Where are the adults in Detroit’s broken government?

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    lead artTuesday afternoon, the majority of the Detroit City Council did not show up for a critical 1 p.m. meeting. What does that say about the council’s sense of responsibility to the city?  

    And when a city begins to weigh whether to close all recreation centers where our children find recreation, that city has really hit rock bottom. 

    You begin to wonder about those leaders who say they believe in the future of our children, yet want to close centers that provide an environment for children to find a sense of belonging in their city. 

    Maybe such a decision once decided upon will be a warning signal for parents to move out of the city because Detroit will be tagged as “the city with no recreation outlets for children.” 

    And that is where Detroit is in its present state, where the city council — the legislative body that is supposed to be the conscience of local government — is considering closing all recreation centers in the name of saving millions of dollars in helping address a ballooning budget deficit. 

    The council signaled last week that it could close all 19 recreation centers in Detroit. But that alone won’t address the growing financial crisis that could render the city financially impotent in April. 

    It is interesting that the legislative branch of the city is making these drastic proposals when they are yet to make any drastic cuts in their paychecks to demonstrate that public service means sacrifice. 

    At a time that Detroit, despite its financial woes, is still seen as a city coming back with investments from businesses and families being urged to move back in to the city, what kind of message is the city council sending to families when it’s debating shutting down all of our recreation centers that also benefit our seniors? 

    Do our leaders understand how to make cost-cutting measures that are difficult, but at the same time not render the city without needed services?

    Are they thinking right while making these decisions  or is it all emotionally driven? 

    Either way it does not make sense. You can tell the kind of investment a community wants to make for the future by the way it treats those who are the  future — the children. 

    It’s amazing that anytime there are cuts — unkind cuts  to be exact — that need to be made it always fall on, to use a Biblical term, “the least of these,” the most vulnerable in our community. 

    It falls on those who have either no voice, less opportunity or no oil to oil the wheels of their own lobbying to be heard by those in government. Part of the reason we call government the machine that oversees the welfare of the state is that government cannot escape its responsibility to those it derives legitimacy from. 

    Despite the crucial role that the private sector plays and must continue to play as an essential part of this city’s future, those who have been put into positions of power at city hall have an obligation to offer the community more sane and rational ways of addressing the structural financial crisis than proposing to close all recreation centers in the city. 

    I’m not opposed to hard choices. Just make them rational and common sense choices. 

    There is much blame to go around for the state of Detroit’s financial crisis which did not begin with the administration of Mayor Dave Bing or this city council. And it did not start with Gov. Rick Snyder either. While it is essentially a waste of time to blame anyone for the past misdeeds and financial miscalculations the city has made, those in charge now have an obligation to the community to do what is right. 

    Mayor Bing, city council and labor leaders have an opportunity not to leave Detroit’s ship at the middle of the sea like the Italian Captain Francesco Schettino,  accused of abandoning his ship when it was sinking. 

    Bing has indicated that he is still working to arrive at some concessions.  History dictates that sometimes these concession agreements are undermined by the kinds of personalities that are in the room doing the negotiating. But right now, all the parties need to move beyond personalities and whether they like the next person they are dealing with in these negotiations. 

    The people who are struggling and those families deciding whether to move out of the city, upon hearing council considering closing all recreation centers, as well as businesses that have already made significant investments, couldn’t care less about the personality clashes in the negotiation room at city hall. What they care about is that the leaders at city hall present an answer to the city that will make Detroit financially viable. 

      Their inherent dislike for Mayor Bing or any other person in the room should not stand in the way of making historic decisions for the city’s future. They should not think that if they walk away from the negotiations or refuse to attend council meeting they are making it harder for the governor or the mayor. It’s not only Bing or Snyder’s participation that will be judged by history, but everyone at the table, including those who did not show up to participate. 

    Two weeks ago I spoke at Henry Ford Health System’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration. The theme was “The Time is Always Right to do What is Right.” That theme rings true in Detroit‘s present financial nightmare. We need our leaders to stand up and take correct action. Now is the time to do what is right. It always is. 

    Making the right decision should include an in-depth understanding that the city is still a marketplace where services have to be provided to taxpayers and those invested in the city. These are the customers. They deserve more. 

    While my nubian brothers and sisters continue to raise the constitutional and democratic questions about Detroit’s right to self-governance in the face of the posssibility of an emergency manager, it is also fair that we raise the leadership questions with the same zeal about Detroit’s right to get the best out of those it sent to city hall. 

    Indeed, if leadership at city hall had been at its best in the last decade and beyond Detroit would not be engulfed in its present state of affairs. And if the state had done what it should had done for the city, we’d certainly not be where we are at this point. So while the drumbeat for constitutional governance continues to echo loud in the wake of a possible emergency manager coming to Detroit, let’s also beat the drum for better leadership and management in Detroit. 

    The test for real leadership is currently being played out as we await a significant and meaningful resolution from the mayor, city council and labor to avert this catastrophe. Show us and  prove the skeptics wrong that Detroit, in fact, has capable leadership who can keep the ship from sinking like the Titanic. Show us that Detroit’s leadership at this time of monumental crisis can  cross the Rubicon with dignity, grace, fair play and common sense. 

    Anything less, I’d recommend that they read William Shakespeare’s book, “Julius Caesar,” to see how leadership evolves in different forms when everyone on board is headed to the same goal post.  

    Bankole Thompson is the editor of the Michigan Chronicle and author of a six-part series on the Obama presidency, including “Obama and Black Loyalty.” 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 Thursdays, 11:30 a.m., on WDET 101.9 FM Detroit NPR-Affiliate and Sundays, 9 to 10 p.m. on the “Obama Watch” program WLIB 1190 AM-New York.  E-mail bthompson@michchronicle.com.

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