Mayor Dave Bing — Eric Hobson photos
In an exclusive interview with Bankole Thompson, editor of the Michigan Chronicle, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing said he is focused on the job, despite reports of underperformance and crisis of confidence in the business community. Bing said his administration, among other things, is tackling the financial crisis with the latest cuts he has imposed on public safety, his efforts that garnered $14 million to maintain recreation for the city’s youth, phasing out departments to meet the demands of the current reality, and his relationship with Gov. Rick Snyder, and the Detroit City Council whom he said has nine different agendas.
MICHIGAN CHRONICLE: What is the exact conversation between you and Gov. Snyder over the affairs of Belle Isle?
DAVE BING: None. The Detroit Economic Growth Corporation got a proposal from Rodney Stokes (head of Michigan Department of Natural Resources) that they are looking at. The governor came out some time ago and said there were three areas he thought the state would help. And that would be in public safety, Belle Isle and demolition. At this point the only thing that has happened is we’ve got 14 Michigan State Police. I think Chief Ralph Godbee can say that’s helpful, but he needs more than that considering where crime is now. That’s not enough.
MC: Unions have been vehemently opposed to your cuts. Are they wrong?
DB: I can’t blame labor. I don’t blame them for their position but the reality is we can’t go forward with the structure that we have. We can’t afford it. It is unfortunate that we are where we are. Things should have happened years ago that didn’t happen. So it’s all happening at one time. We went through negotiations during the Christmas holidays with labor. But the problem was the state did not agree with the negotiations. The state didn’t feel we went far enough on work rules, so they told us they were not going to sign off on it. That’s when everything broke down. The state had the final say.
MC: So labor is shooting at the wrong person. They should blame the governor?
DB: They should blame Lansing. I won’t say just the governor because the governor personally didn’t get involved in it that much. It was the treasurer (Andy Dillon). Yes, they are shooting at the wrong person.
MC: Given the realities confronting Detroit’s road to financial recovery, what pace is the city at right now with regard to achieving that goal?
DB: We are as fast as we can be. We couldn’t do anything until the contracts expired in June. So at this point when council made the decision not to support the direction we wanted to go in, I had the authority at that point to impose and I did that. So we are moving.
MC: What about the Financial Review Board?
DB: I think they are important. There’s a lot of expertise on the board and they were supportive of my position as far as the cuts are concerned. You can’t expect people who’ve got a certain lifestyle and in some cases people are struggling even though they have jobs. When they have to take a cut and they have to go backwards its very difficult. In order for us to go from where we are to where we need to be, there is pain.
We’ve said we wanted shared pain across the board. It took me 38 months to include public safety (police and fire) because I think that’s the most important thing to support. So they were pretty much protected the first 38 months. Now we get to a point where they represent 65 percent of our costs and in order for us to meet our budget and become financially stable, they had to take a hit like everybody else.
MC: What about department consolidation, something that has been a conversation topic from one administration to the other?
DB: We have moved Workforce Development out of the city department. We are trying to do the same thing with the health department. We are going to do the same thing with human services. So we have to be strategic in terms of how much change can occur at one time. That represents somewhere around 400 people that are no longer going to be on the city’s payroll, but the services that they provide will continue because it is very important in a city like ours where so many people are dependent on those services.
MC: If you were to put a timeline on getting back to efficiency, how much time are we talking about?
DB: It’s not going to happen in this term. I think we’ll make improvements. It is unrealistic to think that the things that have been going on for 30 or 40 are going change overnight. There are a lot of things we are implementing as I speak, and things that have already happened. The problem that I have with a lot of folks, media included, is that they want to focus on things that you haven’t done. We’ve done a lot of things. Nobody wants to focus on that. We came in here and it was a mess. We had to do a lot of digging. We had to do a lot of data search.
MC: Krystal Crittendon, Detroit corporation counsel, set a historic precedent by taking the city to court. How do you deal with the reality of City of Detroit v. City of Detroit in court?
DB: I think they (the Charter Commission) went too far based on what has happened in the last administration. I don’t think anybody thought we would be where we are today as it relates to the Corporation Counsel’s authority. Corporation Counsel is not an elected position. Based on the charter changes — and it’s not about Krystal — that position has more authority than the mayor or city council. That makes no sense, so it needs to be changed. I think a lot of the changes in the charter were positive but it’s not perfect. This isn’t working and it needs to change.
MC: How soon would that change occur? Are you going to mount an effort to do that?
DB: I think there are people outside of this administration that ought to talk about initiating that change because it definitely has crippled this administration in terms of our ability to move forward.
MC: How much of an impact does the tug of war relationship between you and the city council have in addressing the city’s financial crisis?
DB: I think it sends the wrong message. You’ve got nine different agendas on city council. We’ve got one agenda here in this office and that is to make things better for the citizens of Detroit. You’ve got people that are worried about politics, people worried about getting reelected. I couldn’t care less about that. Let me fix what I can fix for whatever time I’m here.
MC: Some have concluded that the cuts to public safety contradict your administration’s touting of public safety as key to building a healthy community. What do you say to that?
DB: It would be very easy to say we can stop every other department except public safety and be able to afford that. All the salaried people took 10 percent cuts back in 2010. They (public safety) didn’t. And now we are at a point in 2012 where we are saying we have less revenue than we had in 2010. So if you guys are representing 65 percent of the budget, if I don’t touch you I’ve got to close down almost every other department, which doesn’t make sense. So if we are talking shared sacrifice they have to share the sacrifice like the rest of us. It’s unfortunate but that’s our reality.
MC: What is your relationship like now with the governor?
DB: I think I’ve got a decent relationship with the governor. We don’t always agree on everything. I represent Detroit and he represents the state of Michigan. And there are things that I’d like to see happen in Detroit and maybe he doesn’t. I don’t know, but I think our relationship is a decent one.
MC: Some have suggested a public private/partnership on public safety where businesses invested in the city provide some sort of assistance through a fund. Is that something you would push?
DB: Well, I’ll tell you what I’m doing from a public/private standpoint. We had to cut recreation 43 percent (from $18 million down to $10 million). I’ve been able to go to foundations, businesses and non-profits and raised about 14 million dollars today for recreation. I don’t know how many times you can go back to the same people and ask for that kind of support.
MC: Except we are looking at two microscopic lenses. There is a report that there is a crisis of confidence in your leadership from the business community, but when you talk to them you get a different view. Comment?
DB: Nobody has come to me and said we don’t think you ought to do this. So either they’ve got no hearts or guts or they are behind your back saying something different than what they are saying in front of your face. I’m a pretty straightforward guy. I deal with criticism all the time. I’ve got relationships with the business community that I think are pretty strong. The only people that have come out and said anything has been the media.
MC: How would you grade Dave Bing?
DB: I won’t do that. History will do that for me.
MC: You did fundraising at the Detroit Athletic Club recently. Obviously you are seeking a second term.
DB: Are you asking me that as a question?
DB: I’m not thinking about that at all. I’m thinking about the next 17 months getting things done. We have done the research, collected a lot of data. Now it is time to put all of that data collection, analyses into action. And that is what I’m focused on right now. I want to make sure that I continue to support public safety.
Digital Daily Signup
Sign up now for the Michigan Chronicle Digital Daily newsletter!
- Detroit Begins A New Chapter as Detroit Bankruptcy is Allowed to Proceed (1)
- Joyce Hayes Giles retires after 35 years with DTE (2)
- Sarah Palin accuses Obama of Libya ‘shuck and jive’ (1)
- Detroit is eligible for bankruptcy, pension cuts (2)
- Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network among lowest priced health plans on Michigan’s ACA health insurance marketplace (1)