By Alisha Dixon
Maintaining a commitment to diversity, resolving the Gratiot jail issue and remaining fiscally responsible were the major themes of Wayne County Executive Warren Evans’ 2017 State of the County Address on Wednesday at Michael A. Guido Theater in Dearborn.
“My greatest pride comes from witnessing the work of our truly extraordinary residents and their public servants… Their demonstration of unity inspires me, but not just tonight. Look closely at what we do every single day in Wayne County. You will see for yourselves that this is just “how we roll.” We value every life here in Michigan’s largest county. ”
Since taking office, Evans and his staff have drafted a recovery plan that he said has already proven to be a success. With an accumulated $80 million in surpluses, the county, he believes is well on its way to a full recovery.
“While they [surpluses] put us in a better financial position, they don’t change the fact that we still have nearly a billion dollars in unfunded liabilities, between pensions and health care. They don’t change the fact that we’re still facing an infrastructure crisis anchored by the unfinished Gratiot jail.”
The eyesore that is the unfinished jail site is a symbol of the dysfunction and mismanagement of funds by former county leadership. Finishing the site or selling it to Rock Ventures are the two options currently on the table. Both, Evans said are good options, but may present issues of timing.
“At the end of day, Dan Gilbert may have good intentions and be willing to adequately fund the three new buildings the County will need if we move to an alternative site. But the question remains: “At the end of which day?” Rock has a lot of work to do to meet our timetable. This isn’t posturing, or hyperbole, and it’s not anti-soccer, it’s just where we are today,” Evans about the potential $300 million deal with Rock Ventures.
“While we negotiate the Rock Ventures option, Walsh Construction is completing its response to the County’s RFP to finish the jail at the Gratiot site. We expect to have a proposal from Walsh by May. Assessing both options does not delay a final solution, so we decided the prudent course was to vet both options.”
As Evans hopes to preserve the fiscal future of the county, he believes it is the diversity of this region that makes Wayne County stronger and better prepared to be a regional leader.
“Considering the political climate as of late, it’s fitting that we are in Dearborn tonight. Our County is stronger and our communities more resilient, better places to live, because of the diversity of our people. And this is in large part because of the many contributions immigrants make every day. Dearborn demonstrates that truth,” Evans said passionately.
These sentiments, the executive believes, were absent at a recent Dearborn Heights town hall meeting where instead of focusing on the matter at hand, the Warren Valley Golf Course, some residents resorted to racist verbal attacks directed at attendees of Arab descent.
“I can’t ignore what occurred at a town hall meeting in Dearborn Heights last week to discuss the sale of Warren Valley. Some of what occurred at that meeting was unfortunate, but it provides our County a teachable moment,” Evans said of the incident.
“A few comments were offensive and outright racist. One audience member yelled at a speaker of Arab descent, “Go back to your own Country!” Some members of the crowd were more concerned about who might move into the new homes in their neighborhood or who might sit next to their child at school, than about retaining a golf course in their community.”
This incident is yet another symptom of how far our country needs to go to truly embody the constitutional guarantee “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Evans considers the behavior at the town hall meeting to be the opposite of what the country, the state of Michigan and Wayne County represents and feels he and other leaders must not remain silent when these incidents occur. Instead, he believes, he should use his voice to denounce such behavior.
“There is just no place for these types of comments. We ignore them at our own peril. Unfortunately, our present political climate seems to encourage rather than discourage such discourse. Whether it’s a town hall or a tweet, we shouldn’t let our discourse pit neighbor versus neighbor. We all, especially our elected officials, have an obligation to speak up when it occurs.”