New Berkley DDA executive director comes with heavy past

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published November 11, 2021

 After a couple of months serving in the interim, Mike McGuinness, who once was sentenced on election fraud charges, was appointed the permanent Downtown Development Authority executive director in Berkley.

After a couple of months serving in the interim, Mike McGuinness, who once was sentenced on election fraud charges, was appointed the permanent Downtown Development Authority executive director in Berkley.

Photo provided by Mike McGuinness

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BERKLEY — The city of Berkley and its Downtown Development Authority have appointed a new executive director, one who comes with a past that has been following him for a decade.

The Berkley City Council unanimously approved at its Oct. 18 meeting the appointment of Mike McGunniness as the DDA’s executive director. McGuinness had been serving in the role in the interim for several months after former Director Jennifer Finney left her position.

The council spoke glowingly about McGuinness during the meeting, highlighting his past several months of work in Berkley and the positive feedback council members said they received from the community.

“There are very, very high expectations and I am very confident that you will not only continue to meet those expectations in the future but surpass them with the ideas and the energy and the creativity that you bring,” Mayor Dan Terbrack stated during the meeting. “I certainly echo the thoughts of my colleagues and the community at large with the positive feedback.”

The executive director role wasn’t something McGuinness searched for, as he was approached about taking on the position in the interim this summer. He decided to move forward with the process, although he did inform the DDA of one potential dealbreaker that could have brought the entire hiring to a halt.

In 2011, McGuinness pleaded no contest to charges dating back to the 2010 election. He was accused of falsifying documents to put names of people on ballots as a third party to take votes away from Republican candidates. The forged names were of people who had no idea they were placed on the ballot. This was during the time that McGuinness was the chairman of the Oakland County Democratic Party.

McGuinness was handed three uttering and publishing and three perjury from election law fraud charges. He was sentenced to a year of probation, ordered to pay more than $1,000 in fines and given 180 hours of community service.

“I did plead no contest to make the process end and admit guilt and move forward and pay the price,” he told the Woodward Talk. “Obviously, for the rest of my life, that would follow me and that stupidity is something I’ll rightfully have to own up to. So professionally and personally, it’s a scarlet letter that I will continue to have to wear.”

“I was in my 20s and broke and didn’t know what was going to happen with a never-ending legal process,” he continued. “The no contest allowed me to enter into not contesting guilt. So admitting guilt but allowing the trial to not have to drag on forever because …  it (did) hollow me out spiritually and hollow me out financially. So it was a real difficult time and so ‘no contest’ meant that there didn’t have to be this never-ending trial.”

McGuinness said he let all parties involved know upfront about his past so that if it was a dealbreaker, no one would be wasting their time.

“A downtown business or a community member through a quick online search would very easily come across that,” he said. “If that would bring undue or too much negative attention for the downtown, I wanted them to know upfront so that way it saved them time and me time if it wasn’t a right fit or a dealbreaker.”

McGuinness’ past was not discussed during the council’s vote. For his part, Terbrack told the Talk that he was aware of McGuinness’ actions, as he remembered the incident from 10 years ago and recognized his name when the DDA brought him up as a potential candidate.

“As soon as I heard that the DDA was thinking about interviewing him, I said, ‘Look, as long as you know there’s a past there, I don’t want to judge anybody just based on mistakes they may have made in their 20s, but as long as you’re aware of it,’” he said. “Council obviously wasn’t a part of it until it came to us, and council’s decision was based on the incredible work he’s done since he’s been the interim.”

“It’s slightly different with the DDA position because that goes through the DDA first,” he continued. “They give a recommendation to council and then again council’s decision … was all based on what he’s done so far and just his energy and what he’s brought to our downtown.”

Terbrack stated he personally didn’t take McGuinness’ past into consideration when he was confirmed.

“I try not to judge anybody by some things that have happened in their past,” he said. “If it was last week or two weeks ago or last year, that’s a different story, but he’s been an elected official numerous times since then in the city of Pontiac. … I would be shocked if he hadn’t disclosed all of that then as well. I’m sure he did. I’m sure it’s come up numerous times. He does not try to hide from things that happened. He’ll talk openly and honestly about them. I think that’s the type of person that he is, but I’m not holding that mistake 10 years ago against him and what I think he can bring to our downtown.”

As he moves ahead as the permanent executive director for the DDA, McGuinness hopes his work in Berkley will be able to speak for itself.

“Downtown Berkley has all the elements for success and a big asset — we have nearly 70 unique, independent retailers and small businesses, and it’s really about amplifying and supporting them so they can shine,” he said. “Downtown Berkley can and should be a regional shopping and dining destination for metro Detroit, and we’re on our way there and it’ll take a lot of work and a lot of determination and investment, but downtown Berkley’s best days are definitely ahead of it.”

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