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?
Is sugar the new tobacco? That’s a question with a growing buzz around the nation, especially after the City of New York’s bold move to ban large, sugary beverages in restaurants, cafes and movie theatres.
By now it’s no secret. It’s a known medical fact that sugar is packed not only with nutritionally “empty” calories but it’s a veritable appetite stimulate. Some even argue that sugar is an addictive drug and should be regulated just like alcohol or tobacco. A study released by the American Health Trust this September found Michigan to be the fifth fattest state in the union. Numerous reports over the past decade have put Detroit anywhere between the first and fifth most obese city on the nation, at times rivalling Houston, Texas for the fattest spot depending on the year and who’s reporting.
This is yet another list Detroit doesn’t have to be on.
After a spirited rally against soda pop yesterday, Detroiters may be getting on board the sugar-awareness train. The rally, held at Detroit’s Sinai Grace Hospital, urged people to cut pop out of their diets to prevent excess caloric intake and therefore, obesity.
Any doctor or dietitian will tell you: excess sugar intake (Americans guzzle syrup-filled drinks by the gallon) leads to obesity and obesity causes serious health complications including heart disease, diabetes and other leading causes of death in the United States. There’s nothing to debate there.
What many people disagree on is what we, as a country, should do about it. Should the government intervene like it did with booze and tobacco? Some argue that regulating sugar opens the door to regulating all sorts of lifestyle choices. Perhaps the best approach is not to regulate sugaar entirely but have warnings on foods and drinks with significant added sugar about the health risks involved in excess sugar consumption.
Perhaps the worst sugar and junk food travesty is childhood obesity. One in three chidlren in America are not considered overweight or obese. At the hosptial rally yersterday, the president and CEO of Sinai Grace Hospital, Dr. Reginald Eadie, said that childhood obesity is causing more damage to the American people than a natrual disacter like hurricane Sandy could ever do. I agree.
We need to find a way to bring awareness to the amount of sugarwe as Americans unconsciously consume. Maybe a massive education effort through government health agencies and schools is part of the answer.
At any rate, Americans are too sweet on sugar.
“According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the average American consumes 156 pounds of added sugar per year. That’s five grocery store shelves loaded with 30 or so one pound bags of sugar each. If you find that hard to believe, that’s probably because sugar is so ubiquitous in our diets that most of us have no idea how much we’re consuming. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) puts the amount at 27.5 teaspoons of sugar a day per capita, which translates to 440 calories – nearly one quarter of a typical 2000 calorie a day diet.” Obesity doesn’t just affect fat people. It affects everyone by spiking health care costs."
This year’s "F as in Fat” study conducted by the Trust for America's Health showed glaring statistics that between type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and arthritis, more than $23 billion is spent on healthcare costs every year. The sickness industry and insurance companies may be doing well, Americans, especially Michiganders and Detroiters, are not.
This isn’t fair to healthy people or people who unconsiously are making themselves obese. Should we do like Canada does with tobacco packaging and stick a photo of a grossly protruding belly on pop and candy labels? While that might sound extreme, we have to do something about obesity in America. It is estimated through studies that one in three Americans is clinically obese.
History shows, government regulation on anything has stirred up heated debates on freedom in this country. But if people are not educated, they are not making a conscious choice.
Decades ago, in the late 60’s, ferver over tobacco regulation revved up to a frenzy when, on April 1 1970, President Richard Nixon signed a law officially banning cigarette ads on television and radio. Meanwhile, Government was bulking up its efforts to discourage the sale of cigarettes. Post office trucks carried posters: "100,000 Doctors Have Quit Smoking," posters warned “quit smoking, or die”.
This summer, a U.S. appeals court struck down a law that would require tobacco companies to use graphic health warnings on the packages of tobacco products. These warnings would include gross-out photos of blackened lungs, rotted teeth or a smoker exhaling through a hole in his throat.
Much like tonacco, a war on sugar is a war on big industry. Most soda pop and other sweet products lining grocery stores shelves and restaurant tableware is no packed with cane or beet sugar but high fructose corn syrup.
Most government regulation stems from concern over kids. Just like childhood obesity is a scare, so is youth smoking. The U.S. Surgeon General warned this March that youth smoking has reached the scale of an epidemic , as one in four U.S. high school seniors is a habitual smoker and set up for life long battle with nicotine addiction.
Should the surgeon general issue a warning on soda pop and other sugary beverages that offer no nutritious content to our diets? Many health professinals and scienticic researchers argue that sugar is in fact addictive and should be considered a drug. Many Americans casually refer the affect of sugar on kids and adults a “sugar high”. But this is something we should take more seriously.
A report last year citied researchers claiming that sugar is just as addictive as cocaine or nicotine and that most people don’t realize this because it’s so culturally acceptable and available.
In more positve news, the State of Michigan is aawre and making moves to curb the state's obesity problem.
When the numbers were released from the most recent national obesity study "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2012” Michigan’s high rank spurred Governor Rick Snyder’s administration to release a statement on the topic.
The governor's office released a statement once the findings of the study were released:
"While watching these numbers climb in the wrong direction is disappointing, the governor and Department of Community Health have recognized this as a critical issue, and are taking steps to turn it around,” Snyder’s spokeswoman Sara Wurfel wrote in a statement. “With Michigan's '4 x 4 Plan,' and the help of our communities, we are on our way to reversing this trend and making Michigan a healthier, stronger state."
While we may be a long way from government regulation on sugar, we should all take responsibility for what we’re putting into our bodies. After reading that one 12-once can of popular soda pop such as Pepsi or Coke has ten teaspoons full of sugar, I decided to see exactly what that looked like.
I measured ten teaspoons of sugar into a 12 once bottle. It filled up more than a quarter of the bottle. Gross.
While most soda pop doesn’t use granular sugar but high fructose corns syrup, that doesn’t make it any better. Perhaps high fructose corn syrup is even worse because it is more concentrated.
If nothing else, realize that when you drink a really sweet beverage like pop or sweet tea, it’s straight sugar you’re putting into your body. Liquid candy. If you drink pop, go ahead, but it should be regarded the same way you count a candy bar: as a junk food snack full of excess calories.
With the fist day of school approaching fast, Michigan’s newest school district—the Education Achievement Authority (EAA)— is pushing to enroll as many students possible by any means necessary, or so it seems.
As the fate of Public Act 4—the legislation that made the EAA possible—now hangs in the balance of a public vote come Nov. 6, it’s crucial to keep the momentum, and enrollment, rolling at full speed according to district officials.
Despite the uncertain outcome of the Nov. 6 vote on the controversial emergency manager law, the district is charging “full steam ahead” according to Roy Roberts, emergency manager for Detroit Public Schools and director of the EAA.
In order to fill the classrooms on time and overthrow any doubts or uncertainty about the new EAA schools, The EAA, which is a public/private partnership between the State of Michigan and Eastern Mcihgian University, got popular bad boy rapper T.I. to urge youngsters via a radio advertisement on a local hip-hop station to enroll in an EAA school.
A Radio ad airing on The New Hot 107.5 FM on Sunday, dubbed the EAA “ the hottest new schools” featuring T.I’s voice asking kids to tell their parents to get them in an EAA school.
This choice of spokesperson raises the some questions: What’s the message here? Obviously kids listen to T.I., but should the EAA district be using a rapper whose reputation is smeared by frequent stints in prison for illegal gun charges as the pied piper leading students their doors?
The enrollment numbers aren’t that bad: Last week The Detroit News reported that the district had 6,660 students signed up and ready to start. The goal is 11,000 students total to fill all 15 EAA schools. That’s about more than half of the final goal and enrollment will continue through September.
While T.I. is popular, and could get student’s attention, it’s the parents who ought to be making these decisions of where to place their child, not kids who want to go to a school because their favorite rapper—who brags about shooting people in his songs—thinks it’s “hot.”
Is Mayor Dave Bing gearing up for another mayoral run? Or has Gov. Rick Snyder really crossed a line with his proposals for Detroit?
Up until now, Bing has been mostly supportive of input from the State of Michigan to support and control parts of the city that are failing under the financial crisis. He supported the consent agreement, he supported cuts proposed by the consent agreement's financial advisory board, and he condemned the city's Corporation Counsel when she tried to stall the consent agreement.
But at a meeting with Detroit NAACP members in Midtown Wednesday, Bing hotly expressed frustration with Snyder's proposals for the city using words like “hell” and “damn”, according to a report in The Detroit News.
Bing said of Governor Snyder:
“You can't come in here and think you can do any damn thing that you want.”
Bing added that he does not want the state to “impose” decision on Detroit:
"I have never in my 46 years in this city seen a governor of the state of Michigan involved in city politics like this one," he said.
But The state has been imposing a lot of things lately, so why has Bing turned on this one?
My first guess is that he’s lining up his ducks for another mayoral run and in order to get a good footing with his electorate he has to start standing up the governor.
I’m no political advisor, but I guarantee candidates who toss the term “union busting” around a few times and throw verbal zingers Snyder’s way are bound to rack up Detroit votes.
City Council President Charles Pugh, who also has expressed interest in a mayoral run, has essentially done the same thing. He supported the consent agreement up until now, when he suddenly is calling it “union busting” and blasting the state for wanting to take over Detroit.
Looks like Bing, Pugh and DMC front man Mike Duggan will be top mayoral contenders in 2013. And it’s clear that a successful run it will be a tight balancing act of who can keep in good with the State while giving Detroit voters what they want to hear.
Just when the legal showdown over the Detroit consent agreement was escalating to a special kind of crazy, the show is over: But not before Mayor Dave Bing hired a private lawyer to fight his own city's law department. Really, you can't make this stuff up.
Ingham County Circuit Judge William Collette ended what could have been a long and nasty battle between the city and, well, itself. On Wednesday afternoon Collette immediately tossed the lawsuit brought by Detroit’s top lawyer Krystal Crittendon without hesitation.
“This lawsuit will not go forward. I saw it from the very first moment."
Now the City Council can appoint the final members of the financial advisory board that will ultimately take over financial decisions for the city.
But will Krystal Crittendon and the protestors of the consent agreement fade off into the sunset? Not likely. If it wasn't such a serious issue that affected my city, I'd grab a bowl of popcorn and call it entertainment.
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