On Kevyn Orr’s first day as Detroit emergency manager, he announced that he was going to protect the jobs and salaries of Detroit City Council. Many, including myself, called it a colossal misfire. If there has been one impediment to the successful resurrection of the Motor City, Council has been it. At every turn, they’ve stymied growth, alienated the suburbs, and perpetuated the xenophobic hostility that’s been a hallmark of the last 40 years.
Now, a new report suggests that the Council not only represents a philosophical problem – it’s a financial stumbling block as well.
The report was issued earlier this week by the firm Conway MacKenzie of Birmingham, and recommends making Council part time, reducing its pay to match, and eliminating the vast majority of its staff. Currently, each Council member enjoys the services of between four and eight assistants. The report suggests allowing them only one a piece. In fact, it would reduce the overall number of people working for Council from a ridiculous 115 to just 37.
In doing so, the city would save a whopping $7.4 million a year, and the savings would start immediately.
Opponents of the plan suggest it would reduce Council’s prominence and limit its power. One Councilwoman, Saunteel Jenkins, was recently asked if she believed the body could function on a part time basis.
“If you want City Council to act in its current role, absolutely not,” she responded.
And that’s just the thing. No one who has witnessed the council’s business-as-usual approach over the last decade wants it to continue acting “in its current role.” The city needs a streamlined, rational, political body that isn’t there just to hold on to its own petty power concerns.
Kevyn Orr is now faced with a tough choice. Stick with his original instinct, and protect a gaggle of obstructionist, entitlement-mentality politicos – or embrace the Conway MacKenzie report. When he initially chose to keep paying Council, he portrayed it as a gesture of good faith. However, if their compliance only comes with a $7.4M price tag, it’s time to recognize it for what it is: political payola.
At some point, Orr is going to have to face the harsh reality that the Council will never be on his side. They may shut their mouths if he keeps paying them and they may play along if he keeps doling out the perks but, if we’re truly going to move the city forward, the gravy train will have to end.
It would be better to get it over now – to rip the Band-aid off quickly – than to drag it out and slow the potential recovery.