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Bing decries Council "sideshow," says he 'll no longer deal with city lawyers

Paul Hitzelberger
United Photo Works

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing went to the Detroit City Council Friday to formally tell them he wants to get rid of the city’s top lawyer.

Instead, he walked out of an abruptly-recessed meeting he later called a “sideshow.”

Bing has been at odds with Detroit’s corporation counsel, Krystal Crittendon, for weeks now.

Crittendon, acting against Bing’s wishes, pushed a legal challenge to the city’s consent agreement with the state

Even though a judge threw the case out, Bing says it “irreparably harmed” the city by, among other things, damaging its credit rating.

So Bing went before Council to state his case. But he ended up sitting through about 45 minutes of biting public comment—almost entirely pro-Crittendon and anti-Bing--before asking for a recess to take a conference call.

He didn’t return, instead calling a hasty press conference.

“I think our Council and its leadership must be more responsible and respectful to the office of the mayor,” Bing said, explaining that he would submit his written remarks to the Council in lieu of returning. He also stressed he didn't want to fire Crittendon, but rather force her to resign and return to a lower position in the law department (firing her would have required six votes from Council).

“I think I should have been able to present my position, as opposed to sitting there, playing games with people’s lives,” Bing said. “I don’t have time for that. There’s too much work to be done in the city.”

Bing says even if he can’t force Crittendon out, he won’t deal with her or the city’s law department. He says he’ll use outside legal counsel—which he already relied on heavily during consent agreement negotiations--exclusively to represent the mayor’s office.

Council President Charles Pugh took offense, calling the mayor’s actions “disrespectful” and “childish.”

“We’re not gonna be used for his message-sending,” Pugh said. “If he wants to talk to the media and bash Krystal Crittendon, he needs to call a news conference.”

Pugh says he's not even sure whether Bing can use outside lawyers without corporation counsel signing off on it,  and that Council should "look into" whether procedure was followed.

There's another important aspect to the Bing/Crittendon drama that doesn't just hinge on past disagreements. It turns out Crittendon is also supposed to play a role in a scheduled bond sale next week--one that could put Detroit back on the financial brink if it doesn't go through.

According to Nancy Kaffer of Crain's Detroit Business:

"The city’s financial future hinges on a bond sale set for next week, and right now, it’s not clear if that sale is going to happen. In short, the city borrowed about $80 million this spring on a short-term basis, with the understanding that a June sale of long-term bonds would refinance the short-term borrowing... Crittendon is required to sign off on the city’s bond sales... Will she sign? Martin doesn’t know, and he’s not sure when Crittendon will make a decision. I left a message at Crittendon’s office, but it wasn’t immediately returned. What happens if she doesn’t sign? “That’s a big problem,” Martin said – the city would be unable to move forward with the refinancing, and that would have a negative impact on the city’s cash flow."

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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