The soon-to-be Emergency Financial Manager, Kevyn Orr, and I were at the University of Michigan at the same time in 1979. And I’m sure he, like most other fervent University of Michigan types, went to football games and rooted for the Wolverines.
One thing we learned in that era of Bo Schembechler was to watch the ball placement on the field. There are all kinds of maneuvers and plays which can be called in the huddle that can totally confuse a defense if they don’t keep their eye on the ball.
So it is today in Detroit.
While the hatchet was dropping on Detroit’s independent governance, the “fake” and the “bootleg” were over at the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. The Detroit Water and Sewerage Commissioners, Mayor Dave Bing and something called a “Root Cause Committee” (perhaps a red-shirted senior put in as a ringer at the last minute?) decided to allow for something called a “Conceptual Agreement” which would make the department an independent public authority under the supervision of the Board of Water Commissioners.
This really scores a touchdown for the guys sitting up with big cigars looking at the bond ratings.
“This is a win-win for our city and suburban partners, our customers and our employees,” said drop-kicking DWSD Executive Director Sue McCormick. In truth, she and others in the commission are proceeding with a “Final Compliance Report” to be submitted on March 15th to Federal Judge Sean Cox. She says in the release that “the Court will subsequently release the DWSD from the lawsuit which has retained superintending control for more than 35 years.”
The DWSD recently became a regionalized body – after suburban politicians decided to target this new gold that is called “the world’s largest cache of fresh water” for investment and control. This was something that previous Detroit mayors – beginning with Coleman A. Young – had vowed they would never allow. I might add that under the supervision of the late Judge John Feikens (and now Judge Cox) the DWSD had created the best and cleanest water system in the country. It was a jewel lying on the ground to be harvested.
It’s interesting that a financial advisor was appointed to do the following (emphasis mine).
- Evaluate and provide analysis of financial plans and associated capital and operating budgets
- Provide financial analysis of project annual and long-term capital expenditures
- Provide the Board financial analysis regarding rates
- Review debt policies, credit ratings and capital raising plans
- Develop corporate models to evaluate future financial performance, including long-term capital requirements and future rate analysis (read: reduce rates for suburbanites and downsize the workers)
- Develop project hurdle rates and evaluation methodologies for capital projects
- Evaluate purchasing and contract methodologies
The fee for these services? One-hundred thousand dollars—all at a time when 80 percent of DWSD workers’ jobs were being eliminated. The person chosen for the job? Nicolette Bateson, CPA. Her employer? The city of Northville.
So, protestors at the CadillacCenter (protesting what we already knew the governor was going to do), the touchdown play was being thrown in the fourth quarter of the game to determine who would control Detroit’s finest jewel: The water.
The final seconds in the game are counting down. Detroiters, keep your eye on the ball.