Dave Bing says city leaders are open-minded and a deal is in
An upbeat Mayor Dave Bing in another sit-down interview said that all parties relevant to the financial wellbeing of the city — Detroit city council and the unions — are all at the table working out a plan that will save Detroit.
After conveying an unprecedented press conference announcing opposition to an emergency manager, which drew praise in some quarters and criticism in others, Bing said Detroit government leaders understand the magnitude of the problem and are committed to an action plan.
“Everything is on the table. The unions are at this point open-minded to looking at any revenue generator, any cost cut,” Bing said. “There are very fruitful conversations and negotiations going on right now. But we have agreed that until we have a deal we don’t want to go public with anything because that probably would not help the process.”
In an earlier interview Gov. Rick Snyder, said the clock was ticking for Detroit, urging city leaders to arrive at a resolution quickly.
“We have a plan from an administrative standpoint that’s been public for the last two or three weeks,” Bing said. “We are using that plan to negotiate with council. They’ve bought into it. I think even with the unions, they too are buying into it.”
His administration is looking at some of the recommendations he received from council to increase savings or reduce spending.
The city council had proposed to layoff 2,300 workers, an exorbitant number that raised eyebrows as well as opposition from the mayor.
Asked if that proposed number of layoffs is still on the table, Bing said he may look at laying off 1000 workers, far less than city council proposed.
“A lot of the negotiations are depending on the numbers right now,” Bing said. “I’m not willing to go to 2,300 layoffs.”
Laying off that many people, he said, would “devastate services in the city.”
Bing said contrary to some negative reviews about the press conference that the city held in opposition to an emergency manager, it was held in line with what Gov. Snyder had said about city leaders getting together behind a unified plan.
“The governor has been saying consistently that in order for any plan to be accepted by Lansing, Detroiters needed to be on the same page, meaning the administration, council and labor,” Bing said. “My job is to go out and get that done. I even added the faith-based community and the small business community. I think we did what the governor was asking us to do. It was not trying to poke him in the eye. It’s not about that because nobody wins when you do that sort of thing.”
Bing said the press conference showed solidarity “and now everybody is at the table trying to work out the concessions and understand the things we need to do so that whatever plan we send up will be accepted.”
The mayor took the opportunity to talk with Snyder during their mass transit trip to Washington because “Detroit is the largest and most important city in the state,” something that stakeholders in the region recognize which underscores the importance of keeping the city financially solvent.
“I think in order for us to achieve the goal of not having a financial manager here, it was very important to let the governor know that we’re trying to figure out what the state is going to do to help the city,” Bing said. “We have not rejected anything. But nothing has come on the table.”
Bing said he has asked the state for some help in key areas in helping address the financial state of the city.
“We are asking them to collect income taxes (for the city). They are doing that for other municipalities around the state and it is working very well,” Bing said, adding that if the state is willing to collect income tax on behalf of the city, it would be $100 million in revenue alone.
Bing said his administration is not asking for a handout from the state.
On the $200 million in revenue sharing the state owes Detroit dating back to the John Engler administration, Bing says it’s a legitimate issue that should be explored.
“Whether or not we get it is not the story for me. The fact that they owe it to us is a story. The state reneged on the deal,” Bing said. “That’s the reality. Now what we do on the going forward basis is another story.”
The mayor said the state can help with the city public lighting department which is half functional as well as transportation, both of which are hot button issues in Detroit.
“There are a lot of things they can do to be be helpful,” he noted.
Where do corporate leaders in Detroit stand on the financial crisis?
“I think they want to make sure that we’ve got a stable financial situation,” Bing said. “Because as business people their long-term investments are predicated on what we do from an administrative standpoint.”
Bing said as long as the city is moving in the right direction to stabilize itself fiscally, it’s okay to disagree.
“It’s give and take in the business community. I think they understand exactly what we are going through,” Bing said. “They want this city to survive and succeed because they’ve got huge investments here. So my job is try to protect those investments as best as I can. But at the same time I’ve got to have sensitivity to the people that live and work here.”
With the dire financial crisis, the city is expected to run out of money in April of 2012.
The city counci
l proposed cutting police and fire, a move that some in the community opposed in a city where crimes of all sorts are taking place regularly, instilling a general fear and helping to hold the city back.
In address the city’s fiscal turmoil, will Detroit officials cut police and fire?
“Nothing is off the table,” is how Bing responded.
“I’ve made it very clear from day one about how supportive I am and how important public safety is. Those (police and fire) are the last people I want to touch, and I’ve made it very clear to them,” Bing said. “So we’ve given them the same kind of proposal we gave the other unions.”
Bing said police and fire have been supportive in working out a deal, especially in the pension area.
The city has 48 bargaining units and 21 unions. All of them are at the table and Bing said discussions are ongoing.
“We are asking them to choose a leadership team that would be at the table during negotiations,” Bing said. “I’m looking favorably at this point in time that they’ve come to the table and they are negotiating in good faith.”
Bing agrees with the governor that bankruptcy is not the best route for the city.
“I think bankruptcy will be a real detrimental not only to the city but all of our surrounding counties as well as the state,” Bing said. “So I don’t think anybody wants to go that route. It’s amazing to me how many experts are coming out the woodwork right now. They know absolutely nothing about what’s going on in the city day to day.”
There is currently an informal review of the city’s finances as announced by State Treasurer Andy Dillon, the former Democratic House Speaker. The conclusion of such a review could trigger a formal review of Detroit’s books.
Bing said the plan is to get a plan to the governor before the start of any formal review of Detroit’s finances. As a result there will be no holiday vacation for the men and women involved in coming up with a plan to avert an emergency manager.
He said his administration is working from dawn to dusk to ensuring that Detroit does its part and gets a proposal to the governor’s desk.
In the midst of the upheaval over the city’s books, there has been a contention around the consent agreement.
The mayor has opposed the agreement while some council members have been pushing for it.
Bing said, “The consent agreement doesn’t give us what we need to open up or break union contracts. The consent agreement does not do that. Most of our savings has to deal with union contracts. Things like wage, health care, pension, work rules.”
Bing has been pounding the community pavement, talking to people about the tough choices the city is facing.
“I think the majority of the people were very happy to see us come together to fight against an emergency manager coming here,” the mayor said. “Nobody wants that.”
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.