Monday, March 04, 2013

Guest Commentary: Things the Emergency Manager Should Do

Erik Drader, a resident of the other fine neighborhoods in Detroit, posted a series of comments on the Facebook page for this blog that outlined what he thinks our soon-to-be appointed emergency manager should do once in office. I agree with some of ideas and disagree with others. However, I think this is a great way to start the conversation about what the emergency manager for Detroit should do.

Therefore, with his permission, I am proud to present his comments as a guest commentary on this blog.


There is no entity or organization in the country that is more wasteful, incompetent, and utterly broken as Detroit city government. Given that, the emergency manager should dismantle as much of city government as possible, and transfer the authority and operations to different organizations and/or units of government. Use Cobo, Campus Martius, Eastern Market, and the Riverwalk as successful examples of the city turning over responsibility to dedicated non-profits, private/public partnerships, regional authorities, or different units of government, and replicate these successes as much as possible. 

I would love to see the city completely get out of the transit business and hand off everything to the new regional transit authority  The city should let Belle Isle become a state park, and then try to find partnerships to help fund and maintain as many other city parks as possible. 

I would also like to see if city airport could be turned over to the county airport authority and expanded. City airport could be a huge asset if the runways were expanded to allow full size aircraft to land there. The City tried to do that while Mayor Coleman A.Young was in office, but there were too many businesses and residents that would have had to move at that time. That area has experienced massive population loss and abandonment, so it should be much easier to acquire the needed land now than it was 30 years ago.

There are many departments that should be eliminated and turned over to state or county control. The departments of health, human services, and human rights are good starting points. The City should also look at turning over property tax collection to the county. 

Any help that we can get from other law enforcement agencies should be welcomed and expanded as much as possible. The county sheriffs department offered to take over responsibility for policing the bus system a couple years ago, and was turned down. The state is willing to deploy more state police officers in the city to help out. Wayne State is willing to help police areas that are a little outside of the Wayne State University district.

If the Detroit Police Department can turn over certain duties and/or partner with other law enforcement agencies, coverage can improve and response times can be cut. Also, there needs to be reorganization within the DPD itself. Shortly before leaving the job, Chief Ralph Godbee said that the DPD had 100 officers working on payroll, which was still being done with paper and pencil. He said that they planned to spend $600,000 on a new payroll system to try to get more efficient. WTF? An organization of 2,500 employees can be properly serviced by a payroll department of 3 civilians. Also, a modern payroll system doesn't cost $600,000 to purchase. Internal restructuring and outside partnering could result in hundreds of additional police patrolling the streets, without any additional expenditure from the city. 

These are just starting points. There is much more that can be done to cut costs and improve service delivery. 

Also, the EM should figure out exactly how much long-term debt is owed by the city and how much of that debt the city can actually afford to pay, and then make a settlement offer to the unions and bond holders. The 2007 United Auto Workers contracts are a good template to work from. The city should set up a union-controlled Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association with a set amount of seed money (negotiated in settlement talks) and then switch over to a defined contribution retirement plan for all city employees.

If the unions and bond holders can not come to a settlement agreement with the city, bankruptcy should then be pursued.
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