Michigan Governor Rick Snyder made it categorically clear Monday afternoon during an exclusive interview with the Michigan Chronicle that he wants to see Detroit succeed. And he said an emergency manager in the city is the last resort, so he wants to see Detroit leaders come up with a realistic plan very soon to prevent Michigan’s largest and most prominent city Detroit from collapsing financially.
Synder said Mayor Dave Bing has conveyed to him directly that the city would run out of money by April of 2012. Thus. he (Snyder) cannot stand by as governor and watch Detroit go down because that will have serious ramifications for not only the neighboring region but across the state as well.
“First, the mayor in his own words says he’s going to run out of money in April. So there is a short-term cash flow crisis,” Snyder said.
The governor noted that the structural problems in Detroit that have given rise to the financial crisis cannot be pinned on one administration because it’s been going on for decades.
“The second big question that goes with that is, isn’t it appropriate that we finally find a structural answer to the finances of the city of Detroit?” Synder said. “Because continuing this process has no value for anyone. Isn’t it appropriate to solve that as part of the short-term crisis?”
He continued, “There are a lot of good things going on in Detroit but this financial crisis is diminishing the value of those and taking away from many, many good things.”
In the wake of the state starting an informal review of the city’s finances, the first step toward deciding on an emergency manager for Detroit, Mayor Bing and the city council and labor held a press conference to oppose an emergency manager for the city. The mayor said at the press conference that he and city officials as well as labor were hard at work to arrive at a plan that prevents the city from running out of cash by April and to set the wheels of government in motion to better deliver needed and essential city services.
Snyder said he was encouraged to see officials at city hall unite to address the financial crisis. He said he hoped they are uniting to save the city from collapse and not to tell him to stay away from the situation.
“Is there a compelling vision for Detroit about how good it could be? I don’t see that clearly,” Snyder said. “That’s something I’ve been trying to espouse, that Detroit is critical to the reinvention of Michigan and its a great urban opportunity. We need to get people on board with the positive path instead of talking about how it’s negative or less negative.”
Snyder said engaging in what he calls “divisive politics” is not going to help Detroit or its residents and businesses when they call for police and fire service in April and there’s no-show because the city has run out of money.
“When you have a shrinking and contracting situation, people tend to get caught up in fighting with one another when the only true solution is you’ve got to grow the pie,” Snyder said. “We’ve got to get the city of Detroit growing because that’s an inclusive one where everybody wins. There aren’t losers if you do it in a thoughtful way.”
Snyder said the financial crisis in Detroit is a reflection of what he hopes is a linchpin that “if we can solve this problem through teamwork it really creates an environment where we can move the entire city in a more positive path.”
In dealing with the financial situation, the governor wants city leaders, residents and everyone who is invested in Detroit “to join hands and put an end to the negative and get to the positive.”
Snyder noted that “the mayor and the city council have been going back and forth for quite a while. The clock is ticking. They know April is the end of the line in terms of running out of cash under the current model.”
The informal review of the city’s finances, according to Snyder, will rap up in the next week. The conclusion of that review will trigger a formal review if no meaningful steps have been taken to combat the city’s deficit.
This review will take up to 60 days with a possible 30-day extension to determine the financial viability of the city. The outcome of the review is a possible manager or a consent agreement in the absence of a plan.
“These kinds of situations show the cultural challenges we have. If you need help in your personal life you don’t tell people to go away. You go out and solicit people to help you,” Snyder said. “And yet this is an environment where the mayor and the city council came together because they want to tell me to go away.”
Snyder said the criticism by the campaign against emergency managers that an emergency manager in Detroit is part of a larger plan to take over Black cities is not valid.
“There is no truth to that at all. I’m the governor of Michigan. I’ve got a job and running the city is not what I was elected to do,” Snyder said. “But I’m responsible for all the citizens of Michigan. I need to do my fiduciary duties to make sure they get represented. And I think I’m representing them by being involved.”
The statewide ramifications if Detroit is allowed to go under financially and can’t meet payroll, Snyder said, will send a negative message to the whole of Michigan.
“It will be a really bad thing ” Snyder said.
The governor said it is time for Detroit to deal with the costs of operating as a city with two million people when the exact population now is less than a million.
“In my view, shouldn’t Detroit redesign itself to be a city of 700,000 people and say how do we manage those longer -term cost?” Snyder said. “The best way to do that is to solve the structural problem short-term and figure out the financing, grow the city back so it has resources to pay back.”
But city leaders, h
e also said, must first embrace the “attitude of growing the city. The only solution long-term here is Detroit has to grow. ”
Snyder said that’s why he has been supporting whatever efforts there are to encourage people and businesses to move back to Detroit.
“We need the city, neighborhoods to participate so everybody can come together and be part of the economic revival,” Snyder said.
The financial problems facing municipalities across the country are not the responsibility of citizens, but rather political leaders who pay little or no attention to the balance sheet and the liabilities they are growing.
“They just worry about cash in and cash out,” Snyder said. “Now we’ve got to get to a situation where we look at the big picture and redesign how the city operates.”
Synder pointed out that no one, including political leaders, can deny the fact that the average person wants to have police show up when they place a call for help, have street lights on and buses showing up on time and a school their kids can walk to safely, all of which are major service issues in Detroit government.
“How many of those are been done today?” Snyder asked, adding that unresolved issues around city services should be the checklist to address the problems and clean up the financial mess the city is in.
Beyond the public show of unity by Detroit elected officials, including labor, Snyder said “That’s fabulous. I’m just waiting to see it happen. If they can work it all out, the short cash issue and the long-term structural issue, may the force be with them. I’m with them. That would be fine. But I just want to make sure it gets done.”
The governor said if the city fails to tackle the financial crisis and continues to oppose an emergency manager, which has been used by both Democratic and Republican governors, the other option would be going before a bankruptcy judge which would have far more devastating consequences. If the city was to enter into bankruptcy, a judge would have sweeping and unchallenged powers which presents a bigger threat, according to some experts.
“I’m just here to do my job and help see Detroit be successful,” Snyder said.
Bankole Thompson is the editor of the Michigan Chronicle and the author of a six-part series on the Obama presidency including “Obama and Black Loyalty” published last year. His latest book is “Obama and Christian Loyalty” with an epilogue written by Bob Weiner, former White House spokesman. His upcoming books in 2012 are “Obama and Jewish Loyalty” and “Obama and Business Loyalty.” Listen to him every Thursday, 11:30 a.m. on WDET 101.9 FM Detroit and every Sunday 9 to 10 p.m. “Obama Watch” program on WLIB 1190 AM-New York. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.