Monday, April 30, 2012

Simple Math Can Save Detroit

"The Simply Math That Can Save Cities From Bankruptcy" by Emily Badger found its way into my in-box about three weeks ago. It originally appeared The Atlantic, but I was in the midst of both tax season at one of my jobs and planning the relaunch of this blog. I didn't get around to it until today. However, I think she raises a lot of good points that are useful in cities like Detroit that have been struggling for decades.

Her main focus is that the adaptive reuse of buildings can create more population density, improve the overall urban fabric, and generate more tax revenue for cities. In Detroit, we have plenty of large, vacant buildings that can be rehabbed in much the way that Ms. Badger discussed in her article. In the Warrendale neighborhood, besides lots of single family detached homes, we have one vacant apartment complex, several vacant commercial buildings, and a few vacant school buildings that await redevelopment.

I recommend taking a moment to read Ms. Badger's commentary here.

Detroit Fire Department Offers Safety Tips

Donald Austin, Executive Fire Commissioner of the Detroit Fire Department, took the time to offer a series of safety tips. He also talked about the free home inspection and smoke detector program that his Department has.

Safety tips from the Detroit Fire Department is your Warrendale Tip of the Week.

India vs. Russia at the Warrendale (Detroit) Blog

Stock Photo of Moscow by Ugur Can
The Warrendale (Detroit) Blog has been getting a lot of traffic from Russia and India over the past week. I usually get a half dozen or so such visits per day. However, for these past few days, I've seen more than 100 visitors from each country.

According to Google Analytics, a decent amount of my Russian traffic seems to come from the Russian search engine I'm not sure what my Russian visitors are searching for when the find me there. However, that search engine has sent me a decent amount of traffic lately.

It's not clear why there has been a spike in traffic from India, except that it's coming from a variety of search engines and referral sites with users as far south as Karnataka and as far north in India as north as New Delhi; from West Bengal to Gujarat in eastern India.

Anyway, I'm an irreverent smart ass as well as a pervert. As a result, there's a part of me that wants to commemorate this new trend by creating a video with a Russian woman and an Indian one Jell-O wrestling. This match, of course, would be won by whichever nation sent me the most unique visitors by the end of the month.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Mayor Bing Takes Advantage of "Take Out the Trash Day"

Mayor Dave Bing has named Eddie Munson and Sandra Pierce as his two appointees to the Financial Advisory Board, required under the Financial Stability Agreement between the State of Michigan and the City of Detroit. These are the only two individuals that Mayor Bing will be able to appoint under the agreement. While both of them have impeccable credentials, neither of them live in Detroit.

Stock Photo by Glenn Pebley
It should not be surprising, therefore, that these appointments were announced at 3 p.m. on a Friday afternoon. Friday is sometimes referred to as "Take Out the Trash Day" in political circles. More on that below.

As I mentioned above, both Mr. Munson and Ms. Pierce have impeccable financial credentials.

Mr. Munson is a certified public accountant and a former partner at KPMG LLP with more than 30 years of public and private sector auditing experience. A native of Mississippi who lives in Rochester Hills, Munson is the retired director of Caraco Pharmaceutical Laboratories Ltd. Munson, who earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting from Jackson State University, was the managing partner of the KPMG Detroit office from January 1993 to September 2003. He currently serves on the Board of Trustees of the Skillman Foundation.

Ms. Pierce, president and chief executive officer of Charter One, Michigan, is a Detroit native, who lives in Northville. A 1980 graduate of Wayne State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration, Pierce also earned a Masters of Business Administration degree in Finance from Wayne State University in 1984. She’s held several roles in commercial banking, retail banking, and marketing at NBD, First Chicago NBD, Bank One, and JP Morgan Chase. Pierce was named Charter One president and CEO in 2005. In 2010, Pierce was named to the Detroit Public Schools Bond Advisory and Fiscal Responsibility Committee to oversee the DPS $500.5 million facilities program.

Mayor Bing, Governor Rick Snyder, and state Treasurer Andy Dillon announced the first three appointees to the FAB last week, none of whom were Detroit residents. These previous appointments included former state Treasurer Robert Bowman, the jointly named appointee by Mayor Bing and Gov. Snyder. The Detroit City Council is required to approve Bowman’s, Munson’s, and Pierce’s appointments.

The Financial Stability Agreement requires FAB members to have at least 10 years of experience with municipal financial transactions, complex, multidimensional governmental restructurings, governmental labor relations, health care benefits or pension matters, or local government management. Appointees have also had their qualifications confirmed by the Michigan Association of Certified Public Accountants or the Michigan Government Finance Officers Association.

Those are, of course, strong requirements. However, I'm confident that, if Mayor Bing and Governor Snyder had searched, they could have found at least one or two Detroit residents for those appointments. The fact that they chose not to is, in my opinion, troubling. It will likely serve as bone of contention in the months to come, which we really do not need.

As for the trend to announce unpopular news at 3 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, the reasons for doing then as well as why it's sometimes called "Taking Out the Trash Day" are explained beautifully here.

Save Lives - Spay/Neuter Your Pets May 1 - 4

All About Animals, a nonprofit animal rescue group, will be bringing its first-ever spay/neuter mobile surgical unit to the parking lot of the North Rosedale Park Community House (18445 Scarsdale) Tuesday, May 1 - Friday, May 4.

This is a great opportunity to have your pet spayed or neutered at a low cost ($80 for dogs, $40 for cats) and just a few miles away from the Warrendale neighborhood. Please all All About Animals at (586) 879-1745 to schedule an appointment for your pets. This mobile unit is able to handle about 30 appointments per day, so make sure to call right away. Low-cost vaccines, deworming, heartworm testing, and micro-chipping will also be offered.

Every year, more than 100,000 animals are put to death in Michigan animal shelters due to lack of homes.  With the recent unseasonably warm winter and a proliferation of abandoned and foreclosed homes, birth rates of strays are on the rise. Make sure that your animal doesn't contribute to this already huge problem in our city! 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

5th Annual Prom Dress Donation Event

Prom Season is Approaching
Wayne County Commissioner Alisha Bell presents “Belle of the Ball,” which is a prom dress donation event.

Donations of new and like new formal and semi-formal dresses and accessories such as shoes, purses, and jewelry for young ladies. Prom dress donations will be accepted from March 24 - April 21. Prom dress distribution will be on Saturday, April 28 at the Boys and Girls Club (16500 Tireman) from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.

For more information,  please call Commissioner Bell's office at (313) 224-0936.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Detroit Police Get Dozens of New Squad Cars - Thanks to Fox 2 News

Officers within the Detroit Police Department have been complaining for years of problems with their equipment and, in particular, inadequate vehicles. It's ironic then that the police department has had 29 brand new police cars sitting in a parking lot while our officers were having to suffer with inferior vehicles.

That is, until Fox 2's Charlie LeDuff got on the case. Within a day of his phone call about them, all of those vehicles were put into service.

On behalf of everyone who relies on the officers in those squad cars, I have to say thank you to Charlie LeDuff for holding the Detroit Police Department accountable.

Neil Simon's Broadway Hit Comes to Inspire Theater

The Inspire Theatre Company (33445 Warren Rd. in nearby Westland) will present their version of Neil Simon's Broadway hit Rumors this weekend.

Bill Peterson of Livonia, Lenny Zamawaski of Canton, Susan Fisher of Wayne,
Nick Szczerba of Brownstown, and John Donnelly of Redford

The premise of Rumors is that when several affluent couples gather in a posh New York suburban residence for a dinner party, everything goes askew. The premise has a discovery that the servants and hostess is missing for a special anniversary party. The host, who is the deputy mayor of New York City, has shot himself in a very awkward way. Comic complications arise when everyone decides they need to conceal the evening’s events from the local police.

In a past interview, Simon had said, “The play started with the idea of doing a farce. The next thing was to do it as an elegant farce, because the farces in Moliere’s days were generally about wealthy people. These characters aren’t extremely wealthy people, but they are well-to-do, so I decided to dress them in evening clothes.”

In this rendition, veteran performer Nick Szczerba steals the show with constant hilarious dialogue and facial expressions as the multi-dimensional character Lenny Ganz. Mr. Szczerba has complicated lines and he delivers like a seasoned pro keeping the pace fast. He mentioned after a recent performance, “The hardest part is not to crack-up during the show because everyone has funny lines.”

In a few second act scenes, Bobbi Gladden does just that, as she plays the dizzy celebrity chef, Cookie Cusak. She is caught holding in her laughs as the audience joins in with loud howls of approval.  Lisa Brawley carries the first act as Chris Gorman and she transitions by setting up punch lines after the intermission. The production is lengthy but the hi-jinks are continuous as the entire cast kept up a continuous momentum.

Richard Holland keeps the audience alert with his rendition of deafness to the max and the second act veteran policemen are so very believable and are great additions to this laugh-out-loud comedic gem. The Inspire Theater Company is in its eighth season, and this play was directed by Len Fisher. His passion was evident as he platformed plenty of extra laughs in the right spots.

The next presentation for the Inspire team will be Love Boat in July and the artistic efforts and staging will also include the labors of Nancy Rocker.
Rumors will be showcased on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. at 33445 Warren Rd. in Westland, Michigan. Seats are $13 and reservations can be made by calling the ticket line at 734-751-7057.  

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tijuana's Mexican Kitchen to Appear on Fox 2 Morning News

Tijuana's Mexican Kitchen in Warrendale
Tijuana's Mexican Kitchen (18950 Ford Rd.) will appear on Fox 2 Morning News as part of the show's Fox 2 Cooking School. This segment is scheduled to air at 9:45 a.m. on Sunday, April 29.

Please tune in this coming Sunday to watch another great institution from the Warrendale neighborhood make their television debut.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Open Computer Tutorials This Saturday at the Edison Branch Library

Edison Branch of the Detroit Public Library
The Edison Branch (18400 Joy Rd.) of the Detroit Public Library will provide open computer tutorials this Saturday, April 28, from 10:30 a.m until noon at their location. These tutorials are free and open to all ages. They will provide one-on-one tutoring on basic computer skills (e.g., using email, finding a job on-line, and so on).

Open computer tutorials at the Edison Branch Library are your Warrendale Tip of the Week.

The "Big 4" Talk Transit in Detroit - And Miss the Point

Light Rail Photo by Samuel Lyons
Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, and Deputy Mayor Kirk Lewis, who was standing in for Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, who is still on medical leave, all got together this past Friday to talk about a variety of issues facing our region with mass transit taking up a large portion of their conversation. Crain's Detroit Business has a full article about this event here.

I feel a need to take exception to one particular comment that Mr. Lewis made regarding the M-1 RAIL project, which is an effort to bring 3.4 miles of light rail to Woodward Avenue in Detroit.

From the article above:
"With regard to M1, one of the challenges the city has is we are supportive of M1, but we can't afford to subsidize it," Lewis said. "We were trying to be very clear that as long as it's built and it's self-funded, we can support it. I think we're getting very close to having something we all agree to."
First, if one is not willing to even consider any financial support for an effort then one isn't really supporting. In such an instance, one is simply not objecting to it. There is, I must point out, a tremendous difference between supporting a certain thing and not objecting to it.

Second, and perhaps most important of all, the City of Detroit also cannot afford to spend $8.6 million to operate the Detroit Police Department's Office of the Deputy Chief - Management Services nor can we afford to provide our Chief of Police with more personal aides than his counterparts in Atlanta, Cleveland, Denver, and Indianapolis combined. However, we still do these things anyway.

I firmly believe that if we used our resources wisely then we could do a lot of impressive things in this town.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Warrendale Restaurant in the Detroit News

Tijuana's Mexican Kitchen (18950 Ford Rd.) was featured in The Detroit News today. It's great to see some of the great restaurants in the Warrendale neighborhood getting attention like this.

The article is available here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Police Raid House on Ashton

Damn! 4 cars worth of plain clothes police officers are going into a house on Ashton, just south of W. Warren Ave. Not sure what's up, but it's BIG.

Update @ 9:15
I saw this on my way into the office and couldn't stop to gather more details at the scene. However, I do know that at least one individual was taken away from this house in handcuffs.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Warrendale Soccer Team Forming

Keira Knightley Fueled My Soccer Obsession
A movement is once again afoot to a soccer team that will represent the Warrendale community in the Detroit City Futbol League. The DCFL is a adult coed soccer league bringing together Detroit's various historic neighborhoods.

People interested in playing should contact Chris Gilday by email. His address, in a format that humans should be able to understand but spambots cannot is chrisgilday [at] gmail [dot] com.

He is specifically looking for players from Detroit. Any experience level, male or female, is welcome.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Live Blogging the Community Conversation

Stock Photo by Muriel Miralles de Sawicki
I'm unexpectedly available to attend the Detroit Works Project community conversation. Follow me on Twitter as @fnemecek as I live blog the event.

Update: April 18 @ 8:45 p.m.
I'm really glad that I was able to attend the Community Conversation about Detroit's long term future the other evening. I look forward to the next one in early May.

The battery on my cell phone ran out of juice before the conversation ended so I wasn't able to tweet about every aspect of it. Regardless, I wanted share my posts for those who don't follow me on Twitter.

@6:02 p.m. Another community conversation regarding the Detroit Works Project is about to begin. Already bumped into several people that I know.
@6:08 p.m. I love the opening video that they are showing at this. I hope they make it available elsewhere.
@6:20 p.m. The next video oversimplifies a lot of issues. It talks about Detroit's population loss, but brushes over WHY people leave.
@6:25 p.m Contrary to what the next speaker is saying, I rarely hear people complain about people who have left Detroit.
@6:28 p.m. Umm... The City of Detroit is NOT very good at dealing with short-term issues. (N.B., one of the speakers at this event claimed that the Bing Administration was good at dealing with short-term issues like getting street lights on, police services, etc. My fellow residents know how well those things work.)
@6:34 p.m. People who say that this has never happened before simply don't know much about history.
@6:38 p.m. For everyone who is talking about how jobs are created in Detroit, I have one suggestion: read Jane Jacobs.
@6:42 p.m. I couldn't agree more w/ the notion that the Detroit Works Project must live beyond City Hall.
@6:59 p.m. I like the idea of adapting our zoning laws to reflect what is really happening in the area.
It was a couple of minutes later that my cell phone finally died. Again, I look forward to the next Community Conversation.

Detroit Works Project Meeting This Evening

The Detroit Works Project will begin another round of community based conversations this evening. This meeting will start at 5:30 p.m. in the Northwest Activities Center (18100 Meyers Rd.) and run until 8 p.m.

Future community conversations will happen on Monday, May 7 and Monday, May 21. More information about this is available here.

Monday, April 09, 2012

New Pastor at Ss. Peter & Paul Church

Ss. Peter & Paul Catholic Church
Ss. Peter & Paul Church (7685 Grandville Ave.) announced on their Facebook page yesterday evening that their Administrator, Father Jerry Pilus, has been incardinated into the Archdiocese of Detroit. Effective immediately, Father Jerry is now the Pastor of Ss. Peter and Paul as well as St. Suzanne/Our Lady Gate Heaven. 

Congratulations, Father Jerry, and welcome to the Warrendale family.

Chick's Bar Brings Great Specials for the Red Wing's Playoff Run

Chick's Bar in Warrendale
The Detroit Red Wings will begin their playoff run this Wednesday as they face off against the Nashville Predators, with the puck dropping at 8 p.m. There's no better place in the Warrendale neighborhood to watch the game than Chick's Bar (18550 W. Warren Ave.) where they will have some great game day specials.

Chick's Bar will feature:

  • 75 cent drafts;
  • $3.50 pitchers; and
  • 40 cent hot wings.
Quite frankly, I don't know of any bar in the Detroit area that can beat the kind of specials that Chick's Bar is offering. These specials will start 30 minutes before game time so come early to get a seat.

Great game day specials at Chick's Bar is your Warrendale Tip of the Week.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Happy Easter

Stock Photo by Christa Richert
I'm out walking through the Warrendale neighborhood (without my video camera this time). I love how many families I see outside playing together.

Happy Easter, everyone!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Detroit City Council Approves the Consent Decree

The City Council approved a consent decree between the City of Detroit and the State of Michigan, which is intended to stabilize the City's finances and lay the groundwork for improving services from our local government. While this agreement isn't perfect, I believe that it is a small step forward. The next challenge will be to use this to improve the quality of life for residents and businesses in Detroit.

After this controversial vote, City Council Member James Tate posted a statement explaining his vote on his Facebook page. I thought that it was one of the best statements of its nature in years. Therefore, I wanted to post it again below in its entirety.

Council Member James Tate
There has been no shortage of complex issues presented to the Detroit City Council since my first day in office in January 2010. With every vote, there are members of the community who support my decision and there are those who do not agree. Each vote I cast affects thousands of lives and I do not take that responsibility lightly.

Today I voted on an issue that is arguably one of the most important in the history of Detroit. It was also one of the most difficult decisions that I have ever had to make in my life. To avoid having the City I love fall under the control of an Emergency Manager (EM), I cast my vote for the City to enter into a Financial Stability Agreement/Consent Agreement (Agreement) with the State of Michigan. There were no “good” available options. Consent Agreement. Emergency Manager. Bankruptcy. Doing nothing is not a viable option.

This Agreement is not perfect. While I am not a proponent of Public Act 4, in my view, this Agreement provides the least destructive alternative to bankruptcy or an EM. There are no guarantees that the Agreement will be successful. The only sure thing in this process is that if there is no consent agreement in place by April 5th, by law, the Governor is free to appoint an EM, who has free reign over all decisions regarding City assets. No checks or balances.

The approved Agreement restructures our city government and encourages fiscal responsibility through a system of accountability. If elected officials fail to act on certain reforms designed to improve the overall quality of life for residents, the Agreement prescribes remedies. The Agreement allows our elected officials to continue to run the city, but with additional oversight to ensure that the plans they develop are executed. It also allows our elected officials to be the buffer against a mass selling off of our city assets.

Over the years, our city leaders have overspent the designated budget and delivered poor city services to our exhausted and shrinking taxpayer base. This has led to the present – out of cash and facing payless paydays for our employees. The fiscal issues that our city faces today did not leap up out of nowhere over the past two and a half years. They are structural and have been brewing for decades they have now reached the breaking point.

We can’t simply keep asking ourselves what past leaders would do, as some have suggested. The solutions to our challenges must emerge from current officeholders in order to confront and overcome them. As a lifetime Detroiter, I care deeply about this City, but change is necessary if our City is to regain its footing on a global platform. People will move to Detroit and expand their families here and businesses will invest in this City when they are assured of a high quality of life and the City’s potential for growth. Increased growth translates into more tax dollars. More tax dollars means better funding for City services.

I completely understand that my decision and my vote will be controversial and may have political ramifications, but I did not run for public office to become a lifelong politician. I ran to make a difference. My goal coming into office was to do my best to ensure that when I leave, I have left the City in a better position than it was when I came into office. With this Agreement, I still believe it is possible for that to occur and I will continue to work everyday, doing my part to make it happen.

Monday, April 02, 2012

$1 Billion in Unclaimed Income Tax Refunds

Did you know that according to the Internal Revenue Service, there are still unclaimed refunds for those who did not file 2008 tax returns? With approximately seventy-five percent of tax returns resulting in a refund, Jackson Hewitt Tax Service reminds the one million taxpayers who haven’t filed a 2008 tax return that the time to act is now – before the window of opportunity closes on April 17, 2012.

“The IRS offers a three-year window for filing a federal tax return, and for the 2008 tax year, the cut-off date is coming soon,” explained Mark Steber, chief tax officer at Jackson Hewitt Tax Service. “Approximately half of the refunds available are for $637 or more, so it’s wise to spend the time filing for 2008 now, as you are tackling this year’s preparation and filing.”

There are several reasons why a taxpayer may have neglected to file, including having too little income to require filing. However, even if someone’s income was too low, they likely had money withheld from their employment that is now available to them as a refund. In addition to receiving money that was withheld, filing a 2008 tax return also allows those who are eligible to claim certain credits, such as the Recovery Rebate Credit, the First-Time Homebuyer Credit or the Earned Income Tax Credit.

To claim a 2008 refund, taxpayers must have filed for the 2009 and 2010 tax years. Taxpayers will not incur any late filing penalty and will be able to receive their refund if they file a return by April 17, 2012.

“Remember, this is your money, so be sure to file your return and claim your refund,” explained Mr. Steber. “Otherwise, it becomes the property of the U.S. Treasury.”
Unclaimed income tax returns, and how to claim them, are your Warrendale Tip of the Week.

Consent Decree is on Hold

The consent agreement is still on hold because the State isn't giving the City any money. I would like to remind everyone that they won't get any money with an emergency manager either.