Public-Private Partnerships? There’s a Prop. For That
With all of the ballot proposals cluttering the 2012 ballot in Michigan this year—especially Detroit—we can pick just about any hot political topic and confidently say (much like iPhone applications), “there’s a proposal for that.”
One of the hot-button issues is the public-private partnership. These gray lines between private and public dollars and control have become more common in Detroit as the city struggles to fend off bankruptcy or State management amid a financial crisis.
So as the October 1 deadline to transfer Detroit’s Department of Health and Wellness Promotion to a private nonprofit approaches, let’s dig through the pile and see which proposals apply to these.
There is a couple. One of them is Proposal 2, an amendment to the state constitution that would engrave collective bargaining rights into state law. Those way, if a union-run city department gets transferred, guess who has the legal power to stop it?
The other is Proposal P, a Detroit measure that would amend the city charter to allow elected officials and employees to work for a private contractor with the city. In light of recent city hall scandals, the charter was revised to ban such movement, mandating a one-year interim period before a private company contracted by the City can hire for contract a former city employee.
Obviously, Proposal P has its issues. It blurs the line between public and private a little more than it’s already been blurred and without the proper controls could open the floodgates to more corruption, but as the city budget crunches and shifts services into private operations, it’s needed if city employee have any chance of keeping or finding a new job with the city.
Of course, this is creating kickback from unions, but it’s happening: public funds are drying up and services crumbling and private companies and organizations are there to catch them. In a lot of ways it makes sense.
Detroit is the only city in Michigan with health and wellness services on the payroll. Come October, that will change.
"The city has to increase its efficiencies in providing these services, and we've got to do a better job of making sure our citizens get the support services they need," Bing said in a statement.
As far as proposals go, Michigan's Proposal 2 would make such public-private transfers harder on a statewide level and Detroit’s Proposal P would make such city transfers a bit smoother, at least in terms of re-hiring those displaced by the public-private switch.
Last week on WDET (101.9 fm) radio, Craig Fahle made a good point. He had people call in to the Craig Fahle Show to sound off on the proposed slash of 80 percent of Detroit Water Department employees over the next five years.
Many callers were upset about the proposal and said that the city should not make these drastic cuts because people need jobs.
Then Fahle asked the million-dollar question: What is the water department’s responsibility? To employ people or to provide clean water in the most efficient way possible?
That’s a question many city departments have to ask themselves. When we talk about Detroit’s financial state, and cutting the number of employees to help curb spending, the uprising from people is that the city can’t keep cutting jobs. While unemployment is not good for the economy overall, it’s not the city’s job to keep people employed for employment's sake.
The proposals for these massive cuts came from consulting firm EMA Inc., hired by the water and sewerage department to study operations and map out a plan to cut costs. EMA conducted the study over three months. In addition to the job cuts, the plan calls for:
- Outsourcing 361 positions to low-cost contract workers in noncore functions, such as billing and mailing, grounds maintenance, office cleaning and facilities maintenance
- Outsourcing for large engineering projects and peak times
- Reducing job classifications from 257 to 31
The City of Detroit is not an employment service. It’s a service provider that should find the most efficient way to provide those services. Unfortunately that is going to mean a lot of jobs lost in the name of efficiency.
While leaders should be looking for ways to employ people to get work done, the other side to that coin is making services efficient and keeping the city afloat.
Digital Daily Signup
Sign up now for the Michigan Chronicle Digital Daily newsletter!