Ethics board tables action on former DDA director’s complaint

Sunday Times Newspapers

ALLEN PARK – The city’s Board of Ethics recently declined to rule on complaints from a former official that Downtown Development Authority board members may have profited financially from projects for which they voted to approve funding.

The board met April 23 to discuss whether DDA board members who vote to approval project loans and grants – especially major projects impacting the city’s financial future — should later be allowed as businesspeople to bid on or accept contracts for a project for which they voted or influenced.

City Attorney Anthony Guerriero led the board as it addressed two complaints filed by former authority Director James Sabo. Sabo asked as then-acting DDA director if a board member who voted on a $2 million loan to the Lifton Institute for Media Skills then could submit a bid for work to be paid for by the institute and still remain a member.

Sabo also asked if resigning from the board after having influenced the granting of the loan would negate any ethical issues.

DDA attorney Dennis Miller, who was attending a family funeral and did not attend the Ethics Board meeting, had submitted similar but generic hypothetical queries to the Ethics Board in writing writing shortly after Sabo’s formal complaints. Miller said he did so to help guide the DDA board through future minefields.

Ethics Board members discussed the issues generally, but declined to address many of Miller’s questions until he can attend a meeting to clarify key points of his inquiry. They also issued no formal guidelines.

Guerriero dismissed Sabo’s complaint as it is currently worded because Sabo is no longer DDA director, but said Sabo could resubmit his complaint with revised wording.

Guerriero pointed out, however, that the Ethics Board — a relatively new and untested body — is only advisory and has no power to remove DDA members, penalize them or invalidate the granting of a loan to a business entity based on subsequent scrutiny of the circumstances.

He did not rule out the possibility, however, that in the future the Ethics Board could turn over any evidence of improprieties to bodies with the authority to act on them, such as law enforcement agencies, federal authorities or the judiciary.

Ethics Board members include John Cicotte, the Rev. Joel Holls, the Rev. Joseph Mallia and the Rev. Tracy Fressel. DDA board member Julian Llamas, who is not on the Ethics Board, is a building contractor and will be directly affected by any decision of the Ethics Board related to his company’s ability to bid on jobs as long as he is part of the authority’s board.

The Ethics Board will reconvene at 1 p.m. May 14 in conference Room A of City Hall.