At a recent special meeting of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen for the City of Bastrop, Mayor Henry Cotton told the board members and those gathered for the meeting that they should "google him", referring to Tony Saunders, the Detroit, Michigan man Cotton wants to become Bastrop's "Financial Advisor".
As Cotton introduced Saunders to the board for a presentation, he passed out a copy of an article from, Crain's Detroit Business. That article tells about Saunders leaving Wayne County, MI as their Chief Financial Officer in order to start his own firm, a firm that the article states will be, "a Detroit-based turnaround firm that will specialize in helping municipalities across the country get out of financial trouble."
The article goes on to call Saunders "a rising star in government finance." A Google search by the Bastrop Daily Enterprise did reveal that Saunders does have an impressive resume with government finance in Michigan. In addition to his work at Wayne County, Saunders worked as a Director for Conway MacKenzie, Inc., a consulting and financial advisory firm, and the Michigan Department of Treasury as an advisor. Then he was assigned to be the "Emergency Manager" for Benton Harbor, MI.
It is while he served as Benton Harbor's Emergency Manager that troubling results turn up in the Google search of Saunders. Saunders and the City of Benton Harbor were sued when Saunders allegedly fired two white police officers so that his fraternity brother, who is black, would be next in line to become public safety director. According to a report in The Herald-Palladium (http://bit.ly/2tWVmKQ), a Benton Harbor newspaper, "Robert O’Brien and Daniel Unruh, who are white, sued Saunders, who is black, and the city in June 2014, alleging Saunders terminated them in May 2013 because they are white. The jury ruled that the men were terminated in violation of the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act and of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964."
In another related case, the former Public Safety Director of Benton Harbor, Robert Lange, who is black, also sued Saunders and the City of Benton Harbor. Lange, sued after he alleged that he was fired in retaliation for reporting to state authorities "about allegedly racially discriminatory remarks Saunders, who is black, made against two white officers, Robert O’Brien and Daniel Unruh, who are no longer with the department." (http://bit.ly/2vYF7uk).
In the case against Saunders and Benton Harbor by Lange, the City of Benton Harbor and their insurance carrier paid Lange $400,000 to settle the suit. The jury in the O'Brien and Unruh suit awarded O’Brien $67,000 for lost wages and $100,000 for emotional pain and mental anguish. Unruh was awarded $32,000 for lost wages and $10,000 for emotional pain and mental anguish.
Just last week a television station in Detroit, WXYZ, reported on some of Saunders business dealings while he was a project manager for Wayne County, MI (http://bit.ly/2ve0ryV). According to the WXYZ report, Saunders, who left his Wayne County position as the county’s chief financial officer in April when he announced he was going to launch a "turnaround firm", actually launched a firm in November of 2015 and was working for clients from throughout the country, while still employed by Wayne County.
While the firm name that Saunders presented to the Bastrop Board of Aldermen was Volte, LLC, WXYZ reports that Saunders launched a firm called Dent Advisors as far back as November 2015. The Shelby County TN School District, as well as the Prince George County Council in Maryland, hired Dent Advisors, paying as much as $350 an hour for Saunders time. Saunders did get approval from Wayne County to do this moonlighting, but not until February of 2016.
The WXYZ report questioned the "double-dipping" by Saunders, which Saunders claimed was done on his own time and not while on the clock for Wayne County.
Saunders was paid $160,000 a year as Wayne County's Chief Financial Officer. According to the WXYZ report, Saunders was paid $95,000 by Shelby County Schools and $35,000 by Prince Georges County, all while employed full time by Wayne County. Saunders continued to work full-time for Wayne County until June when he became a part-time employee making $133 an hour.
Saunders is also involved in another business with a Wayne Country contractor, according to WXYZ. Invictus Equity Group, that owns and manages some county occupied properties.
In yet another news report, this time from The Detroit Free Press (http://on.freep.com/2ucNVdT) on July 21, Saunders is reported to be working as the interim Chief Financial Officer of the Detroit Public Schools, as a contractor. His firm is being paid $25,000 a month for that work and Saunders is working as a contractor with the monthly payment including support staff of Saunders firm.
Ironically, Saunders has previously been quoted as saying the types of actions he took as Emergency Manager in Benton Harbor, do not work for schools. In a Michigan Public Radio interview (http://bit.ly/2d4vkff ) Saunders said, "If you consider the overall strategies that EM's deploy in cities -- reduction of cost, increased revenue from taxes or fees or fines, layoffs or benefit reductions, and pension and healthcare modifications, and then most importantly, defer expenditures or investment," Saunders said. "And none of those work well in schools."
As for the possibility of Saunders working for the City of Bastrop, the Bastrop Board of Aldermen refused to act on Mayor Cotton's submission of Saunders as a financial advisor for the City at their last meeting. Council members did not seem keen on hiring Saunders, with questions raised as to if the City really needed a financial manager, to why couldn't the City find someone local if they did indeed need one? Perhaps the Councils Finance Committee Chairman Robert Shaw said it best when he said, "We are not Detroit, I'm not sure we need a financial guru."