The Detroit Board of Ethics is investigating the city’s planning and development director for circumventing the bidding process to paint murals on downtown buildings ahead of the NFL Draft.

The Detroit Be the Change murals depicting Detroit artists were painted by Street Art for Mankind Corp., a nonprofit that employed international artists through a $215,000 contract the Detroit City Council rejected in January, the Detroit Free Press reports.

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Emails obtained by the Free Press, Outlier Media, and BridgeDetroit reveal negotiations over several months in 2023 about painting the murals on several prominent downtown buildings for the draft, and City of Detroit Planning and Development Department Director Antoine Bryant’s decision to approve the contract without city council approval.

“I think there’s still many questions that need to be answered,” Christal Phillips, executive director of the ethics board, told Outlier Media.

“Our office decided that this would be something that we should investigate and the board agreed,” Phillips said. “This has extensive reporting and has been in the news for some time.”

The investigation will center on whether Bryant’s decision to execute the contract interfered with the ability of city leaders to vet the proposal, and Bryant has two weeks to respond to five potential ethics violations.

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Those violations include willful neglect of duty, self-interested regulation, improper use of city property, incompatible employment or rendering of services, and representation of a private person, business or organization.

“The entire process culminated very quickly. SAM’s unexpected return and quick commencement of work do not excuse (the planning and development department’s) failure to follow all required purchasing protocols,” Bryant wrote in a November memo to council members cited by the Free Press. “I take full responsibility for the missed processes and procedures. I apologize for all mistakes made and sincerely hope your honorable body will approve this request for payment for the services that have already been performed in good faith.”

Detroit COO Brad Dick told BridgeDetroit the city has “complete confidence” in Bryant and is providing legal counsel during the ethics investigation.

City contracts over $25,000 require city council approval, and City Council President Pro Tem James Tate said at a January meeting the murals aren’t the first time Bryant has approved contracts he shouldn’t have.

Tate pointed to a sales amendment for the Brodhead Armory Bryant previously executed without city council approval.

“I’m very concerned about the way that this planning director has operated. I’ve also talked about the lack of communication and a connection that this individual has tried to make, even with the planning and economic development standing committee chair and other members,” Tate said. “So I am concerned about the way that he has approached this and other projects.”

Others are frustrated with the project’s exclusion of local talent, with artists raising issue with the massive walls offered to Street Art for Mankind when locals are relegated to smaller buildings outside of downtown.

Many of the European artists involved also were not forced to go through the same process required of local artists who have been participating in Detroit’s existing City Walls program, which has commissioned hundreds of murals throughout the city.

“All of these white artists painted Black people,” Detroit muralist Sydney James told the Detroit Metro Times last year. “There was no vetting process or anything. They said, ‘Hey we can come in and paint these walls,’ and the city said OK, but they make Detroit artists go through the wringer and do all these community activations before they can put something up. These European artists weren’t asked to do all of that.”

James told the Free Press she and other artists are now pushing for the city to implement policies to ensure fair pay and equitable access for public art projects.

“The most important takeaway for me and for artists in the community. It exposed what needed to be adjusted. If there is a policy in place, it hasn’t been enforced,” she said.

The ethics board notified Bryant of its investigation last week, starting a 14-day timeline for a response. Once that happens, the board will consider the evidence and decide whether a hearing is necessary.

If a hearing occurs, the board would consider evidence before a vote on any violations and potential penalties, which range from a warning to removal from office, according to the city charter cited by Outlier Media.