The mere fact that we are here today debating a clear path out of Detroit’s financial crisis without arriving at any agreeable solution as 201l is quickly sentenced to the dustbin of history, is a sign of leadership failure on everyone who claims to have a stake in the process of rebuilding this city.
The fact that we are here at the dawn of another year, without any major announcement to arrest the ballooning financial mess or a clear-cut vision about where Detroit will be in 2012 in what is quickly becoming a cataclysmic financial crisis, is a damning indictment of the lack of urgency on the part of those who have been charged with driving the future of this city forward.
Year In Review
As the city rolls into 2012 it needs to hear from the men and women who claim to derive their legitimacy to occupy the velvet cushions at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Building from the people who gave them that legitimacy to public office.
What is Detroit’s leadership vision for 2012?
What direction does Detroit plan to take in the coming year?
Where is the much talked about alternative plan in place of an emergency manager?
Where is the demonstrated sacrifice that has been rattling from the mouths of those who say they were elected to serve?
The big story of 2011 is the revelations about the city’s protracted financial woes that date beyond the administration of Mayor Dave Bing.
And the challenge for the current leadership in the city is to not allow the financial troubles of the city to remain the big story of 2012.
That means something has to give. Leadership is not just about fine speeches and attending events and community forums. Being seen in the right places with the right people.
Leadership is also about making vital choices that lead to real results and consequences even when they are not popular. It is showing in concrete terms that you really care about being a caretaker of the city’s future and its jewels.
It is demonstrating that you are willing to be the front line of defense for everything that the city represents, even if you lose your job in the process of doing so. Because at the end of the day this is the business of public service, it is not your own personal property.
Writing about all things Detroit during 2011 has taken me to all kinds of events in and around the city. Some are events billed around emotional politics invoking the grand history of this city and how it has “come this far by faith.” Others are events that center on real need for answers to the failure of city hall to deliver much needed services to those who need them the most.
Because beyond the clearly scripted talking points there is a mass underclass in this city whose needs are not being tended to and, all too often, are not even heard. They live in the shadows. We don’t hear their stories.
The year 2011 has been rough for them. Their children are waking up every day without any prospective future, innocent victims caught in the middle of a grinding political gamesmanship where egos have replaced real concern for the “least of these” who will be further sentenced into oblivion when this city can no longer offer crucial services by April of 2012.
All of us invested in this city, including major businesses such as Quicken Loans and Blue Cross Blue Shield, that have recently moved thousands of their employees to Detroit and others that have long invested in Detroit as the headquarters of their businesses when they have the option to choose other attractive locations, will be affected by the lack of a real plan to solve the financial crisis of Detroit by April when the city is expected to run out of cash.
So we are all in this together.
That is why the mayor, city council and labor have no option but to give us a plan that is not only realistic but one that works and helps to revamp the archaic structures upon which the city has long operated. The old structures of operation cannot meet the new demands of the time.
This is time for Detroit to think like a 21st century renaissance city and doing so means city hall will have to alter the way it has been doing things. Business as usual won’t do.
In an age where growth represents the future, the city should not be engaging in sloppy ways of doing business. The whole government apparatus at city hall should be computerized. That cuts out bureaucracy and makes it easier for records to be traceable and for businesses and everybody who needs services from city hall to get expedited service. Detroit should be a partner in the technological evolution, not an anathema.
Governor Rick Snyder’s threat of an emergency manager has forced the mayor, city council and the unofficial third branch of local government – the unions – to come together to announce their commitment to a plan to avert the need for an emergency manager.
But beyond the announcement to oppose an emergency manager and show a unified force among the city’s leadership and some members of the faith and local business community, we want to see a plan that is workable.
It is unfortunate and bad enough that it had to take the threat of an emergency manager from a governor who made it clear that he doesn’t want to see Michigan’s largest city go under, for the city’s leadership to get their act together and sit down to talk — with a sense of urgency.
It’s almost tragic comedy.
Is Detroit’s leadership behaving like children?
Does it now mean that for every major decision concerning this city, it has to be first hashed out with the threat of an emergency manager?
But we should give them credit that at least they are willing to come to the table. The question is, what will they leave the table with?
We are all waiting for an answer.
2011 is going fast.
We need a plan that is not politically correct, but one that makes sense given the current atmosphere we are in.
Detroit needs outside-the-box thinking, and doing so will require leadership at city hall to first show an open mind and a willingness to test uncharted waters, which includes making tough decisions, even if they are not popular.
At the end of the day what should matter to all of us, including the nine members of the city council, the mayor and the unions, is the preservation of this city. And that Detroit will survive, and all of those who have invested in it will be able to tell and retell the survival story.
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. on the Obama Watch program on WLIB 1190 AM-New York. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.