As with any year that hasn't been lived yet, a world of possibilities awaits Detroit. For instance, the Detroit Tigers could still win the 2014 World Series and Belle Isle could still become a state park.
That's right. It's not over yet.
Hopes for a State-City lease deal that would have put Detroit’s island park in the charge of Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources were seemingly smashed to bits last month when governor Rick Snyder pulled the offer. Snyder says he only dropped the deal after Detroit city council failed to vote on the proposal before deadline.
But it’s not the end of a possible State lease of Belle Isle. If enough council members change their minds, or if the city falls under the reigns of a state-appointed emergency manager, the 30-year lease deal may likely resurface in 2014. At least that’s what Snyder has been hinting at recently.
Reports that the state set aside more than $4 million to spend on Belle Isle's upkeep if the deal went through were true, but now that money will dissolve back into the state’s $50.9 billion annual budget. Snyder says he's willing to nest-egg some funds for Belle Isle again, though.
Last week the Detroit News reported:
“… The governor said he's not ruled out budgeting the money for converting Belle Isle into a state park in 2014 if City Council changes its mind about the lease.
"That deadline's past, so it's not going to happen (this year)," Snyder said.”
Snyder told the Detroit Free Press editorial board the same thing: that the Belle Isle may just come back to the table.
He said he left money in the state budget for Belle Isle to show he was “dead serious” about making a deal with Detroit to maintain the 982-acre park.
The council indirectly voted against the proposal this year by stalling past deadline, something that cancels the offer for this year. But 2014 is a chance for the city to have a change of heart.
“They can say they didn’t vote, but I take it they voted ‘no’,” Snyder told the Free Press. “So we’re going to follow through in what we were going to do for 2014. I said '13 was off the table, but if somebody wants to talk '14 ... [I’m open].”
For all intents and purposes, it sounds like the offer is still an option, just delayed. And from the looks of things, Detroit will likely be in State receivership come 2014. As we all know, a lot can change in a year.
Again, it's a world of possibilities.
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.
Belle Isle surged back into the spotlight in recent weeks after a Metro Detroit developer made an outlandish proposal: Sell the city park to private investors for $1 billion and secede the island from the U.S. to form a corporate utopia where taxes are near nil.
Many Detroiter’s guttural reaction to the billion dollar offer, presented by Bingham Farms developer Rodney Lockwood in the form of a futuristic fiction novel, was a granite hard “no”. Not surprising, since just months ago city council rejected a much tamer idea presented by Gov. Rick Snyder: lease Belle Isle to the state at no cost for 30 years while Detroit works to beef up its bare-bones finances.
While Lockwood’s far-fetched idea is highly unlikely to come to fruition, it makes the state’s offer seem like a very modest proposal. It also offers a peek at what could become of the island if the city plunges into bankruptcy before securing a deal with the state to maintain the island.
Despite the scathing criticism of Lockwood’s plan, $1 billion is nothing to yawn at. It’s a considerable sum for a city with an annual operating budget of $3.1 billion. It’s also the only reason the bizarre proposal is getting any airtime at all. Money is on the table. A lot of it. And when money talks, people—even opponents—listen.
That’s exactly what happened at the Detroit Athletic Club yesterday as Lockwood shared his vision for Belle Isle with a wide range of Michigan business leaders and elected officials. But not everyone, even staunch free market supporters, liked everything they heard.
The Detroit Free Press reports:
“Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, told developer Rodney Lockwood and his partners that they hadn't done enough to explain how their idea for a wealthy, virtually tax-free enclave on Belle Isle would benefit Detroit itself. ‘Having rich neighbors doesn't make you rich,’ he said, pointing to the example of upscale Grosse Pointe next to Detroit, one of the poorest cities in the nation.”
Detroit officials also doubted the plan would benefit Detroit.
George Jackson, head of the Detroit Economic Growth Council (DEGC) said that he didn’t see how the plan would boost Detroit’s development. Detroit City Council President Pro Tem Gary Brown flatly stated, “It will not work.”
Such a statement raises a searingly important question: What will work?
The answer could come as early as next week.
The Detroit News spoke with city council members who confirmed the lease is likely to pass council soon: Brown told The News:
"We're still working on issues about security, but we can get it done. The votes on City Council are there — they have actually been there for a while." City Councilman James Tate said: "The majority of the issues that my colleagues and the community had are addressed in the new proposed lease…[but] it's important to me that we have a public hearing on the matter to weigh in on the issue."
Councilman James Tate said the council votes are secured:
"The majority of the issues that my colleagues and the community had are addressed in the new proposed lease," Tate said. But "it's important to me that we have a public hearing on the matter to weigh in on the issue."
The revamped lease proposal cuts the lease time down from 30 to ten years and the city could opt out after each ten-year interval. The city would retain ownership of the park while reaping the benefits of state funds to operate the 895 acre island in the Detroit river.
As for the fantastical corporate proposal for the island, it may never get far off the ground. But it does paint a picture of what could happen if naysayers keep disputing state intervention with 895-acre park without offering any alternatives.
"I have no problem selling Belle Isle," Michigan Chamber of Commerce’s Baruah told the Detroit News regarding Lockwood’s plan, "But frankly, I don't think you are making a great case for people outside the island."
Less than a week after being ousted from her perch at the top of Detroit’s Law Department, former Corporation Counsel Krystal Crittendon has announced her intentions to explore a mayoral run.
Crittendon gained name recognition only this year after challenging the legality of the city’s consent agreement with the state this spring with a controversial lawsuit that pitted her against current Mayor Dave Bing as well as state officials.
At the time the Bing administration painted Crittendon as a rogue lawyer who acted out of line to dampen city progress. But Crittendon asserted that the lawsuit wasn’t about her, that it was about doing her job to make sure government was acting within the city charter.
Since then Bing has opted to hire his own lawyers from the private firm Miller Canfield a move that has cost the city more than $300,000, city bond ratings have slid further into the junk bin and Crittendon has been demoted.
But her hasty post-firing announcement of a possible run raises questions that one can’t help but ask: Was Crittendon planning a run all along? Did she make a big (and ultimately unsuccessful) show of an attempt to halt the consent agreement, (a controversial compromise tied directly to the unpopular emergency manager law) to gain name recognition and position herself for a plausible run?
It’s true, politicians have to stay continually ahead of the game, in months, sometimes years of strategically planning. A telltale sign is that Crtittendon says she already has eight people in place to run her exploratory committee with less than a week of job displacement behind her. She told The Detroit News she heard about her ouster over the news media “like everybody else”.
If that was the case, it seems like she had been planning a run for some time regardless of whether she would be fired.
In a radio interview with Mildred Gaddis on Inside Detroit WCHB-AM: News Talk 1200 Monday morning, Crittendon had all of her talking points ready, and still insisted that it wasn’t about her but about the law and the voice of the people.
It almost seems as if her rise to fame or in some cases infamy was a calculated power play. Which as far as poltics goes, would be brillaint. Or maybe the events of the past year steamed her up for a run.
“The papers have portrayed me as a polarizing figure,” she told Gaddis Monday morning. “This is not true. I can work with both branches of government, as well as residents and the business and corporate community. This is not about me.”
She said her legal actions to block the consent agreement gave people hope, that the legal fight got people “believing we can reclaim this city”.
Crittendon said she has seen an outpour of support, residents approaching her asking how they can help in her mayoral bid. She also struck on a cord that resonates with many Detroiters who are worried a state receivership would mean a loss of voice for residents by declaring that the city can manage its own financial crisis.
What would be Mayor Crittendon’s first action? A thorough audit, and a beefed up collections taskforce to get back money owed to the city, she said.
Although she obviously is against recievership, she said kowtowing to State pressure in order to stave off the dangling threat of an emergency manager is not her course of action. She said the state will likely appoint an EM anyway, so fear is not the answer.
“The City Council should not be afraid to take a bold stand and listen to the people, not be afraid,” she said adding that even if an EM is appointed prior to the election, “he will not be here forever”. It seems likely that after establishing herself as a fighter for the people, she has positioned herself in the spotlight as a sort of martyr, perhaps gaining a soft spot in voter’s hearts.
The second question is, will it work?
Pitted against the likes of former DMS frontman Mike Duggan and Wayne county sherrif Benny Napoleon, Crittendon has some big fundraising to do. And fast.
It remains to be seen: What side of history will the woman who tried to stop Detroit’s state-mandated restructuring process fall on?
When I was a kid whenever I asked my grandma for something new she always sharply reminded me that, “money doesn’t grow on trees.”
Turns out, she was wrong. Money does grow on trees. In fact, with the gift foresight and some startup funds, it can grow on just about anything.
Don’t take it from me. Just ask Warren Buffet, the third richest person in world who made his fortune based on money growing speculation. He’ll tell you something that all investors know, but perhaps haven’t fully mastered: “The lower things go, the more I buy. We are in the business of buying," Buffet told Fortune magazine in an interview. Well, here in the Tha D, “things” have pretty much bottomed out.
And unless Detroit is the one city that defies history, there’s nowhere to go but up, up, up. You don’t have to be a soothsayer to see the signs. It’s a slow, slow uptick, but it’s happening. It’s not rocket science but it’s a science of analysis: The people who make the big bucks are the ones who see them coming before they land.
John Hantz, the successful investor who plans to buy up a big swath of Detroit for cheap, is one of them. He knows that in 40 years “things”—in this case city land—won’t be dished out at fire sale prices. No. The early bird gets the worm and it’s just a rule of investing.
I ain’t mad at him. He’s a talented guy. He’s a smart investor. He didn’t get rich by leading clients of his finance-consulting firm astray or by making poor investment decisions himself. So let’s put the emotional responses to this proposed land sale aside just look at the facts here.
Hantz has pitched this proposal as a philanthropic act, claiming that he only wants to spend millions on the area surrounding his Indian Village home simply to make Detroit a better place to live; simply because Detroiters deserve better, that more research has to be done on using urban and for agricultural purposes. We can operate under the guise of philanthropy or we can just call it what it is. I prefer the latter. So let’s be real: this is a business investment.
In Detroit there is an element of class warfare, a rich v. poor battle raging on under and at the surface and often justly so presenting a grand clash of idealism and realism given the country and society we live in. Rich people can do stuff that poor people can’t. But if that’s not the oldest story in the book, then I don’t know what is. Well, maybe prostitution is but I digress.
The Hantz land proposal comes from Hantz Group subsidiary Hantz Woodlands, LLC. The company would buy 1,500 vacant city parcels for $600,000 with agriculteral tax credits. The plan is to demolish abandoned buildings and clean up the land which makes up about 140 contiguous acres and plant thousands of hardwood trees. Trees that will take about 40 years to get to the point to where they could be harvested for lumber. Right about the time land values in Detroit will be going up.
So why are we participating in this charade? We all know what the real intentions are: to invest in the land, buy low, sell high or develop and sell even higher. From an economic standpoint this is a great thing. But lets call it what it is and not insult our intelligence. If the city council approves it, approve it for what it is and not for what it’s pitched to be. History can be the guide here.
Look back to New York in the 80s, in the Alphabet City neighborhood. It was a total slum. Now? Million dollar apartments abound there. That was 30 years ago. Look at that happened in Washington DC, in Berlin, Germany. It's the history of cities.
In 30 years it will be happening in Detroit. It’s happening now. Dan Gilbert knows it, John Hantz knows it and the ones who don’t will be crusty visionless naysayers left in the dust. Detroit is coming around, shaping to be an invetor's dream. Time and money is all it takes.
When we consider this proposal we should take a moment too look around the country. This type of proposal is not unique to Detroit. The Hantz Woodlands project may be the largest land sale Detroit has seen but it certainly is not the largest city land grab in the country.
Last year city panels in St. Louis approved a much bigger city land sale to private developer Paul McKee. The St. Louis Real Estate Society reported last year:
Despite the continued legal appeals over losing out on $390 million in tax increment financing (TIF) money for infrastructure improvements, St. Louis mega-developer Paul McKee is pressing forward on his ambitious Northside Regeneration Project. Just this morning, City officials quickly approved McKee’s offer to purchase 1,233 city-owned parcels and option on the neglected Pruitt-Igoe for roughly $3.2 million. All these parcels are located on the Near Northside of St. Louis, just north of Downtown. With this expansion, McKee will now hold around 2,200 parcels, totaling over 250 acres."
Perhaps McKee took a different approach than Hantz but it’s basically the same thing. Because St. Louis has different economic circumstances, it doesn’t need a 40-year of hardwood lot to buffer the land value gap. It’s already there.
Detroit’s top development officals plaud the Hantz land sale, happy to be relieved of the cumbersome responsibility of too much land and too little tax dollars to maintian it with. Perhaps they are lacking foresight here but right now in Detorit it is what it is. Money is tight, you get it where you can.
Rob Anderson, Director of the Detroit Planning and Development Department said the project would save the city money and was all around a good thing. “What we have is an individual who is willing to clean this community and pay taxes. I don’t see the down side,” Anderson told city council members recently.
"Rodney Crim, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay's top development official, said the land sale agreement was a good one. It moves more than one-tenth of all city-owned property off the books, adding $100,000 to the tax rolls and saving the cost of mowing and maintenance. Some of the $3.2 million proceeds will pay to demolish more crumbling city-owned buildings across north St. Louis, freeing up more land for redevelopment. And much of the ground has been up for sale for decades, with no credible buyers, until McKee. "The market hasn't addressed this issue," Crim said. "Now we have a developer who plans to address the whole area and is ready to move forward."
Proposal 1 may have been smashed but in Detroit, financial reforms sparked by the emergency manager legislation will be carried out as planned.
Just because voters struck down Proposal 1 doesn’t mean Detroit’s financial crisis was wiped out along with it. In fact, some argue that it’s quite the opposite; that without the State’s legislation to mandate emergency managers in cash-poor cities, these cities have no choice but to apply for bankruptcy, thus obliterating bond ratings and shaking the statewide economy.
With the defeat of Proposal 1 comes a new shower of questions.
Will state legislature draft up a new, similar, emergency manager law? Will any cities that already have emergency managers or advisory boards fight to keep them in place? Will elected officials, in order to avoid further financial chaos, carry on the work and advice that these state-appointed officials have given so far?
In Detroit, Mayor Dave Bing said he plans to carry out the suggested reforms that State and city appointed financial advisors laid out during the brief tenure of PA4. Bing wrote in a statement on Wednesday that the City's Consent Agreement with the State is still in place.
“I am determined to continue with vital reforms now underway in the City of Detroit, despite the defeat of Proposal 1 by Michigan voters in Tuesday’s election ... In the face of the City’s enormous fiscal deficit, I chose to negotiate a Financial Stability Agreement with the State of Michigan, rather than entertain the appointment of an Emergency Manager. The Financial Stability Agreement, approved by Detroit City Council last April, is still in place.”
That answers a couple of the immediate questions. Detroit is one of the municipalities whose leaders are electing to keep the financial advisors appointed through Public Act 4 and the reforms they have suggested.
There are 25 major reforms on the table as part of the consent agreement that Bing met with City Council to discuss last month. At the meeting, Bing got a positive response from the council.
“We are willing participants in the reforms," City Council President Charles Pugh said at the Oct. 22 meeting.
"You have our support," Councilman Andre Spivey told Bing regarding the reforms. "I don't see the Council being an impediment."
At the time, Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins wanted to know if these reforms could be made Prop. 1 fell through on Nov. 6.
Bing said it didn't.
The Mayor has said that the reforms in question, which involve some compensation shifts for city employees, some reshaping of city departments and the creation of a lighting authority, are necessary for the City to be eligible for up to $80 million in bond sales from the State. Bing said Detroit could receive $10 million by Nov. 15, and another $20 million by Dec. 14 with more installments made as the City meets the reform requirements to boost bond ratings and sales.
Money is the motive for these 25 suggested reforms. Without strengthening bonding capacity Bing has warned over and over that the city will not be able to pay its employees at all, a much more grim outlook than pay cuts or a switch from salary to contract work.
Even opponents of the emergency manager law have to concede: Detroit is in dire financial straights. Just because the State can’t mandate new financial leadership is no excuse for elected officials to sit in denial while the city spins further into financial insolvency. Let’s hope our city leaders do the right thing and make the tough decisions needed.
Is it safe to assume that if we have the right leadership, we won't need Emergency Manager legislation like Public Act 4?
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.
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.
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.
If six statewide ballot proposals weren’t enough, Detroit just upped the ante.
Last Friday Detroit City Council voted to override Gov. Rick Snyder and add three controversial amendments—proposals C, G and P—to the city charter on the November ballot. That’s not counting proposal E—one involving petition signatures—that both Snyder and the Council agreed upon.
That means on Nov. 6th, Detroiters will face 10 ballot proposals after voting for president and other public offices.
Perhaps the most troubling of the four proposals are G and P. Proposal G would amend the city charter to allow elected officials and city employees to accept gifts while conducting official city business.
Proposal P would take away the city law that forbids former city officials and employees from entering into contracts with the city for one year after they leave their post.
Aren’t questionable gifts and conflicts of interest the reason the city is undergoing a federal corruption probe?
Just ask former City Councilwoman Monica Conyers.
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