Corruption and the DWSD

City of Detroit

The corruptive influences within the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) over the last several decades raise doubts that the city should remain in control of the operation. Despite being under a federal consent decree since 1977, the DWSD’s reputation as a dumping ground for patronage jobs, contract padding and sleaze is legendary.

Mismanagement, incompetence, cronyism and corruption within the DWSD came into sharp focus in the 1980s, under then-Mayor Coleman Young. His friend, Darralyn Bowers was convicted and served time for paying $16,000 in bribes to obtain the now infamous multi-million dollar Vista sludge-hauling contract. Young was named an unindicted co-conspirator. The DWSD director at the time, Charles Beckham, who later served in the administrations of Ken Cockrel and Dave Bing, served 21 months of a three years sentence for collecting bribes and extortion in that scandal. In subsequent years, dozens of former DWSD officials received contracts with the department, including Beckham following his release from prison.

customer service IIDSWD’s questionable practices, including favoritism, continued into the 90s under former Mayor Dennis Archer. Although Archer himself was never implicated in wrongdoing, accusations ran rampant that DWSD awarded millions in no-bid contracts, failed to collect from deadbeat customers and was guilty of gross mismanagement. Some contracts were awarded on the basis of favoritism rather than qualifications. These charges were accompanied by claims of unjustified rate increases, overpayment by suburban customers as well as demands for wider regional representation on the DWSD board.

The latest scandal renews concern that Detroit officials  may be incapable of preventing corruption from polluting the operation. It began with a city council-approved $47 million sludge hauler’s contract awarded to Synagro Technologies Inc. to handle the city’s processed sewage. That probe spawned an  extensive federal investigation in which James R. Rosendall, a Synagro executive was charged with recruiting third parties to bribe public officials to get that contract. Rosendall pled guilty and was sentenced to 11 months.

Rayford Jackson, hired by Synagro, received a maximum five-year prison for arranging more than $6,000 in bribes for Councilwoman Monica Conyers in exchange for her vote on the sludge-hauling contract. Conyers received more than three years in prison. Political consultant Sam Riddle, Conyer’s former aide, received a 37-month prison sentence.

Now comes the 38-count federal indictment against former Mayor Kwame M. Kilpatrick and two top aides, accused of rigging DWSD contracts, extorting  contractors and raking in bribes in the millions. Snared in the sweep is former director Victor Mercado who was charged with extortion and obstruction of justice. Kwame  Kilpatrick’s father, Bernard, is charged with collecting kickbacks. Contractor, Bobby Ferguson, is alleged to have  received “tens of millions of dollars” for work he either did not perform or was awarded through extortion.  Derrick Miller, a Kilpatrick friend and his former top aide, is accused of accepting bribes.

Since the 1970s, every mayor, Mayor Dave Bing excluded, has had management or legal issues with the department. We can only speculate why DWSD is the poster child for Detroit corruption. It may be that inherent in the DWSD structure are all the elements of a perpetuating self-corrupting entity. Whether the water department’s besmirched reputation could be made whole under a restructured regional authority is conjecture.

What about the current board members?  Are they complicit or incompetent? Removing them might be a first step to reforming the contracting process with the goal of making sure that corruption and the DWSD cease to be synonymous.

15 thoughts on “Corruption and the DWSD

  1. I agree the DWSD mess is a fiasco that needs to be cleaned up. However, while we are naming names, let us not forget Federal Judge Jon Feikens who issued the federal consent decree in 1977. He also chose and appointed the attorneys to oversee future matters. Were the attorneys not cronies of Jon Feikens; who were they; what did they do and how much were they paid? Let’s begin at the beginning, and start at the top. I have to believe Judge Feikens was not as explicit in his ruling and diligent in his followup as he should have been to allow room for the mismanagement, corruption and bribery to run as rampant as it has for more than two decades.

  2. I support a free market solution; break up the water department by selling it to the five highest bidders. allow the new private owners to sell stock on the NYSE, do not tax the property of the new water supply companies, repeal all fees, licenses, permits etc associated with the water companies and repeal all of the regulation too.

  3. Help is on the way. As much as Detroiters resent the fact that the Water Department should not be governed by entities not within the City limits the latest example of alleged corruption has tested the limits of Suburbanites.

    Newly elected State Represetnative Kurt Heise of the 20th District is preparing legislation to have an authority that will be composed of Surbanites to manage the Water Department. Detroiters brought this on themselves by suppporting and electing the personalities who created this debacle. Many who live outside of Detroit have very litttle faith in the honesty or integrity of Detroit’s elected officials to ethically manage any aspect of Detroit City Government.

  4. I know he didn’t start the corruption at DWSD, but as an aside, Kwame Kilpatrick could really have been something. He was young, dynamic, and had the city in the palm of his hand. Turns out that palm was being greased from every which way.

    His is truly a tragic story, for he could have been the greatest thing to hit Detroit since the Model T. I’m not sure whether to be saddened or angry at the route he chose to take.

    Kwame had a golden opportunity to bring the city back to life and to show “those white folks” that Detroit could pick itself up by the bootstraps and make something of itself.

    The DWSD scandal, sadly, is merely another blemish on his record.

    As for his predecessors, who knows why DWSD became the gathering point of muck. Maybe because it was a department that flew under the radar for too many years?

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  6. Mr. Johnson It was a pleasure to speak to you briefly tonigh.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts it proves that there are still good people who believe that positive change can occur when light is shone into areas where others don’t us want to go.

    Again – Keep it up. and Thank-you.

    Pat Williams – Canton Township Trustee.

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