MC: So when you suggested it, was it just for the year, or for throughout the time you were serving?
Blackwell: Nobody knows if they’re going to be EFM six months or a year. You can’t say pay me $1 for the next five years. I wouldn’t do that. My thing with the city when the city got on its feet, I actually started before the year saying it’s time to pay me. I borrowed $1 million on behalf of the city four or five months into my tenure because the city didn’t’ have enough money to make payroll.
Now normally if you’re sent by the state, the state gives you resources to help transition the city during this process. My predecessor got $9 million from the state to help them with. I come in and get $0. I go to my custodial bank, who has Highland Park’s account. They tell me, no, we won’t loan you a penny. The city is broke. We’re not going to give any money. So I ended up going to a Black bank, borrowing $1 million under something we call tax anticipation notes.
That had never been done. They did it. We paid them back in four months with interest. So that’s how the city averted shutting down. On our efforts, not with the efforts of the state. I wasn’t the mayor; I was a state contractor. So it should have been the state that should have said here are the resources Art needs to at least get off and running. They gave me nothing. So I’m going to work for $1? With my predecessor, three people were eliminated that did the same job that I did.
She had a deputy EFM and the city administrator. Those three people in four years, which was the same time I served. They served the first four, I served the second four. They made $1.5 million in salaries in four years. I made $370,000 in the same four years. And they want me to pay $270,000 of that back, so which means I would make $100,000 for four years vs. a $1.5 million.
MC: When you were appointed, was there anything on paper saying you were not receiving salary, or that you’d be receiving salary at some point?
Blackwell: When I first got appointed, there was an offer sent to me which I turned down, $6,000--
MC: A month?
Blackwell: Yeah. Which was offensive because it was less than what every EFM made everywhere. Like three fifths of what the other people make. But it wasn’t that I would or would not have accepted. The issue was the city couldn’t afford to pay me. I’m from there. I went back to do a service. People should understand I had just sold stock in the casino. The last thing I was thinking about in my life was going back to Highland Park to work 60 hours a week. Wasn’t even in my mind.
My daddy was in failing health and people in the community, a couple of council people, started writing the state saying the other people have got to go and here’s why. And they actually wrote letters to the state, to the attorney general, because of the ungodly sums of money these people were being paid. And no results. It wasn’t like that when I came in that the deficit was retired. The deficit existed. I retired the deficit. I funded the pension system.
Now people are still trying to figure out how can he borrow that much money to fund a pension system in the poorest city in Michigan? I said get a millage passed. I got a 71 percent yes vote. That’s unheard of in a millage election.
And then I got rid of the sheriff’s department, which was costing us $3 million a year, and I told the sheriff at that time that we could not afford to pay that, and that they needed to cut it. They said they couldn’t cut it. I brought our police department back. Everyone thought it was going to fail. It was a total success. And it saved us about $900,000 to $1 million a year.
MC: The prosecutor said you allegedly misused your position and cost $264,000 in checks to be issued to yourself from the City of Highland Park funds. What do you make of that?
Blackwell: It’s amazing what contract they’re reading. Because what they’re saying is Highland Park shouldn’t have paid me any money. It should have just been from the state. So that means when you read my contract, the opening lines the city shall pay directly-
MC: That’s what your contract says?
Blackwell: Yeah, so how can you just dismiss what that says? Even if you don’t agree with the number. That’s why the Attorney General’s Office has a contract issue. But then it goes on further to say the city is indirectly responsible for all my payment. And the state shall facilitate payment, which means the state shall advance cash if the city doesn’t have the cash flow. Whatever the state advanced me, it took it back from the city’s revenue sharing.
MC: Why did you say you were going to work for $1?
Blackwell: If you come to the Chronicle to say I want to help out, this used to be my family’s business or whatever, and they’re going to pay you and you get in and it’s broke and about to go bankrupt and you say okay, I’m going to help out, where’s the disconnect? I didn’t go in there intending to...why would I go somewhere to work for $1? I looked at the condition and offered that. Now for some reason there’s something sinister that I offered to work for $1. Others do it all the time. Edsel Ford did it. Mike Duggan did. But when I do it it’s sinister, because there’s something gotta be wrong. Well, I had a little money, but I wasn’t trying to subsidize or save Highland Park based on other people taking the money that they took. At the end of the first year if they had not paid me is when I would have stepped down.
MC: Did the governor recommend that you be paid after the first year?
Blackwell: I got it on tape. She said at the end of the first year, she directed the loan board to pay me a reasonable salary.
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