Woronchak appoints Special Committee on Ethics

Gary Woronchak

A Special Committee on Ethics has been named by Wayne County Commission Chairman Gary Woronchak to finish preparing the county’s first comprehensive ethics ordinance for final approval by the commission.

The committee will take the draft ethics ordinance presented last month by the commission’s Ethics Task Force and work out the details of how it will be enforced and funded, “the practical nuts and bolts details,” said Woronchak (D-Dearborn).

Woronchak will serve on the committee along with Commissioners Alisha Bell (D-Detroit), Laura Cox (R-Livonia) and Irma Clark-Coleman (D-Detroit).

Chairing the committee will be Commissioner Joan Gebhardt (D-Livonia), who also chaired the Ethics Task Force that brought the draft to this point. Other Ethics Task Force members included Bell and Commissioners Diane Webb (D-Garden City), Tim Killeen (D-Detroit) and Ilona Varga (D-Lincoln Park).

“The Ethics Task Force did a lot of work to put this document together, and the county will benefit from their service,” said Woronchak, who added he expects task force members will continue to contribute to the document in its final stage.

Woronchak created the Ethics Task Force shortly after being elected chairman of the commission a year ago. The ethics ordinance was expected to take about a year to develop, he said, so the process is on schedule.

“Events that have become known in recent months, from cozy relationships between the county and contractors to a federal investigation and FBI subpoenas for county records, show that we were moving in a necessary direction when we started the process of working on strong ethics policies a year ago,” Woronchak said.

An ethics ordinance generally sets standards of conduct for officials and employees and rules for disclosure and openness designed to avoid conflicts of interest and improper business practices.

Ethics policies currently exist in the county’s procurement ordinance, which sets policy for contracting.

“But clearly, more transparency and stronger ethical guidelines are necessary across all business of Wayne County,” Woronchak said.

As part of its deliberations, the task force examined ethics ordinances from other governments, discussing what best practices could be applied to Wayne County.

Controversy has surrounded the county since late September, when it was revealed that its former economic development director got a severance payment of $200,000 when she left her county job to become CEO of Detroit Metroplitan Wayne County Airport.

The furor that followed resulted in the termination or resignation of high-ranking appointees in the administration of County Executive Robert Ficano. The new airport CEO returned the money and later was fired from the airport position.

Federal authorities continue to investigate the county in the wake of the severance scandal. The FBI subpoenaed county records to determine whether laws were broken. Meanwhile, news media reports have brought scrutiny to county contracting practices, projects, employment packages and more.

“This ethics ordinance will be a part of the solution to the problems that have become known in Wayne County,” Woronchak said.