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Michigan compiled law (MCL) 168.327 reads, in part, “The governor shall remove all city officers chosen by the electors of a city or any ward or voting district of a city, when the governor is satisfied from sufficient evidence submitted to the governor that the officer has been guilty of official misconduct, willful neglect of duty, extortion, or habitual drunkenness.”
Members of the Detroit City Council want Gov. Jennifer Granholm to remove Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick from office under the provisions of this law, first passed in 1955. But what are the consequences if she acts? Or if she doesn’t?
Larry Dubin, a law professor at the University of Detroit Mercy, said he believes that now that an official request to remove Kilpatrick has been brought before her, Granholm is bound by the law to determine whether sufficient grounds exist for his removal due to official misconduct.
On the other hand, he said there is no specific timetable as to when she would have to conduct a hearing or render a decision.
“She could delay those proceedings until after City Council engages in its forfeiture proceedings or even after Prosecutor Worthy concludes her criminal case against the mayor,” he said.
As to why the governor, and not a member of the judiciary, would have the power to remove a mayor or other elected official, Dubin pointed out that the governor is the chief operating officer for the state.
“I would assume the rationale would be that if an official has committed official misconduct, the governor, in a rare use of this authority, would have the power essentially to remove or fire that official,” he said.
He also said Granholm has acknowledged that she is acting in a quasi-judicial capacity in this matter.
Political consultant Adolph Mongo feels Granholm should do nothing, saying governors rarely get involved in such matters.
Former Gov. William Milliken last acted on the statute in 1982, with regard to a West Bloomfield Township official, given the choice to quit drinking or be removed from office.
Mongo said that often these matters play themselves out, and that Kilpatrick has yet to go to trial. He asked why the City Council is trying to put the mayor out before he has his day in court.
“If he is found innocent, how are you going to make him whole again?” he asked, adding that the council is being driven by “zealots” who want to be in control.
He specifically named Council President Ken Cockrel Jr. and Councilman Kwame Kenyatta, whom he said are “obsessed with taking control of the 13th floor” (of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center).
Sam Riddle, political consultant and an arch critic of Kilpatrick, believes Granholm should initiate hearings immediately that would remove the mayor from office it it were established that his conduct constituted “misconduct” in office.
“The constitution of the State of Michigan is clear. Gov. Granholm is vested with the authority to remove Kwame Kilpatrick from office,” Riddle said. “She can specifically remove an office holder from office for being drunk. What is not clear is this governor’s willingness to exercise that authority to save Detroit from the state of municipal paralysis inflicted upon it by this arrogant and selfish mayor.”
Mongo disagreed, saying Kilpatrick should have his day in court. Granholm, he said, would be in a win situation if she does “the right thing” by waiting until the trial to make her decision. He believes there is a danger “every Tom, Dick and Harry” who doesn’t like what a mayor is doing will write the governor demanding his or her removal.
“We must not get lost in the race baiting of wannabe spin doctors and the meaningless garble of lawyers in a feeding frenzy as they line their pockets at the expense of the people of Detroit,” Riddle said. “It was Kwame Kilpatrick’s personal and institutional behavior pattern that has us in this mess.”
Mongo again disagreed.
“When you invite Dracula into your home, he’ll not only bite the person you want him to bite, but everyone else.” he said.
Steve Mitchell, head of the Lansing-based Mitchell Research & Communication, Inc., said chances of Granholm removing Kilpatrick are slim.
“She’s not up for re-election, and it’s not likely she’s going to run for office for a long time,” he noted.
He said as much as suburbanites and people in out state Michigan dislike Kilpatrick, they understand removing a mayor—especially Detroit’s—would put Granholm in a difficult position.
“You may take exception with her having made the statement, but when JoAnn Watson said we don’t want a White governor removing our Black mayor, people understand that,” Mitchell said. “The City Council is taking its action. In addition to the city taking its action, the courts are taking their actions. So, there really isn’t a lot of reason why she should get involved in this.”
Mitchell said Granholm removing Kilpatrick would create anger just as Detroiters were angry when former GOP Gov. John Engler took control of the Detroit Public Schools.
Mitchell agreed with those who contend that its is counterintuitive for such a decision to go before the governor rather than a judge or panel of judges.