Detroit council vacancy: The top overlooked and ignored candidates

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Late last year 137 people applied to fill the Detroit City Council vacancy created when Saunteel Jenkins resigned last year.

 But council members only granted interviews to 17 candidates. That group includes political insiders, a violent felon, and several candidates who had major problems like paying their bills or getting to the polls to vote.

Problem Solver M.L. Elrick examined every single application and found some talented Detroiters that council overlooked.

Larry Warren: "As I looked at the backgrounds of all of the council members, it struck me that there was nobody like me in the group. No one had been a CEO of a big organization."

Francis Grunow: "There's been so much scandal, I think leadership as a concept locally has really been tarnished over the last few years."

John C. Scott: "Going after companies that were ripping off citizens or ripping off the city, that gave me pleasure."

Penny Bailer: "The most important thing for anyone who's going to be in public service to me is integrity."

A CEO, an urban planner with an Ivy League degree, a city prosecutor, an MBA with 30 years experience working with young people. The Detroit City Council wouldn't interview them - so Elrick did.

Elrick: "You've been CEO and COO of a $14 billion corporation?"

Warren: "Yes."

Elrick: "That sounds like experience the city council might benefit from.

Warren: "Well, I had hoped so."

They're not politicians and they don't even need the job. Each of these Detroiters believe they have something the council needs.

"I thought it would be valuable to bring a lot of experience in the nonprofit sector to the council," Bailer said. "To bring knowledge and the experience in education and youth development." 

For the past 14 years, Bailer has run City Year Detroit. That's a federal program that turns college kids into mentors for Detroit school children. Before that, she spent 17 years as CEO of one of the largest Girl Scout councils in the country.

"Nothing matters more than what we do for the children," Bailer said.

Warren knows business. He's helped run Trinity Health and was CEO of the Howard University Hospital and University of Michigan Health System.

"The city is a billion dollar business," Warren said. "When you're involved in big organizations, and even small ones for that matter, there are a number of problems that come before you and I'm told that I have a pretty good skill set in problem-solving and taking complex things and reducing them to lowest common denominator."

Grunow has a law degree from Wayne State University and majored in urban studies at Columbia University. He is a consultant on public policy and fought to save historic buildings as director of Preservation Wayne. 

"I think there are many problems in cities, but cities also represent the solutions to society," Grunlow said. "Making them work and making them work well is really what I've been trying to do my whole professional career."

Grunlow hoped joining the council would give him more say in the Red Wings' re-development plans.

"It's not just an arena," he said. "What does the streetscape look like? Is there parking for bikes? How is the environmental remediation being handled? How is historic property being handled? How are jobs being created? Are there opportunities for small business development?"

For more than 30 years, John Scott was a lawyer for the city of Detroit. He prosecuted polluters and worked with four different city departments. He is also a leader in the national federation of the blind, helping others overcome the obstacles he has obliterated since losing his sight as a teenager.

"Being blind, I rely largely upon public transportation and it's not a secret to anybody that the public transportation in Detroit is, let's say, a bit abysmal," Scott said.

For more than 30 years, Scott was a lawyer for the city of Detroit. He prosecuted polluters and worked with four different city departments. He is also a leader in the national federation of the blind, helping others overcome the obstacles he has obliterated since losing his sight as a teenager.

"My belief is that if you make it purely accessible for the disabled," Scott said. "Then it automatically it is going to be a very good transportation system for those that rely on it."

In an odd way, it may be comforting to think that council members didn't ignore these potential colleagues so much as overlook them. But that's not the case.

"I did reach out to a couple personally," Grunlow said. "I also sent a personal e-mail to each of the council members."

"A couple told me they were sure I would be nominated by others," Bailer said.

"George Cushingberry, I've known him for years," Scott said. "He actually sent his aide with me downstairs to fill out the necessary forms for the position."

Warren may be the sole exception.

"I happened to know a number of people who know council members and was asked, would you like us to call so they know who you are and so forth," Warren said. "My response was, no, you need not do that. I will let my credentials stand for myself.

"(I thought) I can't imagine that I won't at least get an interview."

All four candidates were disappointed they didn't even get an interview. Especially when council members only filled 17 of the 24 interview slots they created. 

But they aren't griping. In fact, they're only talking now because Elrick told them people deserve to know that Detroit has a ton of untapped talent.

"I think I had something to bring to the council," Scott said. "But if they didn't think so, that's on them, not me. I'm not going to worry about it."