Compensation commission to decide on city raises

The Detroit Elected Officials Compensation Commission is gathering Monday evening to discuss the proposed raises for some City Council members. 

Looking at salaries, Council members receive a salary around $73,000 and Council president Brenda Jones receives a salary around $76,000. They say those numbers are well below the national average for a city this size. 

Many pensioners have been questioning the timing of this proposal. As part of the bankruptcy settlement, pensioners received cuts which just recently went into effect. 

Meanwhile, FOX 2's M.L. Elrick has uncovered a potential conflict of interest that may taint the commission's process. It involves Buzz Thomas, the unpaid volunteer who heads the commission. 

He is a long-time Detroit politician. He is a former state senator who is now a consultant and political operative. 

"It certainly creates a perception of a conflict if you have someone sitting on a commission, determining the raises of city officials, and then also turning around and later lobbying those officials on behalf of his clients," says Jocelyn Benson, dead of the Wayne State University School of Law. She also served on the Detroit Board of Ethics. 

"He knows better than that. He sat up there as a state senator, a state representative; he knows how that don't look right. That don't [sic] smell right," says political consultant Adolf Mongo. "He needs to step away and let others handle it."

Elrick says he asked several experts on ethics and politics, who all shared the same opinion as Benson and Mongo.

"When someone's actually getting paid by businesses and other entities to get things done in the city on their behalf, it's hard to imagine that that transaction, that necessity, is not in the back of his mind - or anyone's mind - when they're making decision on these public officials' salaries," says Benson. 

Elrick has reached out to Thomas for comment.

Elrick also reached out to Mayor Mike Duggan for comment, who appointed him to the commission. He received this statement from Portia Roberson, Director of Ethics and Human Rights:

"There is no provision in the City Charter that prevents Mr. Thomas from serving as a member of the EOCC. He meets all of the necessary qualifications."

The city council and the city clerk have said they want raises, while Duggan maintains he does not want a raise. 

Benson says the way to maintain public trust in this process is to "ensure the commissioners are not also serving as lobbyists while sitting on this commission, evaluating the salary and pay of city officials."
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