Category: News Briefs - Original Written by Patrick Keating, Chronicle Staff Writer
Despite pleas from both area residents and Mayor Bing, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments’ (SEMCOG) 50-member executive committee voted last Friday to shift $7 million from DDOT to SMART.
According to SEMCOG Executive Director Paul Tait, the requested action was to establish a formula for allocating Federal Transit Administration capital funds. In total, it involves just under $42 million for the fiscal year.
The allocation of those funds was based on an agreement made in the mid 1970s where 65 percent would go to DDOT and 35 percent to SMART.
“As a result of the passage of the Regional Transit Authority legislation, no formula currently exists,” Tait said, adding that based on an analysis of the relative capital needs of SMART and DDOT, the funds would be split for one year as follows: 51.5 percent to SMART, 47.5 percent to DDOT and 1 percent to the People Mover.
Tait emphasized that the $7 million that would go from DDOT to SMART would be for capital money, for bus purchases, facilities and preventive maintenance.
The Federal Transit Administration questioned the continued use of the 65/35 formula. The FTA called it “inconsistent federal law.”
Tait said DDOT has newer buses and at least a sufficient number of buses to provide core service. SMART, on the other hand, has more immediate needs for bus purchases and maintenance because of the age of its fleet.
Bing told the executive committee he didn’t think that changing the distribution of the funding from the federal government could happen at a worse time.
“Out of all of the initiatives that are important to the city and its inhabitants, transportation looms very, very high on the agenda,” Bing said, adding that on average, more than 100,000 people use public transportation every day.
The mayor also said this loss of funding will not only negatively impact DDOT, but also Detroit’s overall budget.
“We have just sent our budget up to City Council and it’s a tough budget,” Bing said. “A lot of work to be done. But now with the risk of losing $7 million of transportation funding, I’m really not sure where I can do any more cuts in our budget without having major impact on some of the services we need to provide to our citizens.”
Bing reiterated that the loss of funding would have a negative impact on so many people in need.
“I am sensitive to the fact that in the communities that you serve, there are also people in need,” he said. “But I wonder why, as we look at almost eight months into this budget period, we’re ready to make a change. My question is why now? Why is it so important to do this now?”
He also said many people have e-mailed him with grave concern about the impact this decision would have on them, and asked the executive committee to vote with sensitivity.
“I think we are now starting, as a region, to see that working together is better than doing everything separate and apart from each other,” Bing said.
During the public comment period, State Sen. Bert Johnson (D-Detroit) said shifting these funds to provide SMART with 51 percent and DDOT with 47 percent is misguided, and that pinning the blame on the FTA will not work.
Johnson also said the FTA maintains that local leaders make funding decisions based on demonstrated need.
“Simply put, DDOT has a greater demonstrable need for the federal funding than those SMART,” Johnson said.
Rev. Joan Ross, who represents a transportation coalition called the North End Woodward Community Coalition, said her group has been struggling with the issue of transportation for the past three years.
She said 35 to 40 percent of people in her community don’t have cars.
“We’re in a community of seniors, a community of students, a community of people who are barely making it day by day,” Ross said.
She asked, on behalf of that community, who she said constitute much of the 100,000 riders per day that DDOT is struggling to serve, that the funding formula be based on ridership.
Ross said justice dictates that DDOT should be a priority for public transportation, also noting that regional transit decisions should be left to the Regional Transit Authority.
Kathy Montgomery, a candidate for City Council, District 1, said she was concerned about the possibility that SEMCOG would decide to lower the amount of money DDOT receives.
She also pointed out that many Detroiters are either unemployed or on some kind of public assistance, and therefore are extremely low income.
“They do not have cars,” she said. “They must get around on public transportation.”
Montgomery said cutting the federal dollars for the DDOT system would hurt all those people.
“It’s unconscionable,” she said, adding that if the money were distributed according to the number of people who actually ride the bus, Detroit would be entitled to 81 percent.
“We’re satisfied with 65, which is what we’ve received up to this point,” she said.
Montgomery pleaded with SEMCOG members to consider the people of Detroit.
“I want to get the people in our city employed,” she said. “If they do not have transportation to get to a job in the suburbs, if there are no jobs in the city, then they will remain unemployed.”
Joel Batterman, transportation coordinator for the Michigan Suburbs Alliance which represents inner ring suburbs, said his organization is an advocate for regional cooperation and that many people are served by both transit lines.
Batterman also said diminished funding for DDOT means fewer riders can access SMART and vice versa.
“To create the kind of transit system that our region deserves, we must improve service in the suburbs and the city, on both local routes and regional corridors,” he said, adding that for too long metro Detroit has been a house divided.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 May 2013 13:38
Category: News Briefs - Original Written by Bankole Thompson, Chronicle Senior Editor
“The public has raised some questions about what has happened, but it has not prevented people from coming. We are important in many communities and we are usually the last institution to leave the community.”
— JOANNE MONDOWNEY, Executive Director, Detroit Public Library
The Detroit Public Library is not only a Detroit institution rooted in the educational mission of the city, but also a jewel and a massive resource for many who look to the library to attend to their educational and research needs.
Children, students and adults all use the Detroit Public Library as a reservoir of knowledge for the exchange of information and ideas and a community asset that stands as a connecting pillar and a learning tool.
Often it is said that you can tell the educational commitment of a city by the kind of attention paid to the effective functioning of its public libraries and the set of eyes in charge of its management.
Because libraries are places where knowledge is built in grooming a community of learners and those who would contribute to society.
That is why news of the Detroit Public Library embroiled in allegations of financial mismanagement shocked most in the community because given its nature, it is the last place to expect scandals that are routine in government bureaucratic structures where “pay to play” is often the order of day.
Earlier this year, the library’s Main Branch on Woodward Avenue was raided by FBI agents in a corruption sweep that led to the firing of one of the top officials at the public library, Tim Cromer, who handled technology.
Cromer’s Bloomfield home was also raided by federal authorities following reports that he awarded a $3 million no-bid technology contract to an outside company.
Another company, Core, was contracted by Cromer to update the library’s technology infrastructure during which the cost of the work jumped to an unexplained $1.7 million from the initial $712,000. James Henley, the owner of Core, was indicted last month on bribery charges, that he allegedly paid $600,000 in kickbacks to an anonymous public official.
With the cloud of alleged financial mismanagement hanging over the Detroit Public Library like the Sword of Damocles, officials from the library, including Executive Director Jo Anne Mondowney and Library Commission President Russell Bellant, are on an aggressive mission to separate fact from fiction in an effort to maintain the institution’s reputation.
The case they are making is that the actions of one or few individuals who are still going to have their day in court should not be used to paint the library with a wide brush considering what it has meant in this community for decades.
“The memory is going to be there. We still have to deal with the fact that it happened. We can’t keep getting beat up for it because everybody wasn’t a part of it,” Mondowney said during an interview in my office last week, noting that there is still an ongoing investigation. “You would think the library would be (exempt) from that kind of behavior but we’re not.”
During the entire ordeal and the federal probe that made the library garner national attention, Mondowney said, “It was something I had to deal with and take responsibility for which I did. I tried to investigate and determine how to respond. And because I’m from Baltimore, I had the courage and strength to stand up to what was happening. I did not make excuses.”
Witnessing what was happening for Mondowney meant that it was time to not let the reputation of an institution of this stature go down the drain because “this is a fine institution that deserved to be exonerated and I was the person that could help with what was happening.”
Given where things are and the fact that the federal probe is still continuing, she said the leadership of the library will have to be more accountable because “people trust us with their money.”
Commissioner Bellant, who is also a union leader, said even though the library was hit with this scandal it should not be misconstrued as a failure of the entire leadership.
He cited as an example the Detroit Public Schools, where he said past allegations of mismanagement were far more rampant saying what happened at DPS is not equal to the allegations facing the library.
“When it happened we as a commission issued a statement that reflected the commission’s view that we will cooperate fully. But what happened at DPS was so systematic and widespread, and the library was one person. By comparison, the library had a clean bill of health,” Bellant said. “You can’t see services being undermined while people profit for themselves. We have a lot of young people using the library.”
“The public has raised some questions about what has happened but it has not prevented people from coming,” Mondowney said. “We are important in many communities and we are usually the last institution to leave the community.”
Even though the library is currently reviewing policies and instituting internal controls to avert what happened in its technology department that is still under investigation, Mondowney said, “Rules are as good as the folks who implement them and there are people who find a way to get around and do wrong. That’s why the law is there.”
The library’s role cannot be dismissed no matter what has happened, Mondowney said.
“The public has seen us as an institution that has tried to minimize the digital divide. We provide that role in a daily basis,” She said. “In our Main Library we have a literacy program and technology has made the library far more relevant. There is a need to stay connected. We have people accessing our computers every single day.”
Mondowney, who has been on the job now since 2009 as director, said her vision is weaved into the library’s mission.
“We find hope for people. We create an environment of lifelong learning. We know as technology evolves libraries are still needed to help people maintain a quality of life in this society,” Mondowney said.
The challenge now is about revenue and how the library continues to provide services that are beyond the wrongdoing that has been reported.
“It is not going to derail us from looking hard at the central question,” Mondowney said. “We provide very creative summer reading programs that help children maintain a reading level that allows them to excel. You accomplish something when you help a child to love to read. The library tries to teach a child to love to do this and our programs are centered around keeping children excited and engaged in the love of reading.”
In the coming months and years, the library’s leadership will continue to face the questions in the financial scandal, but the challenge remains on its ability to show in concrete terms what it is doing to prevent misdeeds of some on its staff, the kind that can lead to deplorable and embarassing sitiuations such as this one. These questions and any improvement to its operating standard as it relates to guarding tax dollars takes on a more central role as the library works to renew its existing millage which will expire in 2015.
Public libraries are important because they contribute not only to our democracy, but also to education and the lifelong learning that those who spend hours in the library researching information benefit from.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 May 2013 09:59
Category: News Briefs - Original Written by AJ Williams, Chronicle Web Editor
Former Detroit mayor and four-term City Council member Ken Cockrel, Jr., who has served Detroit with honor and distinction has announced that he will not seek reelection in this November’s municipal elections, according to a release from Cockrel’s office. After 18 years of continuous public service, Cockrel said that it is time for him to refocus. “I feel the time is right for me to seek new challenges, new opportunities and new ways to help Detroit,” Cockrel said. Cockrel was first elected to City Council in November 1997 after serving for three years on the Wayne County Commission.
He was reelected in 2001 and again in 2005 when he became City Council president. His current term began in January of 2009. During his more than 15 years on the council he has passed and fought for laws ensuring that Detroit’s contractors are paid timely, stiffer zoning regulations of liquor stores, pawn shops and group homes, and expanded city job opportunities for ex-felons. Cockrel became mayor in September 2008 following the resignation Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Though he did not win election to the post in the May 2009 special election to fill the seat, he had a significant impact during his brief time as mayor.
As mayor, Cockrel restored people’s trust and faith in city government. Successful efforts included negotiating the creation of the regional authority that now operates and is expanding Cobo Hall and avoiding city bankruptcy after a credit rating downgrade impacted a municipal credit swap agreement. He also led an effort to put police back in neighborhoods by opening several new police mini-stations, reopening the 10th Precinct, and facilitating the creation of Detroit’s first mobile precinct to support major events and community-based policing.
Cockrel is also the founder and chair of the Detroit City Council Green Task Force and has championed a sustainable agenda for the City of Detroit. He has passed both anti-idling and green purchasing ordinances and spearheaded the adoption of Detroit’s Non-Motorized Plan, which thus far has produced 62 miles of bike lanes in the city. Also while mayor, he created an Office of Energy and Sustainability and launched a curbside recycling pilot project that continues to this day. A cum laude graduate of Wayne State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Print Journalism, Cockrel is a former reporter for the Detroit Free Press, the Grand Rapids Press and the Cincinnati Inquirer.
He is also a former columnist for The Metro Times. Cockrel is a graduate of the inaugural class of the Michigan Political Leadership Program at Michigan State University as well as the Program for State and Local Government Officials at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. In fall 2011 he earned a master’s degree in international affairs from Irish-American University in Dublin, Ireland. He is currently chair of the City Council’s Committee on Budget, Finance, and Audit and the vice chair of the Committee on Planning and Economic Development.
He also serves as a board member of the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy, the Detroit Jazz Fest, and Tour Detroit. In addition he is a member of the advisory boards for Bridging Communities and ACLU Michigan. Ken Cockrel, Jr. and his wife, Kimberly, have two sons, Kenneth III and Kyle Vincent, and three daughters, Kennedy Victoria, Kendal Imani and Kayla Lanette. Cockrel said that though he will be leaving the City Council table, he intends to remain active in neighborhood, civic and political affairs.
“I’m not going anywhere. I will definitely remain a staple on the Detroit scene,” he said. “I truly believe that Detroit’s best days are ahead of it and I’m eager to be a part of it.
Last Updated on Friday, 26 April 2013 08:52
Category: News Briefs - Original Written by Bankole Thompson, Chronicle Senior Editor
Detroit Mayor Dave Bing went on the offensive Tuesday afternoon after New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg cited Detroit’s murder rate in underscoring the low murder rate on the streets of New York.
Speaking to police officers, Bloomberg noted that if New York had the same number of people getting killed, more than 4,500 who live in the world’s financial capital would have died instead of the 419 murders in New York last year, the Detroit News reported.
“Last year, we had a record low 419 murders. If instead we had Washington, DC's murder rate, nearly 1,200 New Yorkers would have been murdered last year instead of 419," Bloomberg said. "And if we had had Detroit's murder rate, more than 4,500 New Yorkers would have been murdered last year instead of 419. That's a factor of ten.”
Mayor Bing fired back, saying the billionaire mayor who was once considered a potential presidential candidate is taking Detroit’s crime issue out of context when compared to New York City.
“I think it is sad and inappropriate for anyone, especially public officials, to tout their crime fighting efforts by highlighting other cities’ murder rates,” Bing said. “There are dramatic differences between New York and Detroit.”
Bing cited as an example New York’s 40,000 police officers compared to only 3,000 men and women in blue in Detroit.
“Secondly, New York has crime fighting techniques and resources such as ‘stop and frisk at will’ and a sophisticated surveillance system that we do not currently have in our crime fighting arsenal, in part due to the fact we are under a federal consent decree,” Bing said. “We are all engaged in reducing violent crimes and we need to fight this battle together. Therefore, I support Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts to get Congress to toughen gun laws so that gun violence is reduced in Detroit, New York and across this country.”
Detroit’s crime statistics that were released earlier this year showed 411 homicides last year, up from 377 the following year. The FBI’s violent crime statistics for the first half of 2011 showed that overall violent crime rate was down 24 percent.
In the same speech to the rank and file of the New York Police Department, Mayor Bloomberg accused the media of double standard in its coverage after he came under heavy criticism for the police department’s “Stop-and-Frisk” program which has been widely criticized by police brutality advocates for targeting people of color.
Bloomberg said that the New York Times criticism of the “Stop-and-Frisk” program was baseless and accused the paper of racial double standard in the lack of coverage of a 17-year-old shot to death last week in the Bronx.
“Do you think that if a White 17-year-old prep student from Manhattan had been murdered, the Times would have ignored it?” Bloomberg asked. “Four days after Alphonso Bryant's murder went unreported by the Times, the paper published another editorial attacking stop-question-frisk. They called it a ‘widely-loathed’ practice — even though a growing number of mothers and fathers who have had their children murdered with guns have been speaking out in support of stop, question and frisk.”
Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 May 2013 09:53
Category: News Briefs - Original Written by AJ Williams, Chronicle Web Editor
Today, April 26, 2013, 4:00 pm
E 3rd St & Water St, Rochester, MI | Get Directions »
MI Earth Day Fest is the premier, biggest Earth Day event in Michigan, and with 50,000 expected, one of the largest on the planet. Featuring exhibits, products, presentations, entertainment, food and family fun, MI Earth Day Fest will highlight environmental issues and solutions through education, innovation and longterm sustainability strategies. Admission is free. Visit www.miEDF.org.
Last Updated on Friday, 26 April 2013 08:33
Digital Daily Signup
Sign up now for the Michigan Chronicle Digital Daily newsletter!
- African Americans Must be a part of Detroit New Development Growth (1)
- 'Real Housewives of Atlanta' Porsha Stewart Locked Out By Husband Kordell? [Video} (2)
- Earn and Learn Program helps chronically unemployed find careers (1)
- "Hot Lap Ride" with Will Power and the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix (1)
- Charlie Murphy headlines grand opening of The Comedy Zone (1)