Thinking for ourselves
By Shea Howell
June 24-30, 2012
The dire prediction of the death of the city by the mainstream media has disappeared from the daily headlines. The hysterical language and declarations of doom designed to intimidate Corporation Counsel Kystal Crittendon from pursuing her responsibilities to file a lawsuit on behalf of the city have shifted focus, for the time being.
But the extraordinary effort to stop this challenge should be a sign to all of us just how important the questions raised by Counsel Crittendon are.
First, while Ingham County Circuit Court Judge William Collette dismissed the lawsuit, he did not rule on the substance of the challenge. Instead, in a hasty decision which many believe was based on a reading of the old City Charter, Judge Collette concluded that Corporation Counsel Krystal Crittendon did not have the authority to take action against the state without approval of elected officials.
This seems to plainly miss the independent role of Corporation Counsel carefully outlined in the New Charter. Moreover, it does not provide any insight into the issue raised, that the whole consent agreement effort rests on false premises created by decisions and policies of the State. Most notable among them is the issue of revenue sharing funds promised the city, but never delivered.
Republicans and backers of the drive for an Emergency Manger love to point out this debt has been owed for a long time. They imply that the duration of a debt somehow nullifies it. In fact, the debt was continued because the State itself was in a financial emergency for years. The issue raised today is why the State has not addressed this debt as part of its distribution of the anticipated budget surplus.
This “surplus” was in large part garnered by the draconian cuts to education, public services, parks, recreation, arts, cultural activities, and workers compensation. All of these cuts having a disproportionate impact on Detroit.
Further, discussion of this debt raises the role of the State in implementing policies that have helped create the financial distress of the city. The specific argument around revenue sharing rests on a 1998 State decision that promised to replace lost income tax revenue with revenue sharing dollars. A recent article in the Nation noted: “Detroit is on the verge of financial ruin, in no small part because since 1998 it has been hobbled by a law requiring all cities to cut personal income taxes every year, for residents as well as nonresidents.”
What becomes critical here is the fact that a serious look at the financial difficulties of the city demonstrate the direct efforts of a republican dominated state legislature to both create financial distress and to then use that distress to impose emergency measures that takes control of the city away from its citizens. This effort depends upon fostering the belief that the financial crisis of Detroit is the direct result of incompetence and irresponsibility.
The reason the corporate elite became vitriolic about Corporation Counsel Krystal Crittendon’s lawsuit is that it challenges this carefully constructed myth.
Had the judge, or any of the mainstream media bothered to look at the newly adopted City Charter, they would have recognized a thoughtful effort by citizens to create a more balanced government. This new charter intentionally increases the powers of the Corporation Counsel to play exactly the kind or role Ms. Crittendon did. Moreover, following the mandate of a widely supported public referendum, it shifts power away from an at large city council to a ward system of representation. This will make it much more difficult for corporate money to control elections.
A serious discussion of the new Charter shows the capacity of Detroiters to craft policies and practices that provide for a more engaged, responsive and thoughtful democratic practice. That is the conversation the elite want to avoid.