07/09/2013 12:09 pm ET Updated Jul 09, 2013

Saunteel Jenkins Elected Detroit City Council President To Replace AWOL Charles Pugh

City of Detroit

With a president who was still AWOL, and a president pro tem who went to work for the city's state-appointed emergency manager, Detroit City Council needed some new leadership.

What remains of the body voted Saunteel Jenkins as the new Madam President of City Council Tuesday. Jenkins, who hails from the East Side, was elected City Council president by six members. Andre Spivey was elected president pro tem.

Jenkins, known as a moderate on Council, won her first campaign for a seat in 2009, placing third out of nine members. Her last job before Council was serving as the director of the residential treatment program director at the Mariner's Inn. But she's best known for serving as chief of staff to Maryann Mahaffey, the legendary former female president of Detroit City Council, who died in 2006.

Despite having gone missing three weeks ago amid revelations that he may have had an inappropriate relationship with a high school student he mentored, Pugh's seat at the head of City Council hadn't yet been filled. Orr stripped Pugh of his salary and authority after the former president was a no-show at several meetings. Pugh had asked for a three- or four-week medical leave without giving an explanation, which the EM denied.

But there won't be any new members filling those empty seats before the next election, thanks to an order issued by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. "Such vacancies shall be filled by duly elected and qualified individuals through the November 2013 election process," he wrote.

At the same time that Pugh disappeared, President Pro Tem (a deputy officer) Gary Brown also bid the Council adieu. Brown was hired as the emergency manager's Chief Compliance Officer, a top-level aide slot that will give Brown control of much of Orr's day-to-day business, along with deciding some layoffs or outsourcing. He will make $225,000 in the new position.

Councilman Kwame Kenyatta, one of the body's most vocal opponents to the appointment of an EM, also vacated his seat in June.

Under the 2012 charter, City Council officials are chosen by succession from the highest vote tally of the nine elected officials. Pugh and Brown had placed first and second in citywide voting, respectively. But the 2014 charter, which paved the way for the first council to be elected by districts, would elect officials by vote. Council members argued for 20 minutes over the best way to choose its replacements.

"I don't think it should happen at all," said Councilwoman Jo Ann Watson of electing new leadership on council, instead of using the method of succession. As the third and fourth highest vote-getters in the last election, Saunteel Jenkins and Ken Cockrel, Jr. would be elected to the president and president pro tem positions. Later, to applause, she thundered, "Succession is the order of the day until 2014! ... It's out of order."

But Cockrel made it clear that he wasn't interested in another promotion, although he said it was more than just a "been there, done that" kind of feeling. The former mayor is job-hunting and has already applied for new jobs before his term expires in January. Cockrel said the elected officials should be in a position to provide stability. With five kids, including three who will be in college, Cockrel said, "I need to do what I need to do."

"Just for the record," Jenkins told him, in a rare tender moment observed on Council, "you're breaking my heart."



Detroit Reacts To AWOL #CharlesPugh