EDITOR’S NOTE: THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED TO CORRECTLY IDENTIFY WANDA DARROW’S HUSBAND AND SON AS, RESPECTIVELY, JAMES DARROW II AND JAMES DARROW III.
The Potterville City Manager Wanda Darrow was placed on leave July 19 because the Michigan State Police were investigating allegations of criminal activity against her son, James Darrow III. She remains on paid leave while law enforcement and city councilmembers investigate her performance.
Det. First Lt. Thomas DeClercq of the Michigan State Police Lansing Post confirmed by phone that detectives were actively involved in a criminal investigation involving Potterville.
“I can tell you the focus of the investigation is a James Darrow,” he said. “That’s about all I can give up right now.”
He said the investigation is expected to be completed in “a couple of weeks.”
James Darrow II is Wanda’s husband, James Darrow III is her son. DeClercq was responding to an email of specific questions related to the investigation of the son.
A city source with knowledge of the employee complaint that triggered the Potterville City Council’s July 19 suspension of Darrow confirmed the criminal investigation of the son was the basis for the suspension.
Deputy Mayor Jeff Bussard was unable to confirm the information.
“The only thing I can say to that right now is I’ve been told by the attorney of the city that she’s been suspended on an employee wrote a formal complaint,” he said in a phone interview Thursday morning.
The Lansing State Journal reported at the time the resolution that resulted in her suspension reads, in part, “…the City Council believes that the City Manager, Wanda Darrow (the “City Manager”) may have committed misfeasance, malfeasance and/or nonfeasance in office, has made misrepresentations to City Council, has neglected her duties as City Manager, and has violated the City’s Code and Charter.”
A hearing on Darrow’s fate with the city will be held Aug. 28.
Wanda Darrow did not responding to a Facebook request for comment. Mayor Bruce Kring did not respond to a voicemail left on his cell phone Thursday morning.
Not directly related to the criminal investigation, documents have surfaced showing that both Wanda’s husband and son and a third man were paid nearly $6,000 to provide services for the city’s annual Dump Your Junk project. The event happened June 1 and 2. The event is billed as a volunteer community event.
An invoice submitted to the city for the work lists Dump Your Junk & Recycle as the biller, with an address corresponding to the addresses of Darrow, her husband and her son. A review of online records show there is no doing business as filed for the company, and no business in the state with that name.
A message left on the voicemail of the phone number listed on the invoice was not returned.
The documents obtained exclusively by Lansing’s Online News show Wanda Darrow authorized payments of $300 to Ross Kemp, of Bellevue; $4,200 for James Darrow II and $1,300 to James Darrow III.
For James Darrow II, Wanda’s husband, the $4,200 was broken out as $2,200 for labor, $1,800 for the use of a “large truck,” and $200 for the use of “2 large trailers.” James Darrow III was paid $1,000 for his labor and another $300 for the use of a “small truck.” Kemp’s payment was for labor.
Acting City Manager Bradley Boyce said in a phone interview Tuesday he has been unable to locate any bid documents or a contract related to the payments. He also noted that when he was a department head, it was his policy to get bids for anything that would cost more than $1,000.
Bussard said the city did not having a bidding policy nor ordinance which outlines the threshold as to when and if a project had to be sent out for bids.
“They would go under a best practice thing,” he said. “But I bet you in writing we absolutely don’t have one. I think the only policy we have is any single check over $20,000 requires council approval before disbursing, except in case of an emergency like a well failure, or a pump failure. But that’s just in a SOP, it’s not actually written.”
The payment to Darrow’s family members was news to Bussard.
“I obviously am unaware that Wanda paid her family to do stuff, I do not have any information on that,” he said in a phone interview Thursday morning. “I do know that they have documents, and I do know that they’re gathering a bunch of information regarding the suspension of the city manager. But that information is not being shared with me.”
Jeff Bussard said the city does not have an anti-neopotism policy.
“We do not have an actual no nepotism ordinance,” he said. “We should. But we don’t.”
The Michigan Municipal League Ethics manual, which is a collection of best practices recommendations strongly encourages municipalities to adopt anti-nepotism policies to prevent any allegations of impropriety.
Bussard said that the city’s ordinances and charter are “poorly written” and “shotty, at best.” He said he has tried to work on updating the policies and charter language. He said other pressing city matters have drawn his attention from the issue.
“Is that a good excuse?” he asked. “Probably not. But that’s me personally, since I’ve been on, my main focus to get that kinda stuff fixed. And now we’re starting to work on ordinances.”
He said the issue of both nepotism and the bidding process were interconnected issues, particularly in this instance.
“The issue is this is a lack of — we don’t have a nepotism policy in the city,” he said. “We don’t have a necessary, we have an SOP, but not actually a charter or an ordinance policy for bidding. So am I justifying what you have in your hand is appropriate? Absolutely not. I wanna make that clear.”
He continued, “But is there a loophole there that needs to be closed up? Absolutely. It’s kinda like a catch 22; lack of documentation, lack of appropriate policies creates an issue where this occurs.”