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.
Aside from right-to-work, perhaps the most heated debate in Michigan last year was over the controversial emergency manager legislation.
Essentially, as opponents of the legislation fervently argue, an emergency manager siphons power from locally elected leaders and an appointed one starts calling the shots on how and where money is spent (and not spent) within an affected city.
Detroit, despite threats, has been able to doge an the infamous EFM (so far anyway).
But in many ways the city has, by default, come under a different type of financial management.
The city, it its compromised financial state, has been increasingly reliant on outside donors, big-ticket foundation gifts, to help keep city projects afloat. It’s been a much less heated debate, but it still exists in the undercurrent of city politics and grassroots movements.
A prime example of this came to a head in 2011, when the Kresge Foundation cut funding to Detroit Works project after a disagreement with the Bing administration over the role of outside decision-makers planning the fate of the city.
As Rustwire.com pointed out at the time:
Investors like Rapson weren’t elected by the people of Detroit. He came to Detroit a few years ago from the McKinght Foundation in Minneapolis. He lives in some fancy suburb outside Troy. But as the Wall Street Journal points out, private individuals like Mr. Rapson are wielding a lot of power in Detroit. They are threatening to dictate the terms of a project that will nonetheless be funded 4-1 by public money.
Since 2011 Bing and Rapson have mended fances and are not on the the same page. News came yesterday taht Kresge plans to donate $150 million tot he Detroit Works projects, that is "every single dollar" that Kresge spends in Detroit over the next 5 years Rapson says.
Rapson is of the opinion that Detroit needs outside voices and ideas to get it on a new path. And he's partialy right, making the issue more complex than the stale outsider v. Detroit standoff.
Mr. Rapson counters that more outside voices are needed in Detroit to help local leaders who, he suggests, aren’t up to the challenge of remapping the city. “The idea that the folks who have been trained a certain way for the last 20 years and who have never had the opportunity to apply that training in another community could figure all that out de novo seems crazy,” he said in an interview.
But city leaders say mapping out the city’s future—including deciding which neighborhoods will survive Mr. Bing’s consolidation effort and which ones won’t—is a task for local leaders and voters. “People want to know that their interests are being represented,” says Marja Winters, the city’s deputy planning chief and co-leader of Detroit Works. “Someone who doesn’t live here can’t accurately represent their interests.”
So, in a way, the city is under a financial direction from people who have not been elected. But we have to ask ourselves: is that such a bad thing?
One day after Gov. Rick Snyder appointed a 6-member team to conduct a financial review of Detroit’s finances, Mayor Dave Bing rolled out a “revenue enhancement” plan estimated to bring the city $50 million in revenue.
But at this point, after years on financial insolvency, many are wondering if the city’s new collection initiative is “too little to late”.
City and State officials have warned that a wrong move at this crucial time in Detroit’s history could land the city in bankruptcy court.
But here’s the twist: Under state law, the city must first be appointed an Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) before being eligible to file for bankruptcy. Snyder’s review team’s findings could result in him appointing an EFM to Detroit, someone who would take away the Bing Administration and the City Council’s power to make financial decisions.
Just a month ago, city and state officials were squabbling over the release of $30 million in escrowed state funds. Now that the city has reached the milestones of an agreement that was contingent on the $30 million drawdown, the city is not in much better shape.
During the drawn out “milestones” tug of war between the mayor’s office and city council members, the mayor’s talking points made it sound like the $30 would stave off layoffs.
Turns out, layoffs are just one of the measures the city has to take in order to move not toward financial solvency but just to keep afloat.
One thing that’s different now is that City residents and business owners face tougher tax collection efforts now that the city has hired private collection agencies to go after delinquent accounts. No one is safe, not even the mighty Illitches who owe more than 1.5 million in taxes.
The city estimates that it could gain nearly $20 million in tax collection initiatives annually if stricter collection is enforced.
That begs the question: why were these collection measures not taken sooner?
The answer is a complex one that boils down to the fact that the city, until recent contracts with private firms, did not have the capacity to go after its debtors, Bing says.
As the city keeps skimming its payroll, there are less people doing work.
“Because of the loss of so many people—we had almost 14, 00 people when we came into office now we 9,700 people—we need some help on the personnel standpoint so we’re going to the outside and getting some outside firms to come in and help us. They are not going to be permanent.”
Meanwhile, the city plans to lay off 500 more workers in early 2013 mostly through attrition and retirement according to CFO Jack Martin.
Still, is this too little too late, Mr. Mayor?
“It’s too soon to say,” Bing said Wednesday. “We’re not throwing in the towel. Contrary to what a lot of people may believe there’s a lot of good things we have done. I think when we lay this plan out it’s going to surprise a lot of people. This is not a ‘get tough’ stance on anybody. It’s fairness and being correct.”
At this point Detroiters can only wait and see. Hopefully, people will get the surprise Bing looks forward to.
Since he was elected mayor in 2009, Dave Bing has fired two police chiefs and suspended one. Bing removed former police chief James Barron and appointed then Wayne County Sherriff Warren Evans. He did so as a standard round of appointments for his administration.
But since then both of Bing’s picks for police chief have been involved romantically with subordinates. Bing suspended current Police Chief Ralph Godbee Tuesday evening after an affair that Godbee was having with a subordinate was exposed.
It seems as though Detroit Mayor Bing’s tolerance for internal romance between police chiefs and subordinates is very low. My question is this: Does this have to do with the shadow of the Kwame Kipatrick sex scandal that still looms over city leaders? Has the fear that the city can’t afford another ongoing sex scandal made the mayor hyper sensitive to relationships between leaders and subordinates?
Chief Godbee, who is separated from his wife and going through a divorce, was having a relationship with a married police officer. Not a huge scandal at face value, but maybe Bing knows something bigger is going on here. If not, the suspension seems a bit drastic, especially as the Detroit Police Department faces such trying times. With 10 percent wage cuts, 12-hour shifts, low police morale, and a homicide rate that grows daily makes an interoffice affair seem miniscule.
That’s not to say Godbee’s actions were right. Godbee should have learned a lesson from the events that surrounded his appointment to chief in the first place. And it’s never a good idea to sleep with an employee.
Godbee was appointed to be the city’s top law enforcer after Bing fired his predecessor, Warren Evans, in part for being romantically involved with a subordinate. At the time Bing said Evans’ romantic relationship with Lt. Monique Patterson would get in the way of Evans’ ability to conduct business.
Directly after Bing hired Godbee to replace Evans, Patterson released text messages showing she also had a romantic relationship with Godbee. Bing didn’t act on the texts Patterson released, and Godbee remained at his post.
Godbee's suspension sparked Evan's interest. Evans, who was fired in 2009, still seems bitter about the oust: He posted on Facebook:
Maybe someone can help me with the Mayor's mathematical equation and thought process:
Single man openly dates single woman = forced resignation
Married man has affair with single woman=promotion to Chief
Married man has another affair with married woman=30 day suspension.
Married man has no clue about fighting crime or fiscal management
The suspension of a police chief does not move the city any closer to curbing the rising homicide rate: The 287 murders committed through Sept. 23 in Detroit are 26 more than at the same point last year.
But the immediate and severe action does move the city closer to an image of no-nonsense leadership that snips interoffice sex scandals in the bud. And maybe that’s what Detroit needs most.
The deed is done. The consent agreement has come alive and now it’s up to the financial board and the program management director William Andrews to wield their power over the Detroit City Council, which voted Tuesday to reject their plan to slash union income and benefits for city employees.
But under the consent agreement, it really doesn’t matter how the Council votes. This is why the consent agreement was created in the first place, no? To get rid of all the red tape and elected officials who clearly don’t know what’s good for the city?
“[The consent agreement] gives the city's program management director -- a position created by the consent agreement and appointed by the mayor from candidates agreed to by the mayor and governor -- the ability to ignore Tuesday's vote and impose the proposed cuts, thus controlling union members' salaries, benefits and work rules. The fiscal stability agreement, or consent agreement, thus makes the council's vote on union conditions largely symbolic.”
Hey, council members could see it as a good thing: they’ve got nine financial board appointees people to do their job. Vacation time, anyone?
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