Panelists: City officials must raise ethical standards

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– Photo by Steve Thorpe


Panelists at the recent WSU Law gathering included (left to right) Melvin “Butch” Hollowell, corporation counsel for the city of Detroit; Portia Roberson, director of the city’s Civil Rights and Justice Division; and moderator Bankole Thompson, editor of the Michigan Chronicle.


By Steve Thorpe

Legal News

The new administration of the city of Detroit is getting a handle on what seem to be nearly insurmountable problems and new Mayor Mike Duggan is trying to do what needs to be done with as much transparency as possible.

Those were the contentions of two top officials of his administration during an information session Thursday at Wayne State University Law School.

“Municipal Law and Civil Rights: Spotlight on Detroit Government” was presented Feb. 13  at the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights as part of the Wayne State University Law School’s ongoing Good Governance Lecture Series.

The panel was moderated by Bankole Thompson, editor of the Michigan Chronicle. Panelists were Melvin “Butch” Hollowell, corporation counsel for the city of Detroit, and Portia Roberson, director of the city’s Civil Rights and Justice Division.

The lecture was the second in the series and inspired by the October leadership summit, “Building an Honest and Open Government in Detroit: Why Public Integrity Matters.”

Roberson stressed that the first step in restoring the faith of citizens in the integrity of their city government is to raise the ethical standards of city officials and employees and do it in a way that shows.

“What has to happen, and I think we’re getting there, is transparency,” she said.  “When I was at the Justice Department, there was a lot of attention to what we could and could not do. I attended events where I only allowed myself a glass of water. That may be an extreme case, but I think that we need to be very careful about what we allow.”

Roberson said that for employees and officials to follow ethics guidelines, first they need to know what they are.

“We have to train people,” she said. “We have to inform them what the rules are.”

Roberson, who graduated from Wayne Law, was Detroit’s corporation counsel under Mayor Dave Bing. She worked for the U.S. Department of Justice from 2009 to 2012 and was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as director of the department’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs in 2011.

She also worked with the White House Office of Domestic Policy Council and a position as Detroit team lead of the federal Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative. Roberson has been an assistant Wayne County prosecutor and associate general counsel at the Detroit Medical Center.

Hollowell observed that many citizens have lost faith in the city and its institutions.

“We’ve seen a steep decline of confidence in government,” he said.

But Hollowell contended that the new mayor was not only saying the right things about getting things done and raising ethical standards, but that he has the management skills to make it happen.

“We’re being held to a pretty high standard,” he said. “Members of Duggan’s cabinet are being evaluated on a weekly basis. The way this mayor works is that there are metrics he uses to evaluate whether you’re doing your job or not doing your job. That’s his management style.”

Hollowell served as chief legal counsel for Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan before the mayoral election and is general counsel for the Detroit branch of the NAACP. He also serves on the national NAACP’s legal committee.

He was assistant Wayne County executive from 1985 to 1991 and has served as chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party.

The lecture series is sponsored by Wayne Law and additional sessions will be held in March and April.

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