Note to Detroit: What you once had is now gone. This is your new reality. What you make of it is up to you.
I use notes as a reminder to myself when I grapple daily with personal and professional challenges that come my way. It’s not pretty, Detroit’s new reality. I offer these three simple sentences to the citizens of Detroit and its elected officials – Mayor Bing and the Detroit City Council—as they adjust to their new reality as Michigan’s latest city to be led by an Emergency Manager (EM).
Mounting deficits and long-term debts have stripped Detroit of the cash needed for basic government services, safe and secure neighborhoods and a thriving city. The poor decision-making and graft of the past haunt neighborhoods and residents today. The citizens of Detroit deserve a fix sooner rather than later. They have been suffering for far too long.
Denial – spending and pretending – got the city to this point. The situation goes back decades, but the current crop of locally elected leaders has not moved with purpose to clean it up. It has been painful to watch Governor Snyder this past year as he pleaded with the mayor and City Council to act so that he would not have to pull the EM trigger. He made it clear that he wanted Mayor Bing and the City Council to fix the city’s short and long-term fiscal issues.
Still, city leadership fiddled. Last year’s Consent Agreement was all but ignored. One would think the mere threat of an EM would have forced Detroit’s leaders to (finally!) step up and control their destiny.
They did not.
In fact, the city’s short-term cash flow problems and its historical structural imbalances—which the respected Citizens Research Council of Michigan (crcmich.org) and an independent Financial Review team indicated are in the billions—went virtually unaddressed.
Those who oppose the appointment of an EM offer no realistic alternatives to fixing the problems. Worse, while the issues continue to be debated city residents go without adequate, basic services like street lights, clean parks, fire and police protection. The political dance between the state and city this past year was farcical. The foot dragging continued, often becoming more pronounced as city leaders chose not to act.
So, the governor now will.
One thing remains clear: The soon-to-be-appointed EM can’t simply cut their way to city solvency or renewal. A detailed plan must be structured quickly to stem the bleeding and grow the city using the “Six R’s”:
Restructure, Reform, Re-imagine, Reinvent, and Rebuild the city with Results.
Which brings us back to the ideas I began with: “Detroit, what you once had is now gone. This is your new reality. What you make of it is up to you.” The sooner the elected leaders within the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center adopt this as their new mantra, the sooner the, “relentless positive action” the governor favors will kick the 6 R’s into action. Let’s adopt Snyder’s “Dog Year” sense of urgency. Let’s embrace the soon-to-be-appointed EM. Let’s ALL get to work. Detroit’s destiny rests in our collective hands. We can’t get to work if we are still pointing fingers.