THINKING FOR OURSELVES
Beyond Budgets & Speeches
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, April 4, 2010
In his first State of the City address Mayor Dave Bing promised to “reinvent Detroit.” He pledged “to demolish 3000 dangerous residential structures this year” and “10,000 by the end of this term.” He promised that “We’re not giving away or selling any neighborhoods to anyone.”
He also said, “This is a long-term process that requires the support and participation of everyone. We’re not making decisions in a vacuum. Data alone is not enough. Any plan will involve direct participation from our community because that’s where our real strength is–in the commitment and connection Detroiters share with our city and each other. Every Detroiter has a voice and a role in this process.”
So far, the Mayor is falling far short of what he called the “mandate to restore trust in our city and city government” and of proposals that show “no tolerance for corruption, conflict of interest or abuse of your trust or your tax dollars.”
The Mayor has not provided any plan to engage Detroiters in meaningful decision-making about the future of our city. In fact, the only plan is that of Robert Bobb, the emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools. Bobb’s school closing plan was greeted with such an uproar that he was forced to call for a series of Town Hall meetings for citizen input.
It is obvious to everyone that Mayor Bing and Manager Bobb are working closely together to reshape our city. It is equally obvious that neither Bing nor Bobb understands what transparent decision-making involves or how to have serious public discussion.
Neither Bing nor Bobb has shared with citizens the process of their own decision-making. By what criteria has Bobb decided which schools to close? Anyone glancing at the list sees that some of our most successful and imaginative schools are slated for closure. The school’s location, not the quality of its education, appears to be the motivating factor.
The so-called Town Meetings are also an insult to teachers, parents and students. Limiting access to the meetings and providing 15 minutes for “discussion” per school is ludicrous. Manager Bobb’s willingness to extend the time for discussion by 5 minutes, and to graciously allow a school to keep its name, are touted as signs that he is “listening.”
This is sheer nonsense. It is designed to create an illusion of a democratic process by a man who is challenging the right of an elected school board to make decisions; a man who is taking $500 million in taxpayer money for purposes other than for which it was voted, a man who unabashedly accepted a salary of over $400,000 in a city where the average income is under $15,000 and who smugly justifies this, calling himself a better negotiator than the unions whose pay he is cutting.
Given this performance by Manager Bobb, we should not expect anything much from his pal, Mayor Bing.
The Mayor should stop pretending this is about “tough decisions.” He is offering nothing new. Detroit has been shrinking for a long time. Between 1970 and 2000 more than 161,000 homes were demolished. That is almost one third of our city’s housing stock. We have given up control of our museums, zoos, park land, and playgrounds. We have closed community centers and police precincts. Basic services barely exist even in the best of neighborhoods. During all of this we learned that when eminent domain was used, it destroyed people along with their communities. We know that Detroiters lost while developers lined their pockets.
We need to make clear to the Mayor and to what seems to be an impotent City Council that this is an assault on Democracy. Democracy does not mean saying “yes” to plans conceived in secret. It’s time to take charge of our own future.