Detroit mayor under fire from city council

May 13, 2008 1:22:03 PM PDT
The City Council narrowly approved taking the first step Tuesday toward removing Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who is charged with perjury over explicit text messages sent to a former aide. Council members voted 5-4 to begin forfeiture of office proceedings against Kilpatrick. On a separate 5-4 vote, they approved asking Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm to remove Kilpatrick from office - a step the governor has said she is unwilling to take while the criminal case proceeds.

The decisions seemed in doubt briefly after a council member who cast both deciding votes asked that the votes be reconsidered. The council agreed to reconvene but JoAnn Watson instead withdrew her motion to change the vote.

A third vote - a nonbinding measure to censure the mayor - passed 7-2.

Deputy Mayor Anthony Adams called the forfeiture vote "another meaningless gesture" by the council.

"They can't remove the mayor. They have no legal authority," Adams said. "This goes well past where they need to be. He was elected by the voters of Detroit, not by the council."

The Wayne County prosecutor's office charged Kilpatrick and former Chief of Staff Christine Beatty with perjury, misconduct in office and obstruction of justice on March 24, less than a week after the council voted 7-1 on a nonbinding resolution asking Kilpatrick to resign.

Excerpts of intimate and sexually explicit text messages between the mayor and Beatty were published in January by the Detroit Free Press. The pair had denied having a romantic relationship in sworn testimony at a civil trial involving police whistleblowers.

The whistleblowers' lawsuit and another case were settled for $8.4 million, but council members say they were unaware of an agreement Kilpatrick signed that kept references to the text messages secret. Relations between the council and the mayor's office had been strained even before those revelations.

Forfeiture proceedings could end up in court and be costly - presenting yet another burden for a cash-strapped city which is among the nation's leaders in foreclosures and unemployment.

State law allows the governor to remove an elected official from office for a number of reasons, but Granholm has said she wants to allow the legal process to play out.

Granholm's office declined to comment on the council's actions.

"Because the law prescribes a potential role for the governor, we are not going to comment on the council's actions today," spokeswoman Liz Boyd said. "We do not want to compromise the process."

The Kilpatrick case has overshadowed city budget negotiations and the proposed sale of Detroit's half of a busy and lucrative international tunnel linking the city to Canada.

If Kilpatrick is forced from office, council President Ken Cockrel Jr. will assume the mayor's seat and council President Pro Tem Monica Conyers would take over as council president.