During the last election, Detroit voters clearly indicated they wanted Mayor Dave Bing and the city council to come up with policy decisions most promising to growth and prosperity. That mandate seems to have been lost on Kwame Kenyatta, one of the council relics. During a radio interview last week, he launched a personal attack on Saunteel Jenkins, one of the new council members, for advocating change.
Councilman Kenyatta questioned the “audacity” of Jenkins examining privatization options and possibly amending provisions that give contract preference to Detroit-based businesses. “We have to give the mayor the ability to negotiate better prices for city services, period,” Councilwoman Jenkins said. “We have to provide Detroiters with the best services for the cheapest price, and unions should come to the table and prove they can provide the best service for the cheapest price.”
Included in the discussion was lowering automatic 30 percent preference for Detroit-based businesses, which sometimes place the city at a disadvantage on price and quality.
Councilman Kenyatta suggested Jenkins was anti-labor and anti-Detroit-based businesses. Since Jenkins received financial support from the business community. She was accused of doing its bidding.
Kenyatta doesn’t understand that one of the most important functions of government is to create an environment in which opportunities to start new businesses and expand old ones is encouraged. He seems unwilling or unable to accept that when unionized employees resist concessions, and any form of outsourcing to help offset a $300 million deficit, the city is less competitive on all fronts. Investors, after all, take into consideration whether labor costs are in line with the market, and whether government procurement practices are fair and efficient. They take their businesses elsewhere when the formulae are out of line. Competition has forced a major restructuring of the car industry, making it far more competitive with foreign automakers. There is no reason why city services and contracting should be immune to the same kind of structuring.
As Kenyatta’s attack on Jenkins reveals, reducing the city’s runaway budget may be easier than improving city council decision-making. That may require another round of radical surgery at the ballot box that takes further aim at the old guard, hold-the-line obstructionists on the council. Some don’t even want a full airing of the issues that hold the city back.
Detroiters should see through those who under the false pretense of Black nationalism are trying to achieve their selfish ends at the expense of the people. Detroiters should be aware of those elected officials who have made it their career to oppose every pro-growth, pro-business idea and interpret them as being sell-outs. Yet these very elected official never reveal the support they receive from the business community, and at the same time they are maintaining a very different public persona. The city’s rate of progress hinges on how competitive Detroit becomes in all phases of government, and how quickly Neanderthals like Councilman Kenyatta can be called out.