More than $210,000 intended for poor people but instead used to furnish a City of Detroit office paid for numerous leather chairs, a $3,000 mahogany-finish conference table and at least three stainless steel trash cans with motion sensor lids and a price tag of $315 each, records show.
A 56-page receipt, obtained by the Free Press under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, lists dozens of high-end items destined last year for the Human Services Department’s east-side building, including more than $30,000 spent to furnish the office and conference room of the director.
The Free Press first reported the furniture purchases in May, prompting an FBI investigation and the suspension of Director Shenetta Coleman and several other employees. Coleman could not be reached for comment.
The purchases include a $469 ottoman (500-pound capacity) and a $100 magazine rack, both to be delivered to the office cafeteria.
Three state-of-the-art trash cans were designated for reception areas on the third and fourth floors of the building, according to the receipt.
The Safco Kazaam receptacles each hold 11.5 gallons of refuse and feature lids that open when infrared sensors detect an approaching hand.
According to sales literature, such a trash can “ensures odor and infection control.” The cans cost $314.93 each.
“People put their own comforts over those who have none,” said Greg Murray, vice president and administrative representative for the Senior Accountants, Analysts and Appraisers Association, which represents employees in the Human Services Department. “It’s sickening.”
Bing’s investigation of DHS misspending nears end
Detroit Mayor Dave Bing’s office says it is close to wrapping up an internal investigation prompted by Free Press reports of misspending and waste at the beleaguered Detroit Human Services Department.
“Mayor Bing has made it clear that city government must work for residents,” mayoral spokesman Dan Lijana said Tuesday. “He has zero tolerance for the reality or appearance of misuse or mismanagement of funds.”
Lijana declined to reveal details of the investigation, including whether the city accounted for more than $210,000 worth of furniture that the department purchased for its east-side offices. The money was intended to help feed and clothe poor people.
Also investigating the department are the FBI, Detroit police and the city’s auditor general.
Human Services Director Shenetta Coleman, appointed by former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, was suspended pending the outcome of an investigation after the Free Press first revealed the furniture purchases in May. Bing also suspended several other department employees.
In May, Bing said he expected the internal investigation to reveal more misspending and result in the firing of some — if not all — of the suspended employees.
Coleman didn’t respond to calls and knocks at the door of her Redford Township home.
The receipt from Creative Office Interiors, dated Sept. 27, accounts for $182,000 in furniture purchases destined for the department offices at 5031 Grandy, near Warren and Mt. Elliott.
The department ordered scores of high-end chairs, bookcases, conference tables, credenzas, lamps, cabinets, magazine racks, hutches, shelving and desks. Even the mail room got an all-new furniture makeover, including a “mail sorter” for nearly $1,300 and a “mail table w/doors” for almost $1,200. The fourth-floor reception area was fitted with a new chair, sofa, love seat and tables.
City officials said the purchases were especially egregious because the agency handles most of the federal money to feed and clothe poor people, find jobs for unemployed people, create subsidized housing, open homeless shelters and operate the early childhood education program Head Start.
In a city where a third of the population lives below the federal poverty level, demand for services from the agency is so high, virtually every service has a long waiting list for some of the neediest families.
Citing financial shortages, the department didn’t open a popular warming center for homeless people until late into the winter earlier this year, drawing criticism from council members and welfare groups.
“They could have opened the warming center or even a Head Start agency with the money they spent on furniture,” said Greg Murray, vice president and administrative representative for the Senior Accountants, Analysts and Appraisers Association, which represents employees at the Human Services Department. “It’s obscene.”
The agency ordered an additional $28,265 at Quality Recycled Furniture in Inkster, but the City of Detroit did not provide the Free Press with an itemized invoice of the purchases.
The Free Press reported earlier that the $210,000 spent on furniture came from a $1.2-million grant the department awarded — without bids — to the Detroit nonprofit Clark & Associates. The money was to cover the payroll and administrative costs of hiring employees for food and clothing banks for low-income people.
Clark & Associates Director Timothy Ballard said he thought the furniture was for food and clothing banks and was shocked when he saw the list of high-end purchases in late 2010.
“I said, ‘Oh my goodness,’ ” Ballard told the Free Press on Tuesday. “I didn’t realize.”
Still, Ballard acknowledges, he never reported the purchases.
Deborah Tibaudo, who runs Creative Office Interiors, declined to comment Monday when visited at her office.