Minehaha Forman is a freelance writer living in Detroit. Born on a farm in Belize, Central America, she moved to the U.S. to pursue higher education and a career in writing. Forman’s work has been featured in many metro Detroit publications including Dbusiness magazine, Hour magazine and Corp! magazine. She has provided event coverage for Real Times Media and The Michigan Chronicle for three years, covering the popular Pancakes and Politics speaker series and other events. Prior to working with the Chronicle, Forman was a blogger with The American Independent News Network where she covered Metro Detroit politics and the 2008 presidential election. She will continue to provide commentary and coverage of Detroit politics as a blogger and feature writer for The Michigan Chronicle’s website.
Website URL: http://truthordarestories.blogspot.com/
For all of the hopefuls running for a seat at the Detroit city council table this year, Charles Pugh has a realistic message: that a spot on the council isn’t all it's cracked up to be.
The current city council president announced last week that he would not seek re-election or run for mayor and that he plans to return to his first passion: broadcast journalism.
“The reality is I ran for council so that I could run for mayor. I was going to do the Barack Obama,” Pugh told WDET 101.9 FM’s Craig Fahle Tuesday. But with three years of politics under his belt, the difference between his perception of the council’s job and the reality was like “night and day”.
“I’m just like most Detroiters in thinking the council has way more power than it really does,” Pugh said in the WDET interview. “I’m thinking that I was goanna be able to get the lights back on and get the grass cut on time … but that’s not their job. That’s not what they do.“
Pugh said the council’s power is more influential than direct and he is discouraged by the inability to make everyday decisions. “We can raise a bunch of noise at the council table but honestly if the Mayor’s not on board that’s, in effect, what it is.”
He called the council’s criticism of city functions “official complaining” adding that the only thing the council has direct power over are approving deals and making a spring budget for the year.
“Most of the impact you have is the budget that you set in the spring and come fall you have no say about the daily management and it’s frustrating because you get blamed,” he said.
This year, council contenders will be running by district, a change from four years ago when Pugh was on the ballot.
The push for council by districts was fueled by the idea that by assigning a council member to various sections of the city there would be more accountability for service delivery and overall positive action. But Pugh disputes that idea.
“People will have an even greater expectation that their district council person will have the ability to do more than we can do as all at large and they don’t. They won’t be able to do one more doggone thing than we can do right now. I think that’s unfortunate.”
He noted that the addition of an elected citizen advisory council in each district could help a councilperson and residents fight together for change. But as neither an executive nor an administrator, council members are not who you turn to with an everyday issue. For future council people debuting on the political scene, Push says you need to be tough.
“I learned that it requires a rhinoceros skin to do this job and I have the skin of a wet tissue paper—I have been sensitive all my life that is one of my negatives and one of my positives,” Pugh told Fahle. “This politically elected position is definitely for someone who can take darts and arrows and hot shots from all over the place and keep it moving.”
Pugh said a council member’s experience depends on what kind of mayor is in office.
His relationship with mayor Bing has not always been a smooth one.
“We expected more from a Republican businessman who was a suburbanite,” Pugh said of Bing. “We were expecting a great deal in terms of coming in with a game plan to fix things and we just were hugely disappointed that we didn’t get that.”
When Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and city recreation officials announced last week that 50 parks are on the chopping block due to budget shortfalls, the image of abandoned property that Detroiters have grown accustomed to spread.
“They will look pretty awful come about June, July,” Dick said of the city’s parks slated to close. “They will have high grass probably about waist high and it’s not just grass … it’s going to become weeds with lots of trash in it. They’re goanna look like vacant lots do.”
Just about every resident can name a park near their home that is going to flare up in weeds and trash this summer.
Unless communities organize and take ownership of the parks around them, more trash-strewn weeds will be the end result. But there is a resource here and an opportunity for residents to step up in their communities.
What if a group of neighbors got together and mowed a playground every week or two in a park that would otherwise be a tall thicket? What if that group or individual planted flowers and put up signs, anything to brighten a depressing scene? These areas can be turned into extensions of people’s yards, flower gardens and play areas if the resolve is there.
Alicia Minter, Director of Detroit’s Recreation Department, is encouraging residents to do just that.
“This is the time we can look to the community to be engaged and to assist the city,” Minter said. “Because of our limited resources [we hope] residents would adopt those parks … and have some stewardship in making sure those locations are cut and maintained because the city will not be able to do it.”
Is there a park in your neighborhood you’d like to adopt? At this point the power for change sits in resident's laps. Especially in neighborhoods that are not considered “stable” enough to be assisted through the Detroit Works Project framework.
Bing said like the idea of asking residents to help maintain public parks.
“We can’t constantly go and think that our citizens that are good, taxpaying citizens also have to take care of parks in their communities," Bing said. "We can’t think that the business community is constantly going to take care of the problem. We had a chance to take care of this ourselves and we didn’t do it."
He noted that a shortage of open parks and restricted recreation center hours would only worsen crime in the city. “We need a safe place for our young people in particular. They need a place to go. We don’t know the impact in terms of crime but we know it will be negative,” he said.
But with no other options it seems that a dedicated citizen or nonprofit interest in these closed parks is the last possibility left for a chance at keeping the city from further disrepair. Sure, it shouldn’t be up to residents who pay taxes to also do the work they are paying to have done, but there are a lot of things that shouldn't be happening in the city that are happening because this is a financial crisis. Maybe that term has lost some sting due to its overuse in recent years but that doesn't take from the fact that the city is flat out of cash.
Take a minute to step outside the emotional and passionate debate over what to do---or what not to do---with Belle Isle and imagine this:
Just imagine, you’re a foreigner who lives across a river, let’s call it Swan River, and in the middle of the river there’s an island, say, Swan Island.
To you, Swan Island is just a place on a map, a place across the river to feel good about knowing what it is if a visitor asks—it’s a public park that’s part of a neighboring country, you would say. That’s it. And they never ask.
You don’t think about Swan Island as anything more than a green spot across the rippling river water. In fact, you don’t think of Swan Island much at all.
But one day, you’re bored so you cross the river for a change of scenery. It’s a foggy day in a mid-winter thaw and you, on a whim, decide to visit Swan Island to clear your head and get some fresh air.
When you get there, you see it’s a beautiful place. Swans bob peacefully on the river's rippling waters. The island road gives an up-close stunning view of the City’s downtown area, and there’s nature everywhere, a spec of heaven in the Detroit River.
You decide to go for a jog in the bike lane to see more of the island. But the further you run the more you start to realize something: this island isn’t being taken care of like other parks you’ve been to. It seems like not many people care about the island because the trashcans are overflowing and the storm drains are so decrepit that amid the snow thaw has transformed a soccer field into a duck pond.
The flooding expands all the way into the bike lane, three inches deep. You running shoes are soaked through hand through. You have to go to the bathroom so you wade through the storm puddles in search of a restroom area, like they have in all the large parks you’ve been to.
Instead, you find an abandoned rest area and a row or port-a-potties outside of it.
With cold, soaking feet and a curious mind, you decide to ask people about the park.
You ask a couple who are taking photos of the swans: What’s going on here? Why is this beautiful place so neglected?
You are blasted with a cold response: that this place is not neglected, that it is a jewel; that you are an outsider who needs to mind your own business.
You ask more people, each shouting very different, heated and negatively themed answer.
One person rants that the city that owns the park is led by a bunch of obstructionists who always say “no” and never have a plan to counter an offer with. Another person says a there’s a Fascist ruler in the province who wants to steal Swan Island from the people and that any problems on the island can be fixed by the city, not the province. They say the city, although it is in financial trouble, has to find away to keep up the 982-acre jewel on the river without giving it up.
Another person says the leader of the province is not a tyrant at all but rather a concerned citizen who really wants to see Swan Island cleaned up and maintained properly-- something that the city cannot afford. But after all the name calling and bickering from the city, this levelheaded ruler recently abounded his effort to try to help restore the island.
Another person says they are getting a group of billionaires together to buy the island and turn it into an exclusive tax autonomous commonwealth for wealthy investors and secede it from the city, the province and possibly the country.
You feel like you just stepped into some bizarre dream where passion leads and there is no logic.
It quickly becomes obvious that it’s not that people don’t care about Swan Island but that perhaps people care too much. I mean, these people really love this place, so much so that's it paralyzing. They all seem blinded by emotion and heated debate, firing off at one group or another for being “the problem”.
Not one person you talk to has a calm, comprehensive outlook on the issue. Grown adults are pointing fingers like kids on a playground. When will that fire be squelched?
Will people ever calm down and work together?
If there is so much passion, why are there not volunteer groups picking up trash? If the province cares so much about the island, why don’t they offer a grant to help fix its drainage problem?
And if city leaders are so determined not to go through with any plans that are on the table, why don’t they create a plan of their own?
It starts to rain so you get in your car, all soggy and cold, and drive home.
One passionate bombardment of arguments is enough for one day.
Back home, across the water, Swan Island is still that green stretch in the fog.
Maybe the people in that province need to see it from your angle, you think. Just take a step back and cool off, put themselves in your soggy wet shoes for a second.
Then maybe when the fog lifts and the anger subsides, they’ll be able to roll up their sleeves and use their passion for the place (which is remarkable and in many ways admirable) to sculpt a real solution and not an elementary name calling fight.
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