Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy last week handed down four felony counts and one misdemeanor count against Art Blackwell, former Highland Park Emergency Financial Manager (EFM). Blackwell, who served as EFM from 2005 to 2009, is accused of misusing his office by writing $264,000 in checks to himself after pledging to work as EFM for $1 annually.
In this exclusive interview with editor Bankole Thommpson, Blackwell, who was a campaign strategist for former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, dismissed the charges which he called “political” and added that Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who appointed him, may have to testify, if necessary, at his trial.
Following are excerpts from that lengthy interview.
Michigan Chronicle: Are you surprised at these charges against you?
Art Blackwell: I’m surprised that the prosecutor was investigating this issue at all, since it had been investigated at the state. But once it was taken up by the people involved, I wasn’t surprised.
MC: Why shouldn’t the prosecutor have investigated?
Blackwell: Basically, we have a state that has very limited resources. The attorney general is the top prosecutor in the state and he investigated this for five months. I was a state contractor so he had all the facts. He’s the lawyer for the governor and for all the departments.
MC: Attorney General Mike Cox sued you in court, right?
Blackwell: Well, actually, the loan board requested it. So the AG has two roles. Number one, he has to follow the direction of a particular board or department as their lawyer, or they can bring it on their own. Before they made this request, he had not brought anything and it was our understanding that criminal charges weren’t ever going to come, based on the facts.
MC: Prosecutor Kym Worthy laid out a list of counts you have been charged with. When you were first hired as emergency financial manager, you were working for $1, right?
MC: But you said at a meeting in Highland Park you were not going to work for $1 when you took that position. What happened?
Blackwell: I was expected to be paid but when I got in and the state gave me the books, there was no money. There was $8,000 in the city’s checking account. It took them four months to hire me, and in that four-month period, people had paid themselves hundreds of thousands of dollars on the way out the door. Why was there never any real scrutiny of what went on before me?
And when I got in, I saw the condition because my contract — and you can get a copy that clearly says the previous EFM had accomplished everything assigned to her — that I was coming in with a specific focus on economic development and everything else pretty much in shape. Couldn’t have been further from the truth. It was a very misleading thing that I assumed that basically I’m going to focused on trying to bring housing and development when these other things were horrendous: $16 million deficit; pension system was under-funded by $28 to $30 million; no money in the account; no economic development; roads were in disrepair.
It was the worst situation you could find. Based on what they tell me it ain’t that bad, just focus on this. So we went in and I agreed. I’m from there, the governor’s an ally, I want to help, I’ll go the first year for a dollar.
MC: So you agreed to work for $1?
Blackwell: Yes. I suggested it. So everyone knows I was going to be offered a salary less than the previous EFM, but still a salary.