What’s the big deal? If judges are going to dismiss legal challenges to the consent agreement so easily, why all the fuss?
Krystal Crittendon tried it. Then she tried it again—that is, filing a lawsuit deeming Detroit’s Financial Stability Agreement void according to her interpretation of the city charter due to some disputed revenue sharing dollars and unpaid bills.
Both times, an Ingham County judge tossed Crtittendon’s lawsuit without a blink.
But it was too late: at that point city’s top attorney’s legal argument had raised such a ruckus from the state and supporters of the agreement, that city bond ratings dipped along with other financial speculations, driving the city further into a financial hurricane.
With all that mess, it seemed like the Corporation Counsel’s lawsuit actually carried some water. Or, at very least, enough for a judge to consider it and not toss it out with the same knee-jerk revulsion reserved for rotten tomatoes.
Then three local AFSCME union leaders tried it. Detroiters Rose Roots, Yolanda King and Yvonne Ross filed a lawsuit making the same argument as Crittendon: the consent agreement is void per the City Charter due to debts the state owes the City.
Wayne County Circuit Judge Amy Hathaway swiftly ruled that the City had no proof that the State owed it any money, and that revenue sharing dollars that are not shared do not count as debts.
"'The revenue-sharing money ... is not a debt, and we all know it's not a debt because corporation counsel issued an opinion to that effect back in 2006,' Hathaway said, referring to an opinion by a former top city attorney in the administration of former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick."
While the city charter has been revised since the Kilpatrick days, this ruling puts forth a solid reason not to appeal, or makes the chance of any appeal unlikely to succeed.
Crittendon still has time to appeal as well as the three AFSCME musketeers. But it would be silly to let these lawsuits send the city and it’s fragile finances into another tailspin. To supporters of the consent agreement: Don’t buy the hype and everything will be fine.
Who needs a consent agreement? Detroit and the State of Michigan can sue the way to financial stability one lawsuit at a time. That's the level of ridiculousness we're headed towards, anyway.
Amid the confusion and controversy of legal tangles around the consent agreement, Detroit City Council President Pro Tem Gary Brown wants to add another ring to the legal dispute circus.
Brown says he’s going to urge the council to vote on a resolution to have the city charter reviewed by state Attorney General Bill Schuette.
The Detroit News reports:
“Brown wants Schuette to initiate a lawsuit asking a judge to clarify Crittendon's powers as the head of the city's law department while she continues her crusade against Detroit's consent agreement with the state.”
Is that’s what this city needs? Another lawsuit? The city just spent two years and thousands of dollars revising the city charter. The people who know the charter best are the ones who just re-wrote it, the former revision commission members.
But all that is beside the point. Why can’t we just let this lawsuit play out? Chances are, the Ingham County judge who dismissed Crittendon’s case with unwavering conviction the first time will not have had a change of heart. In the meantime, there is a lot work to be done.
Instead of fretting over a lawsuit that is supposedly “meritless” according to state officials, get to work on fixing the city’s finances, not pulverizing them further into oblivion.
Because, at the end of the day, financial stability is the goal, right? Is seems leadership at the city and state level has lost sight on the big picture and has been sucked into the whirlpool of drama that is city/ state politics.
Times like these call for collaboration and compromise. Like Mayor Dave Bing has said over and over: lawsuits are not going to fix the city’s financial crisis.
Just when there was some hope that the legal drama over the consent agreement was over, a new round of lawsuits stirred up the political pot late last week.
Crittendon is at it again, asking the Ingham County Circuit Court Judge William Collette, who dismissed her challenge to the consent agreement, to reconsider his decision. It’s unlikely that the case will go far with the same judge who was very clear that he did not believe Crittendon had a legitimate case last time.
Meanwhile, the state also filed a lawsuit in Wayne County last week to stop a city hearing over water bills the state allegedly owes the city. The threats to withhold millions in revenue sharing are back on the table, just like they were last month.
When will leaders be able to compromise? Leadership in Detroit definitely leaves something to be desired, but state officials are not exactly the best diplomats, either. All of the “danger” Bing warns that the city is in stems from threats from the state’s threat to withhold finances due to Crittendon’s the lawsuit, not the lawsuit itself.
City Council member Kenneth Cockrel Jr. has the right idea. He told The Detroit News:
"I do think continued legal filings not only on her part but on the part of the state — they are now suing us — are ultimately destructive to the process," Cockrel said. "They are certainly not in the city's short term or long term interests, for that matter."
Yeah, what he said.
The City of Detroit is operating like a rollercoaster. Every week is a new drama. Two weeks ago it was the state threateneing to withold revenue sharing funds if a lawsuit challenging the consent agreement wasn't dropped. Last week, a judge tossed the contoversial lawsuit and the city was able to move forward appointing the last memebers of the financial advisroy board put in place under the consent agreement. It seemed like the maybe the rollercoaster was slowing down a bit.
Then, last Friday, Bing stormed out of a meeting with city council and blasted them for holding back the city by not agreeming to remove the lawyer who brought the lawsut against the consent agreement. City Council President Charles Pugh blasted back saying the mayor needed to show better leadership. This week, Bing wants to hire is own lawyer and not use the city's top lawyer, Krystal Crittendon because of the negative effects the lawsuit she brought had on the city.
It seems that this week all niceties are out the window and now the familiar rift between the Detroit Mayor’s Office and the City Council is clearer than ever.
But was Detroit Mayor Dave Bing himself who said the city needed to move forward without distractions. So why is he causing more?
There seems to be reason beyond sinking bond ratings that Bing wants Crittendon out so bad. Is he afraid she will appeal the court’s decision to throw out her case that called the consent agreement void? Is the state privately threatening him with more cuts unless he removes the lawyer who could stand in the way? There has to be an better explaination for this one.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out: He’d already asked the Council remove Crittendon two week before when the state threatened to hold back $80 million in funding if she didn’t drop the lawsuit and they flatly refused. In addition, less than the 2/3-majority vote needed to remove Crittendon voted in support of the consent agreement in the first place.
This can be avoided. Crittendon hasn’t said she will appeal the decision to toss the lawsuit she brought, so, for now, this dramatic showdown should be over.
If the city of Detroit was a business, and Mayor Dave Bing was the President/CEO, and Corporation Council Krystal Crittendon was said businesses’ top lawyer, Crittendon would have been fired months ago.
But the city isn’t a business, and the mayor isn’t a President or CEO and able to call all the shots. There are many reasons one could argue that municipalities aren’t like a business, and alternately, many reasons why one could argue that they are.
Bing has said many times that the city aught to be run like a business. And in his letter to Crittendon yesterday, he cited how she had hurt her client, the City of Detroit, in her lawsuit challenging the consent agreement. As a direct result of her actions, bond ratings dropped, along with the already low public opinion of the city.
As much as Bing would like to run the city like a business, there are instances, like this one, where the two are distinguished. The city council has to vote on this one and six of them have to agree with Bing in order to remove Crittendon from her post as the city’s leading lawyer. And the council doesn't work for Bing.
It is unlikely that the City Council will vote out Crittendon for two reasons: First of all, there are not six city council members who agreed with allowing the consent agreement in the first place. That vote rattled through at 5-4. Secondly, Bing has already asked the city council members to remove Crittendon: just last week. They said “no” and no major external shifts have taken place since then, unless they are under some more, less public pressure from the state to get rid of her, the vote isn’t likely to change.
The question of weather a city should be run like business has intrigued me for some time.
But now is not the time for more philosophical debates and back and forth within city government. Could Crittendon’s removal turn into another city circus?
That’s what Bing is trying to avoid, and yet it almost seems inevitable.
One of the definitions the Merriam-Webster Dictionary gives for the word “business” is:
“Serious activity requiring time and effort and usually the avoidance of distractions "
Under that definition, Detroit is definitely a business and needs to avoid as many distractions as possible in order to stabilize not only the city’s reputation, but its finances.
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