Watching what is quickly becoming a tug of war between Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and members of the Detroit City Council over a consent agreement with the state that both parties approved of is like sitting in the middle of a baseball game and hoping your team wins. Except in this case there is really no room for jubilation and cheering over the game that is being played because it is politics at work and nothing else.
It is a game that’s always been the hallmark of politicians — calling each other’s bluff — at the expense of those who cannot afford the bluff — the majority of Detroit-ers who would be severely affected by the games that are being played in the corridors of power.
The power relations in city hall are quickly changing as Krystal Crittendon (Detroit’s corporation counsel) with the help of the newly revised city charter becomes Detroit’s newest political sheriff in town. According to her, she is doing just what her obligation is: to defend the spirit of the newly revised charter.
It is unimaginable that the head of the city’s law department, an entity whose credibility came seriously under question in past administrations, would now appear to be holding the city’s financial future hostage with her lawsuit, challenging the validity of the consent agreement that was signed by all parties involved.
As the pressure on Crittendon builds, she is now feeling the heat and seems to be vindicating herself from the mess the lawsuit is creating by stating in a letter to her colleagues in the law department that she advocated against creating broad powers for the corporation counsel in the newly overhauled Detroit City Charter.
But here is the issue: It is not only about the broad powers being exercised in question. It is more so the financial stability of the city under this dire situation that concerns everyone who wants to see the city in good financial standing.
Flexing political muscles has many egotistical benefits which, among other things, includes using crisis situations to position one’s self for the next big appointment.
But I want to give Crittendon the benefit of the doubt. I’m not going to join the chorus of accusations that she is a corporation counsel who has run amok.
There is no way the city’s top lawyer would have gone this far without the backing of the forces of power that put her in that position in the first place.
But this kind of power politics playing itself out is nothing new and has always been a criteria for maintaining power and control: use the resources at your disposal, instill fear in the opposition, stand the pressure and they’ll back off.
Sometimes such political gamesmanship like what we are witnessing at city hall nets results depending on who is on the other side. And often the one who is placed in the driver’s seat — Crittendon in this case — to carry out the mission often gets thrown under the bus when the heat is on and the temperature in the room cannot be contained any longer. I wonder if that is what Crittendon sensed when she wrote the letter to her colleagues exposing the irony in her own lawsuit against the consent agreement.
The single motivation in the lawsuit could be, let’s call Governor Rick Snyder’s bluff and, in fact, let him bring in an emergency manager now. We are already broke anyway and if he is going to do it, let him do it. It doesn’t matter what happens.
Well, that is exactly what one individual sitting next to me in city council chambers during the debates before the consent agreement was ratified said.
Such an opinion is red meat to the coalition opposed to the consent agreement, and those who supported it but now want to wash their hands of the agreement because of the backlash they received after voting in favor of it. There is nothing wrong in displaying indignation over something you disagree with. That is the beauty of democracy, having different voices on the issues that shape our lives.
But here’s the problem: We have to live in the real world. And in the real world Detroit is not an island. The city is part of the state. That means the state has some oversight over the city despite the sacrosanct laws of self-governance. Just like the federal government has oversight over states despite the notion of state rights and all that is entailed in that grand definition. We all believe in the concept of home rule, but at the same time we have to come up with realistic alternatives to the growing fiscal crisis.
Secondly, the legal challenge that the law department has mounted should have come prior to the consent agreement to show any potential negative implications that might ensue. Legal opinions are normally issued prior to an agreement, not after an agreement has been signed. The due diligence and moral responsibility expected from the law department was to research in-depth before the consent agreement for any flaws or reasons thereof that would prevent the city from entering into such a covenant, and not wait until the city has already entered the covenant.
And the fact is that local government leadership in Detroit has for too long not shown a sense of urgency in tackling the financial crisis of the city. And you can’t put the blame at the feet of the current regime because Detroit’s inability to put best financial practices in order, and to give residents and those who are invested here needed service, can be spread across past administrations.
This cataclysmic financial state is the product of a long-term absence on real financial stewardship over the affairs of Detroit.
Now we are at this point, a point of no return where the leadership of this city is in a state of crisis with competing interests and differing loyalties. In this leadership crisis we have individuals who harbor different political ambitions and this crisis is playing perfectly to what they are seeking.
But is this crisis benefiting families who would need EMS services?
Is it in the interests of those who lost their children to violent crime in the city in the last couple of months?
Is it catering to the well-being of some of our senior citizens who literally have become prisoners in their own homes because the extent of violent crime in Detroit has them fearful of
stepping out beyond their doorstep?
Is it fair to those who have chosen to remain in Detroit and are taxed heavily and yet receive little service for being part of the city’s tax base?
Does this help neighborhoods in Detroit that are in need of serious revitalization as residents watch crucial time and resources been wasted in proving who is right in court as opposed to ensuring the Detroit Financial Advisory Board begins its work in earnest.
Detroit, regardless of what the national commentaries say, is a major metropolis and should be driven by big thinkers — people with talent, passion and love who understand how a city of this magnitude ought to be playing to the demands of the 21st century — not small-minded thinkers.
This city’s leadership in all aspects, that goes beyond the political spectrum, should be offering solutions on how Detroit can be a most sought after city, one young people want to migrate to. We need progressive solutions that would attract families to the city, not continue to drive them away.
The political tussle on display at city hall is in no way an effort to provide an incentive to bring people back, make young people and young families want to move into Detroit.
Ann Arbor is quickly racing to become an even more formidable city, not only because of the influence of the University of Michigan in the life of Ann Arbor as a center for education and business, but also because of its tremendous potential for growth representing the future.
Detroit is home to two major universities and the state’s largest community college: Wayne State University, University of Detroit and Wayne County Community College, all of which are jewels and are partof this city’s socioeconomic fabric.
Taking all these educational institutions, among other things, into consideration including the Detroit Public Schools, there is an obligation for those driving the leadership vehicle in Detroit that must not be sacrificed on the altar of pure ego. The question becomes, is pure dislike and mistrust for the governor strong enough for some people to be willing to play Russian roulette with Detroit’s survival? Is this truly a game of winners and losers?
If Detroit goes broke mext week, it is not going to be the Crittendon legacy. It will be the legacy and the shame of Detroit’s leadership.
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 morning 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.