Thinking for ourselves
By Shea Howell
October 7, 2014
The last days of Kevyn Orr removed any pretense that there is a concern for the Detroit the quality of the lives of the people of Detroit. It should be clear to everyone that the only value that matters to Orr, Snyder, and go along Mayor Duggan, is protecting money.
Judge Rhodes ruling the moratorium on water shut offs was a travesty. The purposes of this extension were three fold: 1) to allow the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department time to establish a fair, equitable, and sustainable plan for the system that honors everyone’s right to water and everyone’s responsibility to contribute to a just system. 2) To give the water department time to get its own house in order. The judge was given ample evidence that the rush to shut offs have violated existing procedures and caused incalculable harm to people. 3) To ensure that the most vulnerable people are protected by common effort.
The judge ignored these concerns and made clear his bottom line is all about money. After saying he didn’t have the authority to rule on the moratorium, he went on to say if he did, he would rule against it. He believes the bankruptcy process must protect the collection of money to pay creditors swirling around the new Great Lakes Water Authority. “Detroit cannot afford any revenue slippage,” was his now infamous phrase. He explained there is no “enforceable right” to water and “The last thing” the city needs “is this hit to its revenues.”
As a result the DWSD is continuing to shut people off every day. Meanwhile the Judge is apparently not concerned with the $537 million that slipped into the hands of banks as special fees and charges on water department bonds assessed when the bankruptcy process began. Nor is he concerned about nearly half the outstanding money owed to the water department by corporate interests and the state government.
The only revenue he is after is what can be squeezed the poorest people in our city. Water shut offs, under the guise of necessity and law, are one more weapon in driving people out of their homes.
If the only concern was revenue, the first burden of proof would be for the water department is to show it is more efficient to shut people off than keep them on and pay a percentage of their income. In fact neither the water department nor Orr’s high priced attorneys met that burden. Relying on numbers that showed collections increased during the height of shut offs, as anyone would expect, they offered no long-term calculations of this process. Nor did they attempt to balance this short-term income against the expense of the privatized Homrich contract for 5.7 million dollars. For all we know, we will pay more to shut people off than the city will collect. This will be especially true as we add not only the loss of water revenue, but also the loss of property taxes.
Neither the Judge nor the Water Department has any way at all to calculate the loss to neighborhoods as yet more houses become abandoned, the loss to lives as stress and worry increase, the loss to children going to school without the ability to have basic sanitation, the loss to our community because leaders refuse to think in imaginative ways about public safety, health, and our obligations to one another.
The narrowness of the judge’s ruling will be appealed. And people will continue to resist this unjust policy. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, Catarina De Albuquerque will be in town for a fact finding Town Hall meeting, Sunday October 19 at 4 pm at Wayne County Community College in the Atrium of the Downtown Campus.
Everyone concerned about the future of our city should support this meeting.