In a rare case of transparency, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, came before the public at the Wayne County Community College District’s East Campus to talk about what he has dubbed: The state of the county.
“I just applaud him for having this kind of meeting,” Detroit City Councilman Andre L. Spivey said. “I haven’t heard of many county executives – the two, three, we’ve had – having community meetings like this. I like the transparency – the challenges he faces, whether it’s the jail or how he’s going to fund the prosecutor’s office. So I think being open and transparent will allow people to know that he cares about their needs and wants.”
Tuesday marked a first in a series of State of the County Community Updates that will be held before the end of the month. Evans made it clear that the county is dealing with a financial morass right now as he and his team work to erase a $52 million structural deficit and boost funding of the besieged pension system by $20 million per year.
“I didn’t come into this with rose colored glasses on” Evans said. “I could see that the county was in much worse shape than was being reported. I tend to expect the worse and if I get better, I don’t feel so bad. I see the light at the end of the tunnel because I see where we can make the cuts, although they will be somewhat draconian. We still can and have to provide services to the residents. I can see a few years down the line, getting out of the structural deficit and getting back to doing some progressive things and recreate what employees have lost over the years. Bankruptcy doesn’t have to occur.”
Evans has been open and honest about the need to be prudent when it comes to county expenses. In the meantime he is in the midst of a hiring and spending freeze, reorganizing departments and consolidating most employees into the Guardian Building. The real challenge will come when it’s time to negotiate with the 11 unions – whose contracts are expiring.
“I knew the sky was falling. I just didn’t know how hard it was going to hit us,” Evans said. “We do not need an emergency manager, and we don’t need to file bankruptcy, but we need to get it done. If we don’t get it done, someone else will.”
Zack Burgess is an award winning journalist. He is the Director/Owner of OFF WOODWARD MEDIA, LLC, where he works as a writer, editor and communications specialist. His work can be seen at zackburgess.com. Twitter: @zackburgess1