As part of an ongoing occasional series on some of the mayoral candidates who will be challenging Mayor Mike Duggan later this year, the Michigan Chronicle recently interviewed Bill Noakes. What follows is a partial transcript of the interview.
According to the biography he provided, Noakes is the Founder and Principal of Noakes & Associates, a consulting firm that advises on ethics and leadership. Before starting Noakes & Associates, he was Executive Vice President of Meijer, Incwhere he led its legal, IT, real estate, construction, and procurement operations.
Doakes has served as Senior Associate Independent Counsel, where he was prosecutor and press spokesperson in the case, United States of America v. Michael Espy, the corruption trial of the former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
As a lawyer in private practice, he has represented companies such as General Motors, Smith & Wesson, and Wal-Mart in state and Federal courts. He has been an attorney with the Securities and Exchange Commission, an Assistant General Counsel with the General Motors Corporation, Deputy Wayne County Corporation Counsel, and an Air Force judge advocate. He has been a legal commentator for Court TV and Channel 4 News (Detroit).
Mr. Noakes has taught at the University of Chicago Law School, Grand Valley State University’s Seidman College of Business, Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business, and the University of Michigan – Dearborn, where he currently teaches corporate social responsibility.
He received his BA from the University of Notre Dame and the M.A. and J.D. degrees from the University of Chicago. Answering the call to preach, he studied theology at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology and is an Assistant Minister at the Greater Christ Baptist Church on Detroit’s eastside.
Why are you running?
Because I believe I’m the only candidate who can truly transform the nature of this city. The word ‘transformation’ is easy to use, but it’s very difficult to do for if you’ve never done it. And where I’m coming from, I don’t understand how they (Mayor Mike Duggan and WCE Warren Evans) can truly be transformative when they are simply an extension of what’s always been. Both Duggan and Evans come from the line of Ed McNamara.
But really what I’m talking about is looking at the experiences I’ve had over the years that have [resulted in] transformation. I was executive vice president of Meijer in Grand Rapids. By 2003 we faced a crisis. The company seriously had the possibility of going out of business. Because the competition from WalMart and others was so severe. And we went through what was called a transformation effort, which meant we looked at everything we did, we looked at every operation, we looked at how people worked together, and ultimately we put together a team of people from across the entire company. …And one of the first things we had to do was figure out how we were going to reduce our cost basis. And it turned out we were one of the higher cost retailers in the district… and going at that pace we couldn’t compete with Walmart. We’d be out of business in perhaps three years? Four years? [they had to reduce their costs dramatically over a three-year period]
What is it going to take?
How do you address the people [issue]. Because that’s the real big issue here in the City of Detroit, people are talking about, well, we’re building new buildings and we’re getting new development, but ultimately nobody’s talking about how do we change the mindset of people and about people. Because I can give somebody who doesn’t have the right mindset a brand new house, and I dare you to tell me that house will be maintained if they’ve never had a house. So the question is how do we change the mindset of the people who appear to be left behind and change the mindset of those who are coming in and are running things about the people who are not them. And so part of what I’m talking about is investing in people.
I mean, nobody’s going to come here because of a new stadium. You might get some investment from local folks, but you’re not going to get a significant investment. No company is going to come from Silicon Valley, or someplace similar to that, here, unless they see that 1) there’s a viable workforce, a viable well-trained workforce and 2) that it’s a safe environment, and 3) it’s a place that people find interesting to be in. But the main thing is how do you invest in people? How do you inspire them?
So how do you do that?
Well the first thing is you talk to them. Not at them, not talk around them, not talk about them, but actually be with them. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is to sit and listen to folks and hear what they have to say, and find out what’s on their minds. They aren’t going to listen to your plan unless they know that you are listening to them. So many politicians do a great job of talking and making promises that pretty much go unkept. But they don’t really listen to the people. I’m not the most powerful orator, and I clearly won’t be the best-financed candidate, but I will be the one that will listen. Perhaps better than anybody else. Because that’s where the message is.
When you talk to people during your campaign, what are you hearing?
The great part of the city has been ignored. The second part that I hear, largely from fellow ministers is that they can’t understand the drainage fees that are suddenly being charged
. Someone who was once paying $750 per acre is now paying 10 times that. And they’re talking about the real issue of whether or not the churches will have to leave the city. Because they won’t be able to pay the drainage fees. And their concern is we gave away the water. We gave away control of the water, which Detroit had for many years. Another concern is crime, and more than anything else it’s the homicide rate. Yes, certain crimes are down, but the crime that concerns people the most is homicide. Detroit had more than 300 homicides in the year 2016. New York City, which is maybe 10 times the size of Detroit or more? They had 332 homicides. Now, that’s quite a comparison. Now they can talk about how they are solving crime, but that’s the stat that matters the most.
Now somebody gets killed in Midtown, and they go all out, and the people that live in Midtown are calling into the police and making complaints and the police are responding with increased policing. Not too long ago, three people were killed on the east side. It barely was noticed.
How do you address that?
Well the first thing you want do is to look at what resources we have and how do we allocate those resources. And one of the best ways to allocate resources is to begin with how do we use predictive policing through technology? Many bigger cities, they can predict where crime is going to occur, and then they allocate resources according to where the hot spots are. The other way is to actually have police live in the city. That’s been a concern, and there’s been a court case saying you can’t make police officers live in the city. But what if we incentivized officers to live in the city? What if we said we will pay you a slightly higher rate if you lived in the city? There may be a problem with that, I don’t know. But what if we explored that?