Remember the Cobo Hall drama? It may seem like a dated political fad now, but three years ago Detroit was abuzz with the threat of losing the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) or, on the other end, the “hijacking” of Cobo Hall from City of Detroit ownership to regional control.
That’s behind us now and construction continues unchallenged at COBO. Now that the riverside conference center is in the hands of a regional authority—and regional funds— the political storm has calmed and it’s a non-issue.
But Detroit has moved on to a new controversial authority, one that would put Detroit’s public lighting department in the hands of a joint authority between City and State appointees.
The legislation, which Mayor Dave Bing announced in August, got tied up in the State Senate a month after the announcement , with a slim chance of passing in the lame duck period after the election. Passage of this legislation would authorize the creation of a City of Detroit Public Lighting Authority and allow the City the bonding capacity to invest an estimated $160 million to modernize the street lighting system, according to Bing.
Opponents of the plan—state legislators representing Detroit—say that the authority is not a good deal for Detroit in the long term, arguing that it represents another loss of a city asset amid financial hardship.
Meanwhile many Detroit Neighborhoods and major thoroughfares remain in the dark, with antiquated lights that are broken and needing modernization.
While the authority seems like it could be a good fix for Detroit there is a misconception that passage of the legislation will get the city glowing like a Christmas tree in a matter of months.
That’s far from the truth. In fact, Bing himself is the first person to put that misconception to rest.
“I don’t want to make our residents think that this legislation is going to get the light in right away,” he told Council members at a meeting last week. “Even if an authority is passed through legislature the lights are not going to come on every day.” This legislation gives us the opportunity to make an investment to fix problems over a 2-5 year span.”
Councilman Ken Cockrel, Jr. called for an interim plan while the authority takes its time. “We need a plan B,” Cockrel said. “Large swaths of the city are in the dark. There has to be a contingency plan.”
There isn’t a contingency plan. Some would argue that there's no money for a contingency plan witout another controversy over state-city power politics.
In the meantime, many Detroiters will keep on living in the dark as they have become accustomed and perhaps the legistlation for the public lighting authority will pass, and, three years from now, we will see some progress little by little, and it will go the way of Cobo Hall--which is not necesarily a bad thing.
Just look at Cobo. Today, three years later, significant improvements have been made to the home of the NAIAS but the biggest improvements and expansions are still in progress. That’s not to say the authority isn’t doing a good job, it’s to say that big improvements like the ones needed at Detroit Public Lighting take years, and patience. They also take collaboration. The longer we wait for the lighting bills to pass state legislature, it just tacks on more time to the already lengthy renewal.
Many streetlights are out in the Detroit neighborhood I live in but I’m fortunate enough to have a car. It really doesn’t bother me any more. I imagine many Detroiters have, over the years, grown accustomed to a city that goes dark at sunset. It’s the norm.That’s part of the problem.
Just in case voters decided to vote down Proposal 1—that’s Public act 4, also known as the emergency manager law—there is new, similar legislation being crafted.
Michigan’s Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-SD17) told the Associated Press that he and some of his republican counterparts have crafted a replacement for the controversial state law that mandates an emergency manager take control of broke municipalities and schools.
Richardville said the newly drafted legislation is tweaked to address some issues critics have expressed with the original law and will serve as backup on the heels of the Nov. 6 vote.
The move comes after numerous polls have shown that statewide voters are sharply divided on the law, with no solid data the vote will be upheld or struck down.
Richardville told the Associated Press:
"If something happened like that bill was overturned, I think the Legislature would have to be ready to respond and to still deal with the emergency. You can eliminate the financial manager from the emergency financial manager legislation, but you can't remove the emergency."
Richardville’s alternative to PA4 so far has been low key, as neither Gov. Rick Snyder, nor Republican House leaders have mentioned anything about it.
The Michigan Supreme Court ruled to suspend the EM law and put it on the ballot in November as Proposal 1.
The law was passed last year by the Michigan Legislature and signed by Snyder
A draft of the alternative emergency manager bill is currently under legal review.
Meanwhile, the debate over Porposal 1, the ballot measure that asked voters to uphold or smash the original EM law, is heating up.
In a live chat on Mlive.com, two state lawmakers, Senator Bert Johnson and State Rep. Al Pscholka, submitted strong opinions on the topic:
State Rep. Al Pscholka (R-Stevensville) sponsored the legislation that is now PA4 and he continues to be a strong supporter of the measure.
"I know folks like to call it the Emergency Manager law, the name of the legislation is the Fiscal Accountability Act.
There is an easy way to avoid this legislation - pay your bills, don't take on huge debt, live within your means. That's 99 percent of the governments in the state. For others, we need an early warning system and the tools to help temporarily.
Our urban policy has to be more sophisticated than "send more money from Lansing.' It will take a partnership of government, non profits, business, and some real collaboration, not donut and coffee meetings where we all nod our heads about working together.”
“Allen Park also asked for financial review. That is part of the process, which includes a local review team, a state review board, review from the Governor and Treasurer.
EM's are just simply sent into places like critics claim. We need this law to stay so we can help communities before they get to the point of no return financially. Consent agreements and deficit reduction plans are much better. We can get there with a Yes vote on Prop. 1.”
State Senator Bert Johnson (D-Detroit) is a vocal critic of PA4. He has been very public about his strong opinions against the legistlation.
“No effort was made to do this in a bipartisan fashion and what we have, quite frankly, is gross government overreach into our local communities. Voters should choose to repeal PA4. The reason is two-fold.
On the surface, it goes against every Constitutional and democratic principle we claim as Americans: Local control, election of our representatives and no taxation without representation.
In practice, it has been a failure. It has led to corruption on the part of Emergency Managers. It has allowed for massive privatization, outsourcing of jobs and has in fact put children at risk.
Additionally, the results are all we need to prove this point. Cities and school districts under an Emergency Manager have not improved. A No vote on Proposal 1 will return some semblance of our democratic rights and will allow us to, hopefully, return to the drawing board to create a better law - one which does not infringe on our Constitutional rights.
Both sides seem to make good points. What do you think?
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