Neither before — nor after –the imposition of an emergency manager has the Detroit City Council shown much talent in moving the city forward. Typical of the council’s ineptness is its rejection of the proposal that calls for the state of Michigan to lease the 985-acre island park from Detroit for 30 years, fix it up and make it usable.
And it’s another example of why Detroit needs replacement players on the legislative stage at City Hall.
The Belle Isle debacle affirms that the six-member council is useless in meeting even the minimal social and fiscal challenges of a city desperately looking for hope. Detroiters are probably scratching their heads trying to figure out the reasoning behind the council’s unanimous turn-down of the plan that offered to end the insanity and move forward on a deal projected to save the city about $4 million each year.
Part is the reason is that Detroit lacks deeply committed policy-makers and planners with a talent for turning the beleaguered park into a unique laboratory of innovation that families can enjoy. That explains in part that by a 4-2 vote, the council approved a watered-down, short-lease substitute that makes it easier for the city to opt out of the long-term lease proposed by the state. Members Brenda Jones and JoAnn Watson, unapologetically against outsourcing management of the park for any reason, were the dissenting votes.
“The council should not be pushed into approving a lease,” whined the disgruntled Watson. “There’s nothing wrong with the city operating its own asset. Belle Isle is a significant treasure. It’s a treasure we can manage better, and we have the capacity to do that.”
But the council has never shown any capacity to restore Belle Isle to its former luster. The island didn’t start sinking under gross neglect overnight. And am I the only one who think it strange that the council didn’t think it was a jewel worth polishing off until Gov. Rick Snyder came up with the rescue plan?
I suspect that most of the council’s resistance has a lot to do with the fact that Gov. Snyder recognized the city’s deficiencies, along with the fact that the rescue plan to end the protracted deterioration of the island was his brainchild.
But should this surprise anyone? The council’s major responsibilitiy was the budget and oversight of the financial document. Its greatest asset has been the unique ability to “paper over” annual deficits with long-term borrowing. Sadly, the group has a more difficult time papering over their incompetence.
The council isn’t known for taking corrective action to revive neighborhoods or build stronger neighborhoods, either. It would be a stretch to think that a council hat couldn’t come up with crime fighting and prevention initiatives that keep people safe in their homes and neighborhoods, could come up with a plan to prevent the city’s largest playground from going to seed.
The legislative arm appeared brain dead as the character of the city changed in ominous ways – the loss of middle-class and wealthier families. It sat idly by as the concentration of the poor placed so many service burdens on the city that they depleted the resources available to support quality of life amenities like parks and recreation facilities for children and visitors. Yet no one screamed louder than this status-quo council when Gov. Snyder sent in an EM to try and make a difference.
Let’s be clear: The reason that an EM is in play is because of the council’s historic, across-the-board failings. The EM was overly-generous in keeping members on the city’s payroll, despite relegating them to the sidelines. Now would be a good time to end this expense.
Meanwhile, The state of Michigan should ignore the council’s misadventures and proceed to rescue this island of hope from its miserable mismanagement. City residents deserve no less.