Gov. Rick Snyder sat down with Chronicle editor Bankole Thompson for an exclusive interview Monday afternoon at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. The governor talked about an array of issues, all with direct impact on the city of Detroit. Following are excerpts.
Asked if the consent agreement is going to have a significant impact in terms of how the city moves forward in its recovery, Gov. Snyder said he would hope not.
“It’s unfortunate that all that happened because, the way I view it, it just took up time and people’s attention,” Snyder said. “It’s more than just the time. It took away people’s attention from working and solving the problems.”
Snyder expressed a hope that all this is behind us now, and that people can get back to focusing on the key issue: financial stability and better services to the citizens.
Asked how the state intends to pursue the public lighting bill, Snyder said his administration helped take the lead in saying we need to do something about Detroit’s public lighting.
“I think the solution that, collectively, we came up with with the city was a good answer,” he said. “To basically say let’s put it in a lighting authority. Let’s come up with a good stream of revenue so the lighting authority can go out and do some bonding to get caught up, to do some good work. And that involved making us swap between the utility tax and the income tax, in terms of what’s earmarked for police and fire.”
Snyder added that it was “just moving pieces around,” that there was no real tax increase.
“But it was to create this authority, and to do it in a thoughtful way, where it could go out and raise money, and deploy those dollars efficiently, and then have a good board of people to do it,” he said. “So I think it was real good legislation. It was just unfortunate that in some ways too much politics got caught up and it didn’t get done.”
The governor also said that what currently exists simply doesn’t work.
“So isn’t this a major improvement just by saying let’s put it in a separate lighting authority?” Snyder asked, rhetorically. “Then if you look at the composition of the board, the majority of the board members are appointed by the city. And then there’s some requirements as to the qualifications of the board members. There has to an engineer, there has to be a financial person, people you’d want involved on a board like that.”
When the governor was asked about his plan to revitalize Michigan’s urban cities, he said his administration is making progress with the work of his director of the Michigan Office of Urban and Metropolitan Initiatives, Harvey Hollins, who recently held stakeholders meetings aimed to involve leaders acrosss the region.
Asked if the issue of residency has come up, Snyder said he hasn’t heard that as much.
“We found that even on the financial advisory board, you try to look at residents, to get them involved,” he said. “And you want to. At the same time, there are a lot of people that work in the city or have family in the city that want to help. I think in many cases, if you want good people, it’s good to get a diversity of people that have some relationship with Detroit.”
Asked where matters stand with respect to Belle Isle, Snyder said the city has a proposal.
“We’ve given one to the mayor for his review,” he said. “So they have the ball on that one. And what we did was propose a state park concept.”
Snyder added that it’s a great opportunity. He noted that there are two or three pieces to it. One is a state park still owned by the city.
“We could still invest in it,” he said. “Because we have some resources and trust fund dollars, different dollars we could put in to both Belle Isle itself and hopefully some of the roads and the bridge, to make sure that’s maintained. So that would improve Belle Isle. And at the same time it would free up dollar resources that the city’s putting into Belle Isle, so they could put them in the neighborhoods or other places where they could make a difference.”
Asked if what’s happened in the last two weeks has impacted his relationship with the mayor’s office, Snyder said no.
“My view is, if you look, I think we’ve been very consistent,” Snyder said. “Our goal is to be a good partner. We said we have an agreement. We honor the agreement and we’re working hard to deliver our side of the agreement. And I just encourage the City of Detroit to do the same thing from their perspective, because the people that we’re really talking about, the beneficiaries of all this work, hopefully are the citizens of Detroit.”
He added that “all that lawsuit stuff” just took away from the city being able to devote more time and attention to solving problems.
The governor also declined to dwell on the lawsuit, choosing instead to focus on the positive.
“It’s like okay, hopefully it’s done; it’s over; let’s go,” he said. “Let’s get back to providing better services.”
Asked to explain how the state is going to zero in on Wayne County, Snyder said that’s part of the state’s normal responsibility when a county or other jurisdiction has financial problems.
“Part of the treasury department’s mandate is to go ask questions, to follow up, to make sure things are being done properly,” he said.
He added that it looks like there are some good questions that should be asked with respect to Wayne County’s financial affairs.
“Hopefully we’ll get adequate answers,” he said.
Questioned regarding whether or not he is troubled by reports about pensions, Snyder said a lot of people suffered financial losses on their own in the stock market.
“But in terms of the whole structure, there are good solid questions that need to be asked, and the treasury is going about doing that, in terms of following through. And I would just wait for the outcome of what those responses are, and are there follow-up steps we need to take to make sure we’re taking care of the citizens?”
Asked where he puts the future of Southeast Michigan, with both Wayne County and Detroit having financial issues, Snyder said we need to get the city and the county on a financially stable basis.
He added, however, that people tend to get caught up in the financial stability question, which he admitted he’s deeply concerned with.
“I’m an accountant by training, so it really matters a lot,” he said. “But it all should be put in the context of by doing this, how do we set a foundation that we can build on and grow on? Because the answer for Detroit, the answer for Wayne County, is about growing Detroit, and growing the county. That’s the solution.”
He pointed that there are a lot of good things going on that we don’t talk about enough.
“I never ignore the problems, but I also want to make sure that we are highlighting the good things going on, so we have something to build on,” he said. “Like the young people moving into downtown.”
Gov. Snyder said there’s a good energy level in downtown Detroit on weekends.
“It’s pretty cool to come down and be here on a Saturday night,” he said.