M.L. Elrick and Jim Schaefer, Detroit Free Press, May 17
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick doesn’t want you to know about some things:
The spa visits.
The hotel room for his family babysitter.
The posh suite at the Luxor casino he and his family shared in Las Vegas.
The $850 steakhouse dinner.
The $836 charged to the city’s credit card for his sister’s stay in New Orleans.
The $3,837 he spent on chauffeured sedans over four days.
The $11,644 he dropped on Super Bowl hotel rooms.
Kilpatrick’s administration — in an apparent violation of the Freedom of Information Act — withheld evidence of these charges and other expenses billed to his city-issued MasterCard. The Free Press is suing for complete copies of the mayor’s credit card records.
After learning that the newspaper had obtained unedited copies from an independent source, Kilpatrick said at his regularly scheduled Monday news conference that the city withheld the information because the charges were “either paid for or reimbursed to the city, or it’s being disputed . . .
“I will write a check for everything that is in dispute with our credit card company,” he said. “Everything. Every dollar.”
The mayor, who said he will write the check today, already has reimbursed the city for some of the charges — nearly three years after they were made and on the same day city lawyers agreed to provide financial records to the Free Press.
Nearly two years ago, the Free Press made its first formal request under the Freedom of Information Act for the mayor’s credit card records. The newspaper sued in November. Last month, the city finally sent over records.
But in dozens of instances, pages were missing, or information on the city-supplied records was blacked out.
In the meantime, the Free Press obtained unedited copies of the credit card records from Harris, an independent official appointed by the City Council to serve a 10-year term monitoring city operations. He obtained the records during an earlier audit of the mayor’s office.
Harris, who ran for mayor in 2001, told the Free Press last week he had concerns about some of the charges and said the public had a right to know how Kilpatrick is using the city’s credit card.
Comparing the city-supplied records with the documents from Harris shows:
•The information blacked out on records the city provided frequently dealt with Kilpatrick’s spending while out of town.
•More than a dozen documents dealing with the Kilpatrick administration and his family’s spending at hotels were not included with what the city turned over to the newspaper. Those documents were included in Harris’ unedited records.
City lawyers handling the Free Press’ public records requests told the newspaper’s lawyer that one or more people from the mayor’s office reviewed some credit card records before they were turned over and deleted information they deemed exempt from disclosure. After the Free Press made inquiries, the Law Department acknowledged that some documents also had been withheld.
Based on the edited records the city provided, the Free Press reported two weeks ago that Kilpatrick charged more than $210,000 to his city MasterCard during his first 33 months in office. He justified pricey meals at upscale restaurants and other charges as the cost of luring business and federal dollars to his cash-strapped city.
The charges came during a bleak economic period for Detroit. Kilpatrick came into office facing a budget deficit and has since eliminated thousands of city jobs. His first two budget plans ended in deficit, and the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, is also expected to end in the red. Kilpatrick has proposed slashing the city’s $1.6-billion general fund budget to ward off a potential $300-million deficit next year that threatens to thrust the city into receivership.
On April 13, Kilpatrick, his five-member negotiating team and a police bodyguard arrived at the lush Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. Beatty said Monday night that their expenses were paid for by casino operators who, under an agreement with the city that predates the Kilpatrick administration, are required to pick up the tab for airline and hotel stays when city officials are in Las Vegas negotiating. She said that information was omitted from the records given to the Free Press because taxpayers were not responsible for the charges.
Although the city did not turn over receipts for the hotel stay, records the Free Press obtained from Harris show that on Kilpatrick’s first day there, the mayor charged $52.55 for Pearl Moon swimwear and $265 at the Four Seasons Spa for him and bodyguard Mike Martin.
Conrad Mallett Jr., a former state Supreme Court justice who was then working as the mayor’s chief operating officer and lead negotiator, charged an in-room movie and an $850 meal at the Luxor steakhouse.
Because no detailed receipt is included in even the unedited records, it is not clear what was eaten and by whom. Beatty declined to elaborate Monday night.
The two-day hotel stay, which was charged to the city MasterCard, totaled $7,696.45.