HIGHLAND PARK (Talk Radio 1270) Former Highland Park Emergency Manager Art Blackwell defended himself Monday on the Charlie Langton Talk Radio 1270 morning show, saying he’s innocent of the state’s reinstated embezzlement charges against him.
Wayne County prosecutors said Blackwell improperly took $264,000 from Highland Park when he was the emergency manager charged with getting the city back on its financial feet. He denies the charges and has filed an appeal.
“It has been quite an arduous wait time,” Blackwell said about the charges that originated in 2009, later adding, “Every dime the state paid me, they took back through revenue sharing.”
Why are they prosecuting him at this point? A longtime friend and supporter of disgraced former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, Blackwell blamed that relationship on this prosecution.
“That’a a good question … I think it may have something to do with the fact that people felt, people may feel, due to my close relationship with Mayor Kilpatrick.”
Blackwell said the two have stayed in touch while Kilpatrick fights federal corruption charges. And he thinks Kilpatrick’s problems stem mostly from his age. The former mayor was elected at 32 years old.
“I really believe in the code and oath that you believe in, everybody is presumed innocent until he goes to court,” Blackwell said. “I know him better than most people, and the other thing I know is I know all sides of the equation … I do know that a lot of the monstrous stuff they make this person and other people out to be is not the case.”
He blamed youth for Kilpatrick’s legal issues, saying he needed more seasoning before becoming the mayor of Detroit.
“Being young and going into a job like that as brilliant as you may be. Being older and having gray hair, I’ve lived it. In my opinion he could’ve waited a little longer,” Blackwell said, adding:
“There’s an intellectual maturity but then there’s emotional maturity and sometimes those things don’t develop (at the same rate),” Blackwell said. “… That was one of the problems that a little more maturation could’ve helped.”
In his own legal battle, Blackwell took troubled Highland Park from a general fund deficit of $15.6 million to a $3.6 million surplus, and managed to reinstate the local police department.
The dispute comes down to his salary. Prosecutors says his contract did not authorize retroactive salary that he collected; Blackwell said it did.
“We absolutely have an interview that was done that says I do … The treasurer admits he overlooked the fact we put the money in the report,” Blackwell said.
His initial 2005 contract said he would be paid $76,000 a year, but Blackwell said he quickly realized “they had no money in the checking account,” so he offered to do the job for $1 for the first year.
Eventually, when finances improved, Blackwell started collecting a salary that he says was approved, and others say was not approved. A lower court threw out the charges against him more than two years ago, but the Appeals Court reinstated them last week.