One of the biggest blows to The City of Detroit’s image came after former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was exposed in a sex scandal that lead to perjury and jail time and now a federal trial. On top of that, former City Council President Monica Conyers is currently serving jail time for taking bribes.
Since then, there has been an election. New people are in place and Federal agents have not taken their eye off Detroit city hall. Current city leaders elected in the aftermath of these scandalous PR disasters are consciously trying to clear Detroit’s tarnished reputation amid negative preconceptions about the City.
These negative perceptions are something Detroit City Council member James Tate struggles with every day as an elected city leader. He said the negative publicity generated over the Kilpatrick scandal has been hard to move past.
“It does shadow everything we do,” Tate said referring to the infamous city hall scandals and current federal trial involving the former mayor. “You have individuals who are accused of horrific things and it overshadows all the individuals who are working extremely hard to right some of the wrongs those former leaders have been accused of.”
He said if were not for the heavy nature of the allegations against the former administration then the public would be less likely to think Detroit’s elected officials are not able to lead and manage our own city.
In order to put the shadows of the past behind, Tate said that means being hopeful that there is a better and brighter future in store for Detroiters. It also means giving new leadership a fair shake, but this has been hard to overcome.
“We’ve got to have a sense of hope. It’s become a cliché but it’s a very important thing,” He said. “You can’t have false hope. It’s important to make sure that there is that opportunity on the end of that hope.”
Tate said the post-Kilpatrick/Conyers political climate has led to the discontent from Detroit residents and neighbors alike who are now a lot more open to the state taking over and running the City of Detroit.
“For a lot of people that [Kilpatrick scandal] was the last straw,” Tate said. “You have a council that came in with a lot of promise. I think people wanted a new council that was more deliberative.”
But because of the heavy financial and public image issues already plaguing the city, Tate said the newly elected council members “jumped into a boiling heap of goodness” that is difficult to get out of in a short period of time.
Tate said the current council has been criticized unfairly for making careful decisions and asking many questions.
“There are people who feel we are being obstructionists,” he said. “It’s not that we want to obstruct, it’s that we have a responsibility to people to really do the homework and not just base our vote on feelings. We have to make decisions based on how it’s going to affect 700,000 people in the city of Detroit.”
Still, he said the current administration, and even the council has its faults. He said there is some genuine dissatisfaction with some of the city’s leadership.
Part of this has come from difficulties in communicating with Mayor Dave Bing.
“Some would say we have a mayor that is a bit aloof and not really in tune to the people. It’s a big deal. It matters to a lot of folks.”
While he says he likes Bing and enjoys his relationship with the mayor, but has struggled to communicate with him over major issues.
“I’ve heard people are saying [about city council] ‘All you want is a handout,’” Tate said. “Unfortunately some of that has come from the mayor’s office. Instead of finding ways to work together, it seems like a constant battle.”
But that’s not to say the council is perfect, either. Tate said both the council and the mayor have to get on board the same ship and move Detroit away from it’s communication slump. “Some of the comments that come from council have been inflammatory so it’s coming from both sides,” he said.
When voting and making decisions as a council member, Tate said he often finds it a challenge. “There are times when my head and my heart are really fighting it out. I often side with my head because at the end of the day it’s not about me, it’s about the 700,000 people living in the city.
Tate also shared some of his insight on City Ballot Proposals as well as Public Act 4, better known as the emergency manager law.
On PA4: I’m going to vote against Public Act 4. I believe local governments should have the opportunity to govern themselves. That does not mean that there should not be some assistance from the state. I’m not talking about handouts. We are a creature of the State. And if we’re not healthy the State is not healthy. But there is a level of respect that has to be provided. It’s about allowing the people and their vote to count.”
On Proposal C (aka the Crystal Crittendon Proposal): [Asks if the charter says City law department officials can act independently of them mayor or city council]
“The Crystal proposal is kind of self explanatory, all we are asking for is for the charter to be upheld. We are just trying to clarify the language in the charter.”
On Proposal G: “Literally because the City of Detroit has a contract with DPS, if I go to a DPS school just visiting and they gave me a pencil with their logo on it, I could actually be removed from office. I think that is a bit overreaching so all we’re trying to do is define what a gift is. Right now the charter just says a gift is ‘anything of value’. Well to some people a pencil has no value but somebody who is trying to remove you from office can say ‘this is of value.’ This pencil becomes the smoking gun of why you should be removed from office.”
On Proposal P: “The reason Proposal P makes sense is you have people who have worked for the city for a number of years and they have spouses who have health insurance so they’re covered. If they’re willing to come back and work for the city on a contractual basis, now we don’t have to pay their health insurance. It sounds bad but we’re able to pay out less even if we pay them the same salary because we’re not covering their insurance.
The way the charter’s being interpreted currently by the board of ethics is we’re not able to hire people back under contract. So it’s not about paying back lobbyists or anything like that. It turned into something so much more ugly than what it truly is.
We’ve got people from the lighting department that we want to bring back, people from building and safety that we want to bring back. I got someone on my staff that is a salary employee. I want to transfer her to a contract. That won’t be beneficial necessarily to her but it will certainly help the City’s fiscal situation. I have to do one of two things: Hire under contract or hire at a salary too low for the amount of work that needs to be done. You’d be surprised if you stepped into this office and see what we do on a daily basis.
On Proposal E: [The proposal that will set a minimum for the number of signatures needed to run for public office in Detroit] “I don’t think anyone has issues with Proposal E