Think back to before Snyder, before Public Act 4 took effect. The city was broke then, too. Just as broke, in fact, as it is today. There was the threat of payless paydays, a recurring warning in the city these days. So what’s different now?
The state’s taking a firmer stance: Make big structural changes in Detroit government or no money from us, is the message coming from Lansing.
That’s why at a press conference last week, Mayor Dave Bing told reporters that, ultimately, he’s not the one calling the shots in these politically and financially stressful days. The State is. “I’m open minded but by the same token, the State is holding the cards at this point,” Bing said when asked whether he would reconsider terms of a contract that is necessary for acquiring state funds. Bing has brushed off City Council’s concerns of a conflict of interest with the controversial Miller Canfield contract.
If the state is holding the cards, a good poker face is in order.
Per the Snyder Administration’s deal with the Mayor’s Office, the City must hire and maintain private legal and turnaround firms, among other restructuring moves in order to get $30 million in bond sale funds. Now, heading into the New Year, the city is so broke it (apparently) can’t even pay attention to the simple legal requirements of holding a public meeting.
As Detroit faces a fiscal cliff of its own, the words “payless paydays” and “unpaid furloughs” have resurfaced as they have time and time before, especially over the past four years after former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick left office and audits exposed the city’s financial nightmare. Essentially, the only difference between a payless payday and an unpaid furlough is notice not to come to work. And rhetoric. Either way, what usually would be a payday’s going to roll around and some unfortunate city workers are not getting paychecks. Either way, a check has to be missing a couple zeros or missing altogether.
We’ve heard it before, perhaps too many times: If the city doesn’t make drastic changes, it will crumble into the void. But by now Detroiters are a practically numb to the threat of running out of money. And that’s no good, especially if they city really is to run out of cash. But here’s the thing: it’s not.
The city won’t run out of cash any more than is has in the past. That’s not my opinion; it’s Detroit CFO Jack Martin’s. He spoke at a press conference last week declaring that a few unpaid furloughs will be enough to fill the cash gap. He and Bing last week promised “absolutely no payless paydays” and “no bankruptcy whatsoever.” But a slow trickle of furlough savings a $30 million lump sum is not.
But really, how do the two even compare? If a few unpaid furloughs for non-public safety or revenue generating workers is enough to stave off a financial crisis, was how critical was the crisis in the first place? It’s a question that perhaps touches on root of the issue between the legislative and executive branch of Detroit government.
Obviously, unpaid furloughs are being used as a threat to get council members to approve a controversial contract. But if it doesn’t work, then what? More lawsuits from unions? More back-and-forth?
As Bing and Martin have said, bankruptcy at this point is far from an option. The city is not close to being eligible ... yet.
Now that the State-City Milestone agreement benchmarks have not been approved by the City Council, and now that the state’s emergency manager leverage has been repealed, it’s back to the drawing board. Back to the unpaid furloughs hotly contested in 2010.
As far as bankruptcy goes, there’s a good reason we want to avoid it: “Bankruptcy costs a lot of money, ironically,” Said Eric Scorsone, extension specialist in State and Local Government at Michigan State University. He said the city of Vallejo, California spent over $10 million on bankruptcy lawsuits in 2008. “If you can get the same outcome at a cheaper price, you do that.”
Let’s do that.
Every good story has a bad guy. It keeps people reading. That’s why it’s easier to dish out criticism than praise.
But there are two sides to every story.
Today, instead of criticizing the Governor Snyder or Mayor Dave Bing for not fully communicating with the Detroit City Council before holding a big shiny press conference about a floppy proposal for Belle Isle Park, I’m going to try the tricky side, the perhaps less mainstream, side of this one and support the Council members for opposing this excuse for a proposal.
Yes, the council opposes the Belle Isle deal, but it’s not for crazy, reactionary reasons like many people have assumed. It’s not because of a proposed entrance fee to the island, or because they feel that the state trying to pull some kind of enemy takeover. In fact, they want what we all want for Belle Isle: For it to be a safe, beautiful place for people to go and enjoy the outdoors and other attractions.
It’s being rejected by the Council because the proposal that they were given to vote on is not complete. It is missing large chunks of key information.
Gov. Snyder was right. This isn’t Detroit v. Michigan; it’s Detroit, Michigan.
We’re all in this together. So why hold out of information?
After reading the proposal for Belle Isle (exactly as it was presented to City Council) I understand why the Council members plan to vote it down.
In short, it’s not a proposal at all. A proposal when something is proposed. Specifics are given. Information is shared so that the people deciding on the proposal can vote whether or not it’s a good idea.
One blaring example of this comes at the very beginning where the lease document says it has five exhibits—important, key information about the agreement—attached. However of the exhibits listed on the proposal, only one is actually physically attached to the proposed lease.
“List of Exhibits. The following Exhibits are attached to and made a part of this Lease:
Exhibit A: Legal Description [of property]
Exhibit B: Identification of Roads and Bridges
Exhibit C: Memorandum of Understanding between the City and MDOT
Exhibit D: Memorandum of Understanding between the City and DNR Regarding the
Belle Isle: Greenhouses
Exhibit E: Phased Management Approach of Belle Isle dated July 2012”
On the lease, proposal A, a legal description of Belle Isle, is the only thing that is actually attached. It's the only exhibit the council would have to go by before making a major decision on whether or not to grant Belle Isle to the State of Mcihgian for 30 years (or more).
“This is no way to conduct business,” Councilman James Tate said in a meeting this week regarding the State's proposal. He said he called State officials three times this week seeking the information and had still not received those exhibits of the lease.
Sara Wurfel, a spokeswoman for Snyder told The Detroit News: "it's premature to discuss specifics" :
"Until we have an agreement with the city, we can't do the needed and detailed analysis and structural and cost assessments of the buildings and facilities," she said.
That poses a catch 22: The council can’t, in good faith, agree blindly to something as big as Belle Isle’s management and the state won't fork over details until they have control over the Island.
It's a hot mess, but it doesn't have to be. It's set up so the Council looks they they're the bottle neck to the dealm but the Council shouldn't take the fall for this one. They're not stalling progress like some have opined, rather they are doing their job. That is, to make informed decisions on behalf of the people of Detroit.
Will Detroit grant Belle Isle to the state in a 30-year lease? Possibly. But we need to know what the plan is.
As Belle Isle floats on the brink of becoming a state park, it’s clear that there are big changes in store for the island.
One of the major changes will be a steep increase in law enforcement presence on the island not only by Detroit police and state police, but conservation officers working for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) making the island a safer place.
This reminds me of an interesting conversation I overheard between a DNR conservation officer and a man who was trying to sell roses in downtown Detroit at William G. Milliken State (the first ever urban state park in the country).
The officer was politely telling the man that he couldn’t sell stuff on state park ground without a permit. The rose vendor nodded, but before the officer turned to go he was offering flowers again, “for the pretty lady…”.
Then DNR officer firmly ordered the rose peddler out of the park. He obeyed, then asked the officer a key question: “Sir,” he said, “you’re a park ranger. You can’t tell me what to do when I’m not in that park, can you?” The conservation officer then explained the scope of his power: that he, in fact, had the same, if not more, power to enforce state laws than the state police.
“So you could arrest someone?” The rose seller asked. The officer’s answer was an unwavering “yes.”
So as Belle Isle becomes a state park, the public safety will increase just by having Michigan conservation officers on duty. Even though these DNR law enforcement officer’s primary job is to protect natural resources, they have the power to enforce all laws of the State of Michigan including laws for outdoor recreational activities such as off-road vehicle use, snowmobiling, boating, hunting and fishing according to the Michigan DNR website.
In other words, if a DNR conservation officer sees someone speeding, they can issue a traffic ticket even if you are nowhere near a state park.
Michigan Conservation Officers work with all law enforcement agencies including local police departments, sheriff’s departments, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs, U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement Division.
The bottom line is that it’s important for people to know that state park rangers are law enforcement officers and deserve the same respect and obedience that a police officer does. Belle Isle will be a safer place with these law enforcers on board.
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