Charles Pugh has disappeared. The usually very available, active social media pol is nowhere to be found.
He didn’t answer his cellphone Tuesday. His staff that is usually responsive is not responding either. His social media all disappeared too. So where is he? It’s the operative and puzzling question around City Hall. Insiders say he zipped in and out of his office last Thursday and hasn’t been seen there since. He has now missed two consecutive full council sessions which ended up chaired by President Pro-Tem Gary Brown and that is highly unusual for Pugh’s tenure.
No one knew where he was until about 1 p.m. Tuesday when President Pro-Tem Gary Brown came out to do a media question and answer session in the City Hall corridor on the 13th floor. In a bit of a surprise, he informed us Pugh had penned a two-line note to Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. Here is the text: "Consider this memorandum a formal communication regarding my time away from the City Council table. I am beginning a brief medical leave of absence for approximately 3-4 weeks effective today, June 25, 2013. All Council matters shall be referred to the President Pro-Tempore, of which my staff will report to. Thank you!"
Pugh brushed right past requesting and sped right to informing Orr he was taking a month off the job. No one had any idea Charles had any medical issues inside City Hall, least of all Kevyn Orr. So, his spokesman Bill Nowling Tuesday told Local 4 the emergency manager did not accept Pugh’s medical leave proclamation and instead told Local 4 he would not accept it at all.
In fact, Orr shot back to the President he had until 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 26 to decide whether he can fulfill his duties. He did not go into the "if not" part, it’s likely he didn’t need to. Here’s why: the emergency manager law does not address leaves of absences. Orr has no authority to grant any. He also has no power to “un-elect” Pugh.
What he can do is cut off Pugh’s pay, which is a problem for him considering Pugh’s home went into foreclosure a couple of years back and he clearly needs the income. Orr can delegate Pugh’s duties to someone else. Now, if there is proof of mis or malfeasance Orr can recommend to the Governor to remove Pugh from office. There is no evidence of that. Still, unless something dramatically changes in the next 24 hours Charles will, instead of being on paid medical leave, will be what amounts to suspended without pay.
This is a strange situation that had City Hall buzzing on Tuesday. But just what is the world is going on here? Even by Detroit City Hall standards this is mind bending territory.
It appears the only person who really knows what’s happening is not at City Hall and in hiding.
The media dance with Charles Pugh has always been a delicate one for us who have known him for more than a decade now. We in the media pretty much know everyone else and here in Detroit we enjoy a usually friendly rapport tempered by competitive juices. That rapport was tested the first week Charles took over the President’s chair for me. I recall the first interview I did with him and it was painful. It was my job to try and pry answers out of him regarding an accident he had in his City owned and issued car getting off I-75 in the City near Mack in the middle of the night. He had wrecked the car and rather than call 911 he called his police security team. They apparently advised him to go home, so he drove his wrecked vehicle home on the rims as the tires were flat and there was some serious damage. No thorough police investigation was ever undertaken that we could find, Charles had no good explanation of what really happened, who he was with or why he did not do what anyone else would do which is call 911. It was a bizarre moment since I had always known Charles as a good guy with whom you could joke around with before a news conference. This was different and played right into the crazy dysfunction that is the City Council. I never forgot that moment and find myself flashing back to it as we who have covered city hall over the past three and a half years have grilled Charles endlessly regarding the latest twist and turn in the city’s downward spiral toward emergency management.
If Charles is ill I know of no one who wishes him anything but the best. But Charles has shown no serious illness symptoms. In fact if you recall his infamous health video on YouTube there are few healthier people in all of Detroit. He’s a runner; he’s lost 40 or 50 pounds, he eats rabbit food and is proud of it.
No, something else appears at play here. We are uncertain precisely what but there are far more nefarious rumors circulating that every news outlet in Metro Detroit has been chasing for more than a week. Since we have no confirmation of any of the stories out there and we do not report rumors, none will be repeated here.
But, this current situation has that same uncomfortable feel as Charles’ ride-on-the-rims escapade.
Charles let us know where you are and let’s get this cleared up once and for all!