Finance Board Up to Task?

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    Commentary 

    The question is not whether Detroit Mayor Dave Bing or the Detroit City Council will make the right call. It is whether the men and women who have been appointed to the Detroit Financial Advisory Board to oversee the finances of the city in this age of austerity will make the right call.

    The nine-member board led by Sandra Pierce, former president of Charter One Bank, and including Glenda Price, former president of Marygrove College, have an inescapable responsibility to the people of this city and this region to make decisions that will ensure the financial viability of Detroit for many years to come. It is crucial that this board remains different from other bodies that were created in the past but showed little interest or even indifference in the well-being of the city.

    This should not be a rubber stamp board or one that exists in name only. In the past we have seen committees created under the guise of providing a roadmap for the city and region. Because of political expediency, the boards or committees either forgot that they were there to serve or simply became another bureaucracy.

    Because we live in a city that lives and breaths on everything political, it appears that the Detroit Financial Advisory Board will have to weather a lot of political pressure to get its work done. But that is what members of the board signed on to by accepting an appointment to this historic body.

    If any of the members cannot withstand political pressure, they should submit their resignation because there is a lot of work that must be done (and some of it has to do with the body politic) in charting a meaningful financial future for the city.

    The board’s independence in displaying its fiduciary duties is as sacrosanct as the gigantic task it has to perform to right the financial ship of this city. In the past, Detroit’s leaders have come in different shapes and fashions, and also in terms of their philosophies and convictions. Some leaders have dealt with the problems head-on while others have massaged the problems of the city.

    Some challenged us to come to the table with ideas, and others dismissed the noble ideas of people with genuine interest and sincerity, including ordinary citizens, hard-working citizens.

    In other to make this work, we need a board that is not politically naive about the realities on the ground, but one that is fully aware of the extent to which political patronage and expediency have held this city hostage.

    Sometimes making the tough call may not be popular, but it can pay off in the long run when people begin seeing the benefits. We do not need decisions that speak to instant gratifications. To tackle the ballooning problems the city faces will require making tough decisions across the board, with consistency and with their eyes on the big picture. This applies to everyone in city government, not just one particular department or group.

    These are historic times and the decisions that will be made and recommended by this body will presage things to come.

    Detroit’s future will be shaped in part as a result of what the financial team does now. The men and women who agreed to be on this board will have their legacy shaped by what they do from here on as members of the Detroit Financial Advisory Board.

    Tough decisions are made by those who are not afraid regarding the consequences of their decisions. These are people who understand that what matters is the impact their decisions have on improving the city, and helping it to become more of a place where people want to live, do business, work and play.

    In short, the Financial Advisory Board must “do the right thing.”

    Bankole Thompson is editor of the Michigan Chronicle and the author of a six-part book series on the Obama presidency. His book “Obama and Black Loyalty,” published in 2010, follows his recent book, “Obama and Christian Loyalty” with a foreward by Bob Weiner, former White House spokesman. His forthcoming books in 2012 are “Obama and Jewish Loyalty” and “Obama and Business Loyalty.” Thompson is a political news analyst at WDET-101.9FM (NPR affiliate) and a member of the weekly “Obama Watch” Sunday evening roundtable on WLIB-1190AM New York and simulcast in New Jersey and Connecticut.

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