for Hartford Memorial’s Head Start program and I object to this attack by the state. ” She gave her email address in testimony, which is commissionertia@gmail.com.

Commissioner Carolyn Thompson said, “Detroiters’ voter rights are being trampled. I am insulted that I am being asked to re-apply with the new CAA for a position to which I was already elected. The City of Detroit is ravaged by poverty, but now you are cutting residents off of utility assistance and other vital services.”

Michigan Auditor General Thomas McTavish

“It’s time for Detroit to do what a bunch of patriots did in the 1700,’s” said Les Little. “We have been under assault from the State of Michigan since Public Act 4 and the consent agreement. Time and time again services we pay taxes for have not been rendered to our people.”

Several speakers challenged Comai because M-DHS itself was cited by State Auditor-General Thomas McTavish for a lack of financial controls and millions of dollars in questionable purchases, in an August 16, 2011 audit.

The audit revealed that the same employees created and processed invoices and then approved the checks to pay them. McTavish also found a lack of documentation for purchases of computers and other electric applicances allegedly provided to M-DHS clients, among other issues. For further information, click on http://www.mlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2011/08/dhs_audit_finds_millions_in_qu.html.

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  1. I just needed too say thank you to everyone that took the time to fight for us im a single parent of four and its been some trying times for my family this has lifted a huge load off me we thank you for all your help LIFT EVERY VOICE AND SING

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