Now that the public corruption prosecution of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is behind us, how can we learn from this experience to demand more from our public officials?
On Monday, leaders from business, labor, government, academia journalism and the community will discuss this issue at a summit on good governance at Wayne State University Law School. Titled "Building an Open and Honest Government in Detroit: Why Integrity Matters," the summit will focus on moving forward to improve transparency and accountability in city government.
As Judge Nancy Edmunds stated when imposing a 28-year sentence on the former mayor, corruption erodes public trust in government, and it breeds cynicism and apathy that cause good people to sit on the sidelines. An honest government is essential to attracting people to lead and invest in Detroit, to make it the thriving city we all know it can be.
During the trial, the evidence showed that Kilpatrick created a culture of corruption, conducting much of the city's business behind closed doors, resulting in the conviction of more than 30 members of his administration and individuals doing business with the city. Some city employees operated consulting businesses on the side that generated outside payments just for doing their government jobs. Others accepted bribes in exchange for obtaining preferential treatment for city contractors. One of Kilpatrick's defenses at trial was that bribes, such as a Rolex watch, custom-made suits, and a flight to Las Vegas to attend a prize fight, were nothing more than innocent gifts.
Imposing transparency and accountability is the first step to preventing these abuses. We have already seen progress under Mayor Dave Bing, who has restored integrity to the Mayor's office. One improvement is the creation of the office of inspector general to investigate fraud, waste and abuse in city government. The city's Charter Commission also made some positive improvements by championing an ethics ordinance that prohibits gifts to city officials and requires disclosures of conflicts of interest, which will go a long way toward preventing the kinds of abuses that occurred in the Kilpatrick administration. Monday's summit will explore other ways to create structures that foster responsible government.
But the greatest cause for optimism for our city's progress already came with the message sent by the jury, the voice of our community. By finding Kwame Kilpatrick guilty, the jury made it clear that our citizens demand more from its leaders and will not tolerate abuse of trust. We will get what we demand from our leaders, and today, we are demanding more.
Barbara L. McQuade
United States Attorney
Eastern District of Michigan