Detroit seems ready to facilitate the Pistons return to Detroit at all costs. The team will play at Little Caesars Arena, which they will share with the Detroit Red Wings, But can Mayor Mike Duggan justify an investment of additional public tax dollars in a struggling economy and the disconcerting reality that Detroit is broke – financially, socially and economically?
The homecoming is expected to cost an additional $34.5 million in public funding that will come from refinancing and extending $250 million in public bonds previously issued to help pay for the Little Caesars Arena construction. The bonds won’t require tapping the general fund. Rather they will be retired using property tax collections captured for “economic development” by the Downtown Development Authority (DDA).
However, a case can be made that the city can’t afford further cash diversions from the real problems that retard real growth.
Shootings, homicides, carjacking, arson, population loss, for example, keep Detroit perched at the top of national statistics. Police ranks could use a $35 million shot in the arm.
Detroit is also a perennial national leader in high unemployment and low labor participation rates. It is the poorest major city in America, with about 40 percent of residents living at or below poverty line. With a median income is slightly above $25,000 a year, few residents earn enough to purchase even the cheap Pistons’ game seats. And those suffering in neglected neighborhoods may never see any benefits from the vaunted homecoming.
After going bankrupt in 2013, the city subsists on a disproportionate reliance of $195-million in state revenue sharing. With blight and abandonment rising and property tax collections waning, city services will need the same kind of revenue stream afforded the Pistons’.
Another state bailout of $617 million was needed this year to retire the Detroit school district debt. Would the stadium subsidy be better spent on the future of children?
Prudence and practicality are called for as another test of whether public subsidies to professional sports stadiums equals good policy. What we know is that other subsidies to private enterprise and stadia deals haven’t fared well.
The publicly owned Pontiac Silverdome, for example, had amassed a $55 million construction debt when completed in 1975. Pontiac taxpayers ended up dishing out $25 million a year, not to mention the annual $800,000 state subsidy given the Silverdome, which lost money in all but two years. Taxpayers there were left high and dry when the Detroit Lions transitioned back to Detroit.
The Pistons may defy the odds and become the critical link in a total, self-perpetuating environment where businesses locate and people work, shop, entertain and live. But if history is any guide, it won’t be the key to that metamorphosis that ushers in a new sense of development, pride and consciousness other than for downtown Detroit.
No less was promised with a huge city handout to Mike Ilitch’s historic Fox Theatre in the 1980s – as well as for the Joe Louis Arena, Comerica Park and Ford Field. Neighborhoods continued to rot. Skepticism grew.
The last thing Detroit needs is another big, expensive, low-community benefit project that primarily serves to subsidize rich team owners at the expense of other private businesses and the working poor.
The ideal would be for billionaire Piston owner Tom Gores to pay for the move he claims is so good for the city. But if Mr. Gores doesn’t think it’s a good idea for him to finance the Piston’s homecoming, it has to be a bad idea for Mike Duggan and the city of Detroit.
This November this will be the first opportunity for residents in the four-county Metro area to vote on a 1.2-mill, 20-year, $4.6 billion property tax millage for regional transit. It may also be the only opportunity for voters to say NO.
Passage of this hyped transit proposal would burden taxpayers with never-ending construction, maintenance and operational debt without achieving any of the promised benefits.
Advocates argue that while Detroit has one of the oldest municipal transit systems in America, it is the only one that has not merged its bus operation. That’s true. After years of contention and for a number of legitimate reasons, D-DOT the city bus system, and SMART, the suburban system, were never consolidated.
However, a merger of the two inefficient and ineffective systems, as envisioned by the RTA, would not guarantee that ridership would increase, service would improve and cost-savings result. And the last thing the region needs is one dysfunctional system that becomes a bottomless financial pit.
A regional mass transit system might have been feasible in the 1940s when Detroit was in its heyday with a population approaching 2-million. Since then, the city has lost most of its employment base and more than half of its population.
That hasn’t stopped promoters from making the incredible claim that merging the bus systems could play an important role in connecting Detroit’s low-skilled, unemployed population to jobs in the suburbs. Closer to reality, the collapse of the city’s public education system provides compelling evidence that many Detroiters remain locked in economic isolation due to a lack of marketable skills rather than a lack of transportation.
Also ignored are new regional commuter patterns. They show a staggering decrease in passenger service in and out of the city and expanding service across county lines. Thus, Detroit’s extreme low population density destroys all arguments that this transit plan is worth the investment.
A new transit arrangement might be beneficial in large city with a significant employment base downtown and difficult auto-commuting conditions. Detroit, though, no longer qualifies as a significant hub or major destination point.
New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington-Baltimore, Philadelphia and Boston are cities where regional transit is justifiable, although not in a cost-effective way. Yet, despite spending vast resources on transit, no other city has been able to reproduce the ridership shares achieved by these seven cities. Fares collected by these systems don’t come close to paying operational costs.
Rail lines like the one planned from Detroit to Ann Arbor – with a connecting airport shuttle service – are the most expensive and least efficient form of transit. It bears mentioning that most cities that constructed new rail systems in recent years have dramatically underestimated construction costs, overestimated ridership and increased the financial liability of taxpayers.
The inescapable truth is that the Metro-Detroiters have a love affair with cars, and the likelihood that motorists are going to park their vehicles and get on a bus or a train is laughable.
At best, the RTA plan will be a massive public infrastructure project with significant benefits bestowed on system designers, construction companies and laborers and operators of the system. At worse, it is an insidious deception by politicians to tie a massive debt millstone around the necks of property owners in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties.
When voters take to the polls, they should liberate themselves from this albatross: Give the transit proposal the Rick Snyder “Road Tax” treatment. Vote NO!
In a blog entitled “Inducements and Illusions,” Bill Johnson pooh-poohs the potential benefit of the Detroit Promise, an initiative announced by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan with the cooperation of the Detroit Chamber of Commerce and several business foundations. The program will provide coverage for tuition and fees to any Detroit student who graduates from a public school in Detroit, whether they graduate from a Detroit Public School, (DPS), the Educational Achievement Authority, (EAA), or a public charter.
In the interest of full disclosure, Bill Johnson is my brother, and though I highly respect him, in this instance I vehemently disagree with him. His primary criticism of the Detroit Promise is connected to an initiative launched in 1987; The Detroit Compact, which guaranteed DPS graduates free college tuition (if they attended a Michigan college or university), provided they maintained at least a 2.5 grade point average, 95% attendance, stayed out of trouble, and scored a minimum 21 on the ACT. The program eventually terminated because not enough students met the criteria, particularly the attendance and ACT standard.
While these standards were not unreasonable, intrinsic and cultural inhibitors; transiency, truancy, and socio/economic challenges were without question major contributors to the lack of success. The Detroit Promise is different; Detroit high school students only need to graduate to continue their education at the community college level.
Mr. Johnson’s contention that this a “dumbed down” standard, and that Detroit graduates in general are social promotion graduates is an unjust indictment against the determination of these students to graduate, and the educators who put them in the position to do so.
Detroit graduates about 3,000 students each year. There are students who, admittedly, barely squeak by, for a variety of reasons, who without the Detroit Promise would surely believe that the opportunity to attend college was beyond their reach.
Detroit is a city which for years has been plagued by violence, poverty, crime, drugs, and other social ills which have filtered into our schools. There is no question that many students who graduate from Detroit schools are in need of remedial programs, particularly in reading and math, to give them an opportunity to become gainfully employed rather than another statistic.
Many students have never experienced an environment where the focus upon learning is not interrupted by disruption and violence in class. A community college setting will not only provide them with an opportunity to learn in peace, but can provide them additional support and guidance.
For those students who are proficient and college ready, the Detroit Promise affords the opportunity for them to take many of their prerequisite courses at the community college level, gain the college experience, and reduce the cost of their overall college education.
Even with this opportunity, schools in Detroit must address those cultural and intrinsic inhibitors to learning that I previously referenced. School funding from the state has to change; an example which is demonstrating growing success in states where “adequacy funding” predicated upon need has supplanted so-called equal funding, recognizing that due to socio/economic and cultural conditions, it costs more to educate students in one town compared to another. Equal does not mean adequate.
The Detroit Promise is but one step toward providing Detroit graduates with an option, not a guarantee. To do nothing is tantamount to acknowledging these students are destined to a life of depravity.
In the words of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy, “some people see things as they are and ask why, I see things that never were, and ask, why not?’ The Detroit Promise supporters have now answered that question and Detroit’s children are the winners.
Keith Johnson is a former DPS teacher and retired president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers
I suppose there is one reason for Detroiters to get excited about Mayor Mike Duggan’s unveiling of Detroit Promise – a program, funded by several foundations and the Detroit Regional Chamber whose intent is to give tuition-free two-year college scholarships to every student who graduates from a school in the city.
This inducement, after all, is another positive example of business’ role in education. And it makes sense. Finding qualified workers is the biggest single problem for many Detroit-based employers. Businesses simply can’t afford to silently observe schools churn out students with skills best suited for Burger King.
Theoretically, it will work something like this: Beginning with the 2016 graduating class, Detroit Promise scholarships will cover tuition and fees for up to three years, or the time required to earn an associate degree. Students must maintain a full-load per semester. That’s simple enough.
However, this is not the first noble effort by the business class to move the academic needle in Detroit by offering scholarships. And if history is a reference, this too will fall short of its objectives for reasons that are beyond the best intentions and influence of employers.
Academic partnerships that reward student performance with college tuitions or guaranteed positions in the labor force have a well-charted history in the city. In the late 1980s, Merrill Lynch & Co. made a 16-year, $800,000 investment in 25 first-graders at Detroit’s now defunct George Pomeroy Goodale Elementary School. Under the Scholarship Builder Class of 2000, students who finished high school would have their college tuition paid or receive a $1,000 stipend if they joined the military or started work right after graduation.
The Merrill Lynch program started with first-graders, whose academic progress was to be closely monitored through the 12th grade. Since the school no longer exists – and in the ensuing years the dropout rate has been exorbitantly high, it’s difficult to track how many, if any, of the students cashed in.
Shortly thereafter, the Greater Detroit Chamber of Commerce –now the Detroit Regional Chamber – spearheaded the Detroit Compact. This similar, but more comprehensive program offered a tuition-free path to, not two, but a four-year college degree for those who met the program’s “reasonable” academic standards: a GPA of 2.5 on a 4.0 scale; a 95 percent attendance rate; a score of 21 or higher on the ACT, and good behavior.
The Detroit Regional Chamber administered the program for more than 17 years. It was abandoned because not enough DPS students met the minimum program requirements for college entry.
Now the Chamber is backing a scaled-down, “dumbed-down” scholarship program in which a “social promotion” graduation certificate is the only requirement. Perhaps there is a new realization that if high-end academic inducements were unrealistic during the turbulent decades of the 1980s and 1990s, they have no chance when school problems system-wide have worsened and prospects of student academic success are bleak.
Plagued by ineptitude, scandals and corruption at the top and dissent from within, the education bureaucracy lacks the discipline, integrity and willingness to divorce itself from the status quo. So it remains to be seen whether the lowering of standards will produce an abundance of employees that employers actually want to hire.
Nevertheless, Detroit Promise sponsors say they are in for the long haul. But there’s more reason than not to believe that like those before it, this ambitious initiative will also expire and be recorded as another fanciful illusion.
Because until and unless the city is re-cultured– and by extension the schools restructured — there won’t be a lot of Detroit job takers in perpetuity.
It is easy to understand why Detroit Public School teachers are upset and angry about their worsening pay, benefits and working conditions — as well as their frustration with Gov. Rick Snyder’s inability to come up with a learning environment solution that makes sense.
What is incomprehensible is that teachers would launch periodic work stoppages at selected schools in order to voice their legitimate concerns. On this there is no debate: the ongoing series of sickouts causes irreparable harm to students already victimized by abject education failure.
Teacher sickouts, which resulted in several school closures in recent months, are unprofessional and dishonorable. Selectively targeting schools over what may be real bread-and-butter issues is a contemptuous act against parents and pupils. As such, teachers abdicate any claim of giving the education of children a higher priority than their self-interested objectives.
Besides showing a callous disregard for students, defiant teachers taint their image. In many cases, for better or worse, teachers represent the only role model students have.
Students learn lessons about life through both instruction and what they see taking place around them. They lose respect for teachers they perceive as primarily caring about lining their pockets. Even good teachers are seen as the enemies of students.
Students observing teacher misconduct could accelerate classroom discipline problems. The behavior may also give comfort to students on the cusp of disillusionment the final reason to dropout and embark on a destructive life of criminal behavior. It comes, in part, from learning that disregard for the rules pay better dividends than compliance with them.
But let’s not be deceived in believing this action is about the welfare of children or pay raises. What really is at stake is control over the future direction of education in Detroit.
The sickouts are intended is to bring public pressure to bear on the Gov. Snyder as he prepares to take another stab at reigning in the chaos in the district.
In this regard, teachers that violate union contract protocol are showing contempt for his continuation of state oversight and imposition of the latest in a string of emergency managers who tried and failed to bring a new order to a system teetering on collapse.
What is not in dispute is that the school system needs a radical restructuring. Yet every reform proposal recommended by the emergency managers — fiscal or academic — failed to measure up to the public’s educational expectations. The governor’s most recent reform proposal, which needlessly expands the bureaucratic quagmire past his term in office, is evidence that he hasn’t the faintest idea how to fix what’s wrong with Detroit schools.
Parents, for the most part have remained calm in their response to the disruption of classes. Some, I believe, realize that the district needs more efficient, less bureaucratic school governance. In that regard, schools of choice – independently empowered — would seem to be the right solution for the times.
Today, two things ought to concern teachers: First, nobody gains an advantage from these outlaw maneuvers. Secondly, children are the only victims in this clash of wills.
Those participating in the sickouts are behaving in a manner that warrants neither leniency nor forgiveness. Those who continue to demonstrate disrespect for the district’s children are worthy of whatever appropriate punishment is available.
Let’s hope there are enough dedicated professionals willing to resist casually disrupting the transmission of culture, values and ideals. They must fight the external influences and the internal temptations to keep all schools open for Detroit’s kids, who by any measure need the benefits of these teachings more than most.
Financial markets are unsentimental places. That’s why it is a little strange that Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is pumped up about the Entrepreneurs of Color program, a creation of the nonprofit Detroit Development Fund, JPMorgan Chase and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
The “coloreds-only” loan initiative sends the message that the city tacitly, if not officially, supports race specific set-asides. Detroiters, though, shouldn’t expect to see a black business boon anytime soon. Everyone in the business class would fare better in an open process that accommodates qualified participants.
The stated purpose of the $6.5-million fund is to enhance minority-owned businesses in Detroit by giving them greater access to capital in the form of loans up to $150,000. Eligible businesses must be majority owned by people of color. Colored employees must also make up 50-percent of their workforce.
The implication is that banks and lending institutions reject a high percentage of financial requests based on race or ethnic origin bias. However, no one has actually provided conclusive proof that Detroit blacks are victimized by discriminatory lending practices. Some of the accusations fail to take into account such factors as an applicant’s credit, employment histories or debt burden.
The commitment of financial institutions to do business where it makes economic sense takes the air out of most bias claims. Market forces, after all, tend to work against discrimination. Making loans to credit worthy customers is a profitable activity, so it makes all the sense in the world that banks would be anxious to make such loans without regard to color or ethnicity.
Government outreach programs like the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) are designed to “encourage” banks to be more accountable to creditworthy poor, low-and-income minority communities. But the CRA has never required financial institutions to dramatically loosen loan standards and willy-nilly throw money at severely distressed communities of color. Nor should they.
That would guarantee many loans would go sour and lend support to the stereotype held by some bankers that lending to cities like Detroit is bad business – which may already be the case.
With the exodus of the white and black middle class went a good share of the city’s prosperity. When retail and manufacturing jobs followed, a general deterioration of the economy was inevitable.
Today, few black residents understand, apply or subscribe to the concepts of entrepreneurship. Too few have the vision, skill or tenacity to start companies from scratch and pursue dreams that spring from owning businesses.
Income for a growing number of functional nonworking city residents is disproportionately derived from government transfer payments — or the underground economy. So there is also the question of whether stable markets still exist in the city. But then, they won’t again without a major re-culturing.
Mayor Duggan apparently believes that if he can demonstrate the viability of a few loans to colored investors, it would ease the perception that white investors are the primary participants and beneficiaries of the expected turnaround. The failure of downtown redevelopment to deliver jobs for neighborhood residents compounds the dilemma and the decline.
Notably, the “coloreds only” program is outside the control of city officials. That’s because the federal courts have ruled that government can’t officially sanction race-base set-asides.
That means the mayor is merely catering to political pressure from the City Council, which wants him to be more aggressive about including black businesses in the recovery effort.
But consider this: Between 1974 and 2013, Detroit’s black leadership mistakenly believed that political power trumped economic empowerment as the avenue to black success. Squandered were opportunities that focused on building wealth among the predominant colored populous. Black businesses all but disappeared.
Today, there’s little evidence that the city is anywhere close to again creating flourishing stand-alone communities of opportunity. So the most optimistic result from the Entrepreneurs of Color fund is that handsome advantages may be in store for a few handpicked companies – and undeserved plaudits for the mayor.
Several Detroit communities are advocating for –and some have embarked on — a “recruit-a-squatter” campaign to slow down the rate of arson, blight and dangerous and demolished buildings.
At first glance, catering to squatters may appear to be an innovative way of saving homes from the wrecking ball while meeting the needs of the housing poor. But while giving the appearance of being reasonable, this populist movement has more to do with Band-Aid politics than with making a serious dent in the escalating rate of abandoned houses.
Some of his critics have accused Mayor Mike Duggan of ignoring neighborhoods. The mayor is also deflecting blame for failing to efficiently, effectively and expeditiously tear down thousands of abandoned and dilapidated buildings. To date, there’s no evidence city officials have come out publicly in support of this “neo-urban homesteading” idea — with good reason.
The City Council’s 1980’s Nuisance Abatement Ordinance – better known as the “squatters law,” was not only discredited, but also kicked to the curb years ago. A similar extension program, “Repair and Own,” allowed squatters to take title to a city-owned house after meeting specified requirements received former Mayor Coleman Young’s blessings. It too hit legal snags. Today, squatting is actually illegal.
There’s no dispute that neighoods are worse today than at anytime in the last half-century. Housing stock is disintegrating faster than the city can cope with it. Why? Because the incentives to abandon housing in Detroit remain much stronger than the incentives to own, occupy and improve housing.
Crime and poor city services aside, the current property tax system discourages home repairs. Improvements can trigger sharply higher tax assessments in a city where the property tax rate is among the highest in the nation. Notably, the rate of tax collections to taxes levied has been on a precipitous decline for at least four decades. Thus, the consequences of abandonment are an over-tax overburden and a quality of life that middle-class residents have found unacceptable. Most have moved on.
There’s also an issue of assigning liability for personal injury. Since the “homesteaders” are neither renters nor owners, insurance companies may not be willing to write liability insurance policies to cover them. So it seems illogical that threatening the property rights of some and handing over homestead rights to others will solve the causes of blight.
The city won’t save on money it spends demolishing vandalized and uninhabitable dilapidated structures if homesteaders, many of whom are poor, cannot afford the substantial cost of home improvements or bringing housing up to code standards. And city coffers won’t be enriched if indigent tenants cannot afford to pay taxes.
Needed is a mechanism that goes to the source of the crisis of decaying neighborhoods. It starts with finding ways to deal with underlying chronic housing problems, chiefly by making the city a more desirable place to live, work and invest.
Yet the strategies of city government, or lack thereof, continue to collide with the reason why households continue to flee. Detroit city officials, for example, are rhetorically rich in giving lip service to slashing the heavy tax burden that drives people, businesses and capital away from the city, which is key to restoring its economic vitality. They are also action deficient.
In race-baiting militant diatribes, “Black Lives Matter” organizers want America to believe that blacks are being victimized by an evil system of injustice. Their rhetoric is intended to ply blacks with mythical conspiracies about how communities of color are destined to suffer until the “system” is reformed or overthrown.
The movement, however, is a lie – a malicious fabrication that lacks moral authority or credibility.
Intoxicated with their hyped media messages, the new pro-black rebels view altercations with police as a litmus test of society’s compassion. However, the issues they generate takes a cruel turn when reason gives way to a contagious mob psychology that seeks to permeate the politics of the country.
Most of the outrage is directed at what occurs in the poorest black neighborhoods where a large segment of the population is plagued with a host of intractable problems. Today, for example, about 40-percent of blacks comprise a permanent underclass: increasingly poor, uneducated, unproductive and welfare dependent.
Black children are also three times more likely than whites to live in a mother-only family, or to live in poverty than white children. The black unemployment rate has consistently been more than twice that of whites.
These desperate conditions are troubling, for sure. But they are long removed from the influence and terror of “white racism.”
The schools black children attend typically experience severe financial hardships, shrinking student enrollment, high absenteeism, staggering dropout rates and low achievement. All are influenced by factors stemming from disinterested parents, not some diabolical racist plot.
Smoking, drug use and poor nutrition contribute to blacks being more likely than whites to die from 13 of the 15 major causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes and AIDS. Black infants are twice as likely to die prematurely as white infants. These life-and death issues are lifestyle and behavior-related — not race-specific.
The most striking mortality disparity between blacks and whites is the homicide death rate, with black men especially vulnerable to being killed by someone who looks like them than by a white cop. Those engaged in the violence are four times more likely to come from homes in which their parents are criminals. Functionally illiterate, uncommitted to self-betterment, desensitized and dangerous, these homegrown urban terrorists are prime candidates for prison, death or a life of crime and predictable confrontations with cops.
No white racist could concoct a more insidious method to systematically annihilate blacks. In fact, remove the last bigoted, killer cop from the face of the earth and nothing about the black murder rate would change.
For America to yield politically or intellectually to the purveyors of the myth of the oppressed black is to blindly define black problems through the prism of oppression and powerlessness. Adding insult to injury is the notion that residents of the “black community” need outside interpreters to decipher truth from a “racial con job.”
If America is so repulsive and vile, why aren’t the shores of this country swarming with blacks seeking every opportunity to escape its tyranny and oppression?
The answer is because the majority of blacks are not the victims of an oppressive police state, white supremacy or society’s neglect. Too many unfortunately, are victims of their own behavior.
Ironically, all this wolfing about oppression takes place in a country that elected a black president– not once, but twice. Worse, by siding with the protestors, Barack Obama has seized every opportunity to make sure race relations are worse today than at anytime in the last half-century.
In summary, not enough blacks educate their children. Not enough protect them from the terrors and temptations of the streets. Not enough provide the moral guidance for their young to become productive citizens.
So to have anything but disdain for the politics of dissent, manipulation and alienation ignores the reality of “black lives.”
That much of the Motor City’s self-sustaining entrepreneurial spirit has disappeared was again reinforced in a recent U.S. Census Bureau report. It revealed Detroit as the poorest city in America with populations of 300,000 or better– about 40 percent live below a poverty line of $24,008 for a family of four.
Mayor Mike Duggan feigned concern. A quote in the Detroit Free Press claimed his administration has been steadfastly focused on those issues that affect poverty rates. “This is why I ran for the job,” he said.
Forgive my cynicism, but the mayor is either incredibly naïve, doesn’t understand the nature of those trapped in the poverty cycle, or is simply disingenuous and misleading about his level of compassion. There’s ample reason to believe his concern for the poor isn’t as warm, fuzzy or genuine as he would have us believe.
Research shows the dependent poor and elderly make up a disproportionate share of the city’s demographics. About 60-percent of the city’s elderly live at or below the poverty level. Of that number, roughly 70-percent are moderate to severe poverty-stricken. But while troubling, this isn’t the largest pocket of despair.
Also found in Detroit is what social scientists call a “feminization of poverty” epidemic. There are many reasons women tend to be poorer than men. Welfare and single parenthood contribute to make them more vulnerable to impoverishment. In fact, nothing has done more to kill local initiative and stifle growth and prosperity than Detroit’s long history as a haven for single mothers and welfare recipients.
Welfare and related benefits for a mother and two children exceed what someone can earn working full-time at a minimum wage job. Recipients receive cash assistance, free medical, housing, child-care and income supplements that undermine the dignity and moral confidence of those mothers who make daily sacrifices to work and support their kids. An entire culture, indeed generations of recipients accept these benefits without stigma and without embarrassment.
There is little the mayor can do to successfully usher welfare moms into productive taxpaying jobs with a future. Able-bodied recipients generally refuse to participate in training or improvement programs. Since many are high school dropouts with limited education and work experience, they can’t qualify for the few new jobs being created. And because welfare is so attractive they choose unemployment.
If the pathologies of the poor souls wallowing in their sometimes self-inflicted misery are to be remedied, long-term behavior modification strategies will be needed. But based on Duggan’s history, he may be content to just give lip service to solutions that unlock a major assault on the problems of the chronically poor. His true feelings about Detroit’s destitute were exposed while CEO of the Detroit Medical Center (DMC).
Detroit Receiving Hospital had a reputation of being the “poor people’s hospital.” DRH was running up huge deficits, mainly from uncompensated care provided to the city’s poor residents who, by and large, came into the facility through the emergency room.
CEO Duggan contemplated changing the perception of the hospital, and improving DMC’s bottom line, by limiting or denying access to people who didn’t have health insurance, or couldn’t afford to pay for their health care. Emergency room patients would be stabilized and shipped off to other hospitals.
During the next election cycle, voters ought to ask Mayor Duggan — who opts to live in the proverbial Ivory Tower of the Manoogian Mansion — why CEO Duggan thought barring the doors of Detroit Receiving Hospital to keep poor people out was an acceptable demonstration of his compassion for the poor.
Detroit has been one of the nation’s fertile fields for arson fires for decades. The problem was brought into sharper focus in a recent report from Loveland Technologies: “Detroit: After the Fire,” which took a look at 1,653 fires that occurred from Jan. 1 to July 31. It found, among other things, that Detroiters are literally burning themselves out of house and home.
According to the Detroit News, the Loveland Technologies report revealed that fires uprooted more than 1,000 residents and will cost the city almost $3 million in demolition costs. And the examination only covered a partial year.
The News conducted a similar investigation earlier this year, which found the vast majority of the 9,000 homes charred by fires of suspicious origin from 2010-13 had not been razed. In essence, blight from arson proliferates at a faster clip than the city can demolish it. And since the 1960s, more homes burned to the ground than were built in any given year.
Since the 1980s, the city put a lot of effort into stemming “Devil’s Night” arsons, which occur on the eve of Halloween. But those efforts have gone up in smoke when matched against stats for the remainder of the year.
There are myriad reasons why Detroit is more prone than almost any other city in the intentional damaging or destruction by fire of its housing stock. And the seriousness of the problem is reflected in not just the causes but in the dire consequences.
Some suspicious fires hide crimes. Some result in murder. Others have a profit motive. Many occur in sections of the city were property values are in steep decline and foreclosures are rampant. There too are real estate investors who buy Detroit houses at low prices, collect rent until the parcel deteriorates beyond repair before deploying arsonists-for-hire.
Some properties are over-insured to the extent that the owner can get far more from an insurance settlement by intentionally torching rather than selling the parcel. Each time a fraudulent arson claim is paid, the cost of insurance goes up, not just for that policyholder, but also for every honest, hard-working policyholder. Coupled with the highest rate of abandonment, Detroit has some of the highest homeowners insurance rates in the country.
In addition to the thousands of unsecured shells of buildings left in its wake, the phenomenon produces a domino affect that accelerates neighborhood decline. Vandals, squatters and drug dealers move into some abandoned structures leading to more abandonment and more arson that requires millions of local, state and federal dollars to eradicate blight.
City officials respond to the alarming spectacle by stating they have a plan, if not the money, to contain the fires. Past and current city administrations have not seen fit to appropriate enough funds in any one year to sufficiently raze burned and abandoned structures, despite the plague effect they create. That only a small percentage of suspicious fires are investigated is an indication that the city doesn’t consider arson a high priority. So whether out of compulsion, malice, fun or profit, those who start fires pretty much have a free rein.
Those who run the city are blowing smoke, fighting fraudulent fires with flaming rhetoric and giving citizens a false sense of security. Beneath the smokescreen is governmental ignorance on how to minimize this pandemic.
There’s no evidence that the city hierarchy has a realistic strategy – or talent — for solving any of the city’s maladies. Arson is merely added to the growing list of unmanageable pathologies in which Detroit merges near or at the top of national trends — murder, carjacking, concentrated poverty, depopulation, failing schools and illiteracy.
That means no relief is in sight for this or other crime elements in the foreseeable future. The problem is simply beyond the containment abilities of the administration of Mayor Mike Duggan or the City Council.
Legislation to end Michigan’s 50-year old prevailing wage requirement on public construction projects is winging its way through Lansing. Opposition by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and organized labor notwithstanding, the demise of the long-standing wage manipulation could dramatically reduce the state’s construction costs and pave the way back to the free market.
The most significant, indeed, deleterious effect of Michigan’s 1965 prevailing wage law has been to cause a spike in the cost of public construction. It requires payment of union-scale wages on all state or school district projects. How much is determined by collective bargaining agreements that cover less than 20 percent of the state workforce. Taxpayers subsidize this small but elite class of workers.
Such laws have always been special interest legislation masquerading as sound public policy. But a more accurate description of the prevailing wage is that it is a benchmark for higher union wages, not unlike so-called “living wages” and minimum wages.
Unions unapologetically support and favor such mandates. And because they are insulated from competition, organized labor feels no pressure to ask its members to be more productive, or to ever negotiate a lower wage for the services they provide.
By contrast, market rates would represent a significant advantage for contractors and taxpayers alike. In the real world, competition forces businesses to keep prices down. The absence of competitive bidding on public projects is an inevitably gouge of the public purse.
For example, if state government didn’t have to yield to whatever rate unionized firms demand, contractors could hire young, non-unionized employees or new job market entrants at lower cost. They could pay workers according to the skills they bring to the job. Potentially, these firms could negotiate and secure more state contracts.
In stark economic terms, unions restrict the supply of labor so as to drive up wages. Thus, they are able to maintain a strong presence in government construction work even as competition has driven them from other private sectors in the economy. It makes no sense for any unit of government to assist agenda-specific groups in their desire to fix prices and stifle competition.
In the end, no benefit accrues to taxpayers from these inflated costs. It bears noting they are not borne by the construction firm, but tacked on to each new contract and passed along to the government and, by extension, the taxpayer.
In fact, wage mandates tend to interfere with efficient labor/management processes, including inordinate adherence to union work rules, additional compliance, administrative, adjudication and enforcement costs through litigation. Firms that are unburdened by wage restrictions can modify their business plans as necessary without having the unions sign off on business decisions.
Almost a dozen states have repealed their prevailing wage laws. Only a handful has laws as strict as Michigan’s. States where they have been repealed experienced significant savings in construction costs.
If Michigan lawmakers have concerns about attracting substandard operators and maintaining high quality levels should spell out those standards and hold contractors’ feet to the fire to meet them.
Mayor Duggan’s opposition to the law’s repeal must be seen as an extension of his ongoing efforts to curry favor with his union buddies at the expense of the public good. He’s buried his head from the reality that taxpayers, including Detroiters, are fed up – finally realizing that this wage chokehold is an economic disincentive to growth and development. The resounding rejection of Gov. Rick Snyder’s road tax sent a clear message they are in a cost-cutting mood.
Taxpayers need a new and better deal that’s more in line with the existing economy. It starts with repealing the outdated prevailing wage.
Mike Duggan, Detroit’s top politician, became a jet-setter to a foreign land this week — a business and trade trip to Japan. Not that there’s anything wrong with such trips, provided the agenda has some realistic prospect of benefiting the constituency the mayor serves. But history shows the benefits to Detroiters from these excursions are dubious, at best. The mayor’s time would be better spent addressing issues that require his immediate attention at home.
According to published reports, this will be the mayor’s first international jaunt. He is slated to travel to Tokyo and Toyota City, Detroit’s sister city, and give addresses about “Detroit’s economic recovery and emergence from bankruptcy.” Also on the itinerary is a “reception,” a meeting with a “parliamentary vice-minister for economic affairs” and a visit to the Toyota Motor Corp.
“Detroit has long played a significant role in international trade. There are currently approximately 40,000 people employed by Japanese industries in Michigan,” Duggan’s press released noted. “This trip will build on that history and lay the groundwork for the expansion of jobs for Detroiters.”
First of all, his speech about Detroit’s “recovery” will be short, if not premature.
Secondly, trade missions, designed to eye new investment opportunities, might be marginally helpful when opening more markets for Detroit. But it’s doubtful that the Japanese can give Mayor Duggan any useful advice on how to reduce long-term economic decline, stimulate a no-growth environment, ameliorate extreme poverty, or how to end internecine violence that continues to make Detroit less than hospitable or receptive to businesses.
This mayor, though, is not the first to take questionable trips overseas. Former Mayor Dennis Archer was also part of a similar delegation to Japan to help Detroit and Toyota city celebrate their 35th anniversary as sister cities. The stated purpose was to persuade Japanese automakers and suppliers to consider Detroit as a possible site in the future. However, the highlight of Archer’s trip was to take part in the opening of the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art. There’s little evidence that any economic benefit came from it.
Former Mayor Dave Bing made a celebrated and symbolic five-day excursion to Italy. The mission was pegged as a search for strategies to help deal with Detroit’s problems. Again, there is no visible or financial proof that expedition made Detroit a better place to live or to raise children.
In fact, under Archer and Bing, the business climate showed no improvement; neighborhood decline and depopulation worsened and bankruptcy became the rule of the day.
Duggan’s administration is also quick to say his trip is not at taxpayer expense. The mayor’s airfare tab is being picked up by Delta Air Lines. Other travel expenses are courtesy of The Japan America Society of Michigan and Southwestern Ontario.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the trip doesn’t meet the definition of a junket – typically described as “a trip taken by an official at public expense, or the guest of a business seeking favor or patronage.” In any event, a junket by any other name is still a junket.
The travels of Mayor Duggan appear to contain more political symbolism than substance. Answers to the myriad problems facing Detroit won’t be found on this trip or, for that matter, some distant shore. Removing the economic, social and political obstacles to trade and investment demands the attention of a stay-at-home mayor.
When appointed, Detroit Police Chief James Craig placed violence reduction at the top of his list of priorities. Since then, he has repeatedly said he can’t do it by himself –he needs help from the community. He’s right of course.
But does he mean the community must blow the whistle on the sons and daughters who are engaged in the lawlessness? Or must Detroiters take steps to interrupt the criminal breeding process by which they recklessly sow the seeds of their own destruction?
This much we know: When it comes to crime and violence, Detroit is in a class by itself. The city is second to none in young men murdering each other.
There’s also ample evidence that Detroit has waged a less than noble war against the dangerous dance of violence. Officials claim crime is on the decline, but obviously not enough to prevent Detroit from being America’s most dangerous city with populations of more than 100,000. So some skepticism is in order.
The police department, for example, uses data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR). The UCR is based on “reported” crimes submitted to centralized state agencies by local police departments. It does not cover all possible criminal events.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) compiles a more respected barometer of criminal activity. The NCVS measures crimes not reported to police as well as those that are reported. By some estimates, less than 40 percent of all crimes are reported to law enforcement agencies, including nearly half of all violent crimes.
There’s another reason to be suspect of figures released by the department. Taking into account Detroit’s precipitous population decline, crime rates may actually be on the rise.
Probably the best measure of the lack of progress in the fight against crime is the attitudes of the Detroiters themselves. Public opinion polls rate crime as the No. 1 problem. This suggests residents aren’t convinced the city is safer.
A case can also be made that the pervasive crime wave that continues to erupt and surge throughout Detroit is less about the shortcomings of the police department than about a collapse of the social structures that once made communities safe and livable. Now impotent, the basic institutions that traditionally provided the morals and values for young people — –family, churches and schools — have been depleted.
Stable neighborhoods rely on parents to set the first example for good behavior, honesty and character. Given the enormity of Detroit’s “absent father, single mother syndrome,” it is not surprising there is so much violence. Many families are too dysfunctional and vulnerable to be a positive influence on their children.
The church community is disengaged from the predators. Schools are barely able to teach the ABCs. Proof of the bankrupt strategy of politicians is the high number of uneducated and aimless young black men who end up on a collision course with the same cops hired to protect crime-ridden streets. So-called community leaders seek a government solution.
Arresting this moral deterioration will be a formidable task. Flooding neighborhoods with more cops would be futile. Community policing will prove to be a lot of expensive social work, insufficient to cope with the hellish carnage occurring outside the view or reach of beat cops.
There’s little that cops in particular, and the justice system at-large, can do. The responsibility of government is basically limited to the punishment end of the dilemma. The problem is at the front-end.
Unless and until a way is found to interrupt the process in which homegrown criminals are perversely bred to prey on their neighbors, there will be no renewals in morality or respect for life. The chaos will continue to tear at the soul of the city and guarantee that Detroit’s defining legacy will never again resemble neighborhood peace.
Less than a week after a 21-year-old white avowed racist massacred nine people at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley called for the removal of the Confederate battle flag that flies on the grounds of the state Capitol.
Life in America will not change if the flag comes down. But it’s time for the South to bury the Confederacy and remove this offensive symbol that revives unpleasant memories and resentments from a regrettable past.
The wanton, senseless killing of those church members was a despicable, barbaric and unforgiveable act. Adding insult to injury, because South Carolina state law expressly prohibits lowering of the rebel flag, it defiantly flew on the capital dome even after the American flag was lowered to half-staff in memory of the slain church members.
Gov. Haley’s appeal to the Legislature is one of many attempts over the years to remove one of the enduring visible symbols of racial oppression. It follows demands by protestors, which grew louder after the discovery of shooter Dylann Roof’s manifesto glorifying white supremacy and included photos of Roof posing with the Confederate flag.
But America should keep this issue in perspective.
Although all the attention is on South Carolina, we should be remindful that Confederate symbolism still adorns many official state flags in the South in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Some states, like Georgia and Mississippi, have seen fierce political battles over explicit Confederate imagery.
Georgia, for one, incorporated the rebel design in 1956 in protest of the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education ruling which rendered segregation unconstitutional. It was raised over the Alabama Capital in 1961 to coincide with the Civil War Centenary.
Some years ago, a controversy developed on the campus of the University of Tennessee (aka, the Volunteers) over the use of the rebel flag during ceremonies and sports events.
Supporters of the flag say it represents pride in Southern identity, a symbol of Southern heritage. But those who want it removed maintain it is a symbol of slavery and black oppression; that racism and subjugation are forever entwined in that heritage and history.
Others contend we shouldn’t allow repulsive language or reprehensible displays to define who we are, or to have hyper-emotional reactions even when they are shoved in our face.
Arguably, bringing down the Confederate flag is, at best, a diversion. It neither restores the lives of the unfortunate victims nor moderates the beliefs of racists or bigots. Its removal would be in itself another symbolic gesture with no major consequence.
Displaying the Confederate flag at a private residence, on a tee shirt, a hat or on a bumper sticker is, of course, a form of free speech protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. As such, the embrace of this liberty means there will be times when we have to do a gut check and endure utterances and the display of symbols we find degrading and offensive.
That said, it is past the time that America should be subjected to and be reminded this is the flag slaveholders carried into the battle during the Civil War. The image of the star-spangled St. Andrews cross on a red field is a distasteful reminder of a repulsive time most of us would just as soon forget. It has historical significance, but nothing more. Its likeness does not belong on government buildings.
The South will not rise again – the Civil War is history. The South Carolina Legislature should move quickly to bring down a symbol that least represents the sentiments of the majority of Americans.
Suburban and rural lawmakers are already distancing themselves from Mayor Mike Duggan’s “D-Insurance” legislation, designed to reduce auto insurance costs in Detroit — with good reason. The bill’s passage would give Detroit drivers a major rate break. But if millions of other Michigan motorists have their benefits reduced, or pay higher premiums, it boils down to an unreasonable spreading of Detroit’s implicit crime tax.
Pinnacle Actuarial Resources, author of a report commissioned by the city, found nothing drives the rates more than Michigan’s no-fault law requiring unlimited personal injury protection coverage. Upon legislative approval, caps would be placed on such claims, saving Detroit residents wads of money through reduced premium costs.
But claims filed by Detroit residents are not just more expensive, but twice the rate filed by suburbanites. Would ratepayers across the state be forced to subsidize any cost savings to Detroiters?
Mayor Duggan’s motives aren’t in question. The intent of the Duggan-backed bill is to end the protracted tug-of-war between Detroit drivers and insurers over premium levels. It is in the mayor’s political interest to reduce the number of drivers who illegally drive without collision or theft insurance, or purchase only the required minimum liability coverage. By some estimates, about half of the drivers of the more than 300,000 registered vehicles in the city, do so without insurance. Why? In some cases, they can’t afford it. Some drivers just don’t care.
The mayor is also aware that a contributor to the depopulation of the city is high auto insurance costs. Conversely, if this bill passes, prospective residents would not see a doubling of their rates upon relocating to Detroit. However, it’s not clear whether Mayor Duggan understands that insurance rates can’t be reduced without reductions in the cost of providing it.
Insurance is based on the notion of shared risk. But insurance premiums must also reflect differences in the level of risk. Detroit ratepayers bear the brunt of higher premiums versus other parts of the state because that’s where the greatest risk is. To offset the cost of risk in Detroit, insurers spread these costs across the entire state.
The rate of increase in auto thefts in Detroit, for example, which historically records a disproportionate share of missing and unretrievable autos, may be double the state average. Some of these incidents include people who have uninsured accidents, or fall behind in their car payments and conveniently and fraudulently arrange for the car to be stolen.
New, “sophisticated” cars that won’t start without a key may account for epidemic levels of carjackings — thieves approaching motorists on ramps, and gasoline stations, driveways, parking lots or at stoplights, forcing them out of their vehicles and then driving off. Last year, Detroit was the carjacking capital of America.
Regardless of who does the stealing, the odds are much greater that an auto in Detroit will be stolen. That’s how insurance rates are calculated–by the odds.
There are also a growing number of reported cases of people who conveniently arrange car accidents in which they claim to receive injuries that entitle them to a lifetime of medical and other benefits. Too many Detroiters have learned how to “work the system” and “get paid.”
None of this is new. Pro-Detroit advocates have vainly waged similar “blame the insurer” crusades for decades. Critics of state insurers would have us believe they could reduce auto insurance rates in the city without affecting benefits or the profits of insurance companies. Reformers have unsuccessfully pushed for uniform rates to end premium disparities, which are sometimes three times as much for Detroit drivers as suburban motorists. Unfortunately, Mayor Duggan’s proposed bill makes no more sense than some of the other “free lunch” insurance proposals that ultimately crashed and burned in Lansing over the years.
No one disputes that Detroit has high auto insurance premiums. But the fix must come from within the city, not Lansing. Auto thefts, carjackings and fraudulent claims are serious and debilitating crime problems that drive the rates. Contain them and the premium disparity disappears.
City officials in Ferguson, MO hoped for the best. But they failed to adequately prepare for the worse. So the damage from the civil unrest that followed will be long-term, if not irreparable.
The siege was riddled with strategic miscalculations from the state hierarchy to the street command level. The deterrence of riots, not crowd control, should have been the primary objective of the Ferguson mayor and law enforcement. The governor’s state of emergency declaration and mobilization of the state police did not include deployment of the national guard until after enraged protesters set fire to buildings and cars and looted businesses. After all, there were glaring precursors that a grand jury might decide that no criminal charges would be brought against white police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen.
However, a slow response to the riot’s flashpoint was the least of Ferguson’s failures.
Between the time Officer Wilson fired the fatal shot – and the decision reached by the grand jury -– black and white city leaders demonstrated an utter lack of courage by not engaging in an honest and open discussion about why inordinate numbers of black men end up on a collision course with cops. A good place to start would have been the acknowledgement that blacks commit a disproportionate share of the nation’s crime.
No less important is that over the past fifty years the proliferation of high-crime inner-city neighborhoods parallels the rise in families abandoned by fathers, which is more than three times higher among blacks than whites.
Boys and girls from broken families tend to live in fractured communities where poverty thrives. Jobless, uneducated and often unloved, they wander aimlessly through adolescence toward an uncertain future. Detachment from their community is the predictable consequence. When family, institutions, schools and churches are not able or willing to teach them values, it should not be surprising to see this breakdown reflected in an increase of aggressive behavior.
But their participation in the crime culture is not a function of their race as much as the absence of marriage. Race tends to surface because of the wide differences in marriage rates among racial/ethnic groups. Detroit, for example, has a largely poor, crime-prone, overwhelmingly black population and chaotic economic and social conditions. The race connection is that in Detroit up to 80 percent of all babies are born to a single mother who may never marry.
Among broken families, the crime rate is very high. Among two-parent households, the crime rate is substantially lower. And there is compelling evidence that wherever there is a predominance of single mothers and absent fathers -whether white or black – you find children from these relationships contributing to crime statistics and clashing with police.
Black political and community leaders find comfort in deflecting blame on – and claiming that our young are victims of an “oppressive system.” It is as if we are incapable of raising our children to fit into the American mainstream without some benevolent, liberating act by sympathetic whites or government intervention. It’s a sad commentary. But then, the course they have chosen is a lot easier than addressing the root cause of the social disease festering within.
Hundreds of black youth have been shot and/or killed in Detroit and Chicago since the unfortunate death of Michael Brown. Neither mass protests, looting, burning, widespread indignation nor dialogue about how to eradicate black-on-black violence accompanied these deaths. Reticent black leaders are only jolted out of their complacency when a white cop snuffs out the life of a black kid.
For our own survival, the conversation must turn to what is the best way to put a safe, respectable distance between all cops and black males. It must begin with a moral revival that has as its cornerstone the restoration of the family. Otherwise, “no justice, no peace” will become a faint echo resonating from our demise.
Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon is quietly plotting to award a no-bid contract to manage the problem-prone Jail Commissary to Canteen Correctional Services and Continental Distributors. The same company is vying for renewal of a controversial contract that provides meals to adult and juvenile inmates at the county’s jail facilities.
The latter may be subject to a federal probe. Both seem to be in conflict with the public understanding of open, efficient government.
Canteen/Continental has submitted an “unsolicited bid” to manage the Jail Commissary Fund, which sells inmates such items as shampoo, deodorant, t-shirts and snacks. The commissary also receives revenue from charging inmates to use pay phones. Total revenue generated exceeds more than $1.4 million annually. The fund is designed to be self-sustaining.
However, a recent county audit found the commissary is rife with the excesses or shortcomings of management. Among them: A less than arms length relationship between select commissary board members who make policy decisions both at the county level and as members of the commissary board. This, according to the audit, is “problematic and created the appearance that independency could be affected.”
The audit also found procedures that could lead to “misappropriation” of inventory. Sheriff employees are allowed to purchase commissary items, but no procedures are in place to account for staff cash transfers. This, said the report, makes the transactions highly “susceptible to theft.” It also noted that the sheriff also did not follow the procurement ordinance; made suspect credit card purchases and diverted money from the fund to the operation of the jail.
There too was questionable hiring of support staff that had no designated responsibilities, along with the absence of timekeeping records for employees. Commissary employees were also provided fewer benefits and wages than other employees of the county.
What leaps out as curious about this flurry of activity surrounding Canteen/Continental’s “no-bid” proposal is why Sheriff Napoleon is entertaining an unsolicited offer amid the commissary turmoil — and the food service contract in which the same company already plays a major role?
There’s nothing unique about Canteen/Continental that would qualify the company as a “sole source” provider. So why would the scandal-prone department shirk from soliciting competitive bids and risk being viewed as operating under a veil of deception?
It is well understood that the purpose of competitive bidding is to provide a level of assurance that the county is receiving the most competitive price for goods and services. “No bid” contracts open the door for over-pricing to occur. They can also erode trust in government.
The credo of Sheriff Napoleon seems to be that keeping the public in the dark is a virtue – public accountability is not. The sheriff’s budget is bloated with too many employees. His department abuses gas credit cards, fails to contain jail overtime costs or provide sufficient oversight to the above referenced $26-million food service contract that he’s again attempting to steer to cronies who made substantial contributions to his campaigns and pet projects.
Napoleon apparently believes he is above the law when it comes to using county resources for political campaign purposes. He’s blatantly cast himself as a crime fighter, anti-drug crusader, Internet predator detector, etc. Yet court decisions have confirmed that his official mandate is limited to jail operations.
Does he think that playing a shell game with the public purse is more important than responsibly carrying out his narrow mandate? Why haven’t any Napoleon administration cohorts detected the malodorous stench surrounding his brazen attempt to subvert the competitive bid process?
Sheriff Napoleon’s preoccupation with operating on the blind side of the procurement process is now legendary. His obsession gives reasonable people cause to think Napoleon’s judgment needs second-guessing. He’s yet to wake up to the fact that in a democracy, government is the people’s business. The public deserves more candor and openness from this elected official.
When Mike Duggan was a candidate for Detroit mayor he lambasted Gov. Rick Snyder for appointing Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and decried the need for the bankruptcy proceedings that followed. He pledged he had no higher priority than giving Orr the boot and restoring the duties of the mayor and City Council to the duly elected representatives of the city.
We now know that was mere political posturing. Today, Mayor Duggan seems to be wedded to the governor. Orr is a “best bud” that he would prefer to keep around in some capacity. And local power and control has now become complete mayoral control as evidenced in the battle shaping up between Duggan and the duly elected Board of Police of Commissioners.
The Police Commission was created in 1974 by City Charter and approved by voters. In an era when cops were considered a brutal “occupying force,” the Charter vested broad supervisory authority and oversight over the Police Department. The five-member civilian Board, appointed by the mayor, was charged with review, evaluation and establishment of all Department policies, the budget, promotions, discipline, citizen complaints, etc.
Because the mayor appointed the commissioners, however, the Board tended to yield to his wishes. Past panels were primarily defined by their lack of decisiveness and unwillingness to address rank and file excesses and shortcomings among the police hierarchy.
Some tinkering around the edges was necessary to improve Police Department accountability. The 2012 City Charter amendment process mandated a Board comprised of 11 members – seven elected and four appointed by the mayor. The thinking was that this arrangement would give the commission more autonomy to act in the best interest of the people.
The imposition of the emergency manager introduced a completely alien dynamic to the process. Orr effectively cut the legs off the mayor, council and by extension, the police commission. The commission was prohibited from conducting a search to identify candidates; then-Mayor Dave Bing was not allowed to appoint a chief from a list of qualified applicants that was to be submitted by the Board of Police Commissioners. Through executive order, Orr forced Police Chief James Craig onto the department.
Orr subsequently restored much of the power and authority of the mayor and council, reintroducing a limited self-governance. However, the duly elected Board of Police Commissioners was excluded from the jubilation that followed. The executive order that gave Chief Craig extraordinary and unprecedented authority to override the police commission’s Charter mandated responsibilities remains in place – apparently with Duggan’s blessing.
Chief Craig would not have been the first choice of the commission. And I have reason to believe he would not have been Duggan’s selection had the mayor been given a choice. Yet I’m told that the Duggan administration plans to place on the next citywide ballot a charter amendment that would render the commission impotent. Seems no police chief worth his or her salt would accept a job in Detroit if required to answer to a commission with such extraordinary powers.
The most recent Charter amendments were designed to ensure the commission would be an independent check on the mayor and the department. Under Orr’s executive order, there is no check on the mayor, or the police chief that reports to him. This arrangement seems to ignore the Department of Justice’s recent dismissal of a court-appointed federal monitor who had been in place since 2003. The DOJ action was a result of a long list of allegations that the rights of Detroit citizens, suspects and witnesses were violated over many years. Is civilian oversight no longer required?
Is Mayor Duggan being forthright or deceptive? Does he truly believe in the democratic process? Does this lofty ideal only have meaning during an election cycle — in the silly season of politics? Detroiters deserve to know.
In the meantime, like the mayor and the council, the Police Commission should be unchained.
Interested parties are advocating, rumors are circulating and pressure is building to give control of the Detroit Public Schools to Mayor Mike Duggan after the tenure of the DPS emergency manager runs its course.
One thing is clear as the process unfolds. Neither the history of governance changes at DPS, nor the city’s financial management skills, provides reason to believe this would be a good idea. With everything that remains unfixed at DPS– and possibly never to be fixed in the city — it’s difficult to make the case for placing education under Duggan’s control.
Let’s be real: We’ve seen nothing but city miscues and DPS failures over the half-century. Past elected school boards were more interested in self-perpetuation than student excellence. Their actions – or lack thereof –made DPS ripe for receivership.
The first bite out of the apple came from Mayor Dennis Archer and the governor who replaced the elected school board and appointed a “reform board.” Ken Burnley was named superintendent followed by a string of emergency manager “disasters” including Robert Bobb. By the time Roy Roberts made it onto the scene, the district was pretty much shot. Jack Martin is essentially the pallbearer.
The state takeover was supposed to be a compassionate solution to historic problems. DPS EMs were charged with conducting a thorough review of the administrative and financial operations of the school system and rescue students from a life of despair. Bad enough that some of them – Burnley and Bobb –raped the district of its scant resources. But not one was able to draft program models capable of steering DPS successfully into the 21st century.
To the point, they lacked the talent to navigate a virtual minefield of obstacles that stood between children and the education they need. The district took on heavy casualties. Parents justifiably saw abandonment as the most viable option when all else failed.
The thinking is that Duggan can marshal the resources of the city independent of state control. Businesses, civic organizations, the religious community, parents and parental groups, community-based organizations, labor and the educational community would rally to his side in an unprecedented way.
Theoretically, these stakeholders would understand the gravity of the prevailing crisis and the need to make children the central focus of policy decisions. Somehow, they would recognize that the mediocre education delivered by the system serves as a ball and chain around the neck of children in an environment where they are expected to be proficient in the high-tech information oriented society of today and tomorrow.
Under Mike Duggan, DPS would magically be immune to the forces that usher in fiscal problems. The educational neglect of children would cease to be viewed with indifference.
Of course, this is a fallacy. There’s no reason to believe any of this would become reality in the foreseeable future. Giving the mayor Carte blanche authority to reform DPS is an idea whose time has not come. Here’s why.
First, there should be some sign that the mayor knows how to make the dysfunctional system of buses run on time before making him responsible for a dysfunctional school system. Secondly, the mayor has yet to demonstrate he can make school zones safe for students – or residents for that matter.
The delivery of effective and timely essential services is still a work in progress. There are more blackouts than lighted streets in morbidly distressed neighborhoods.
Without a few successes, how can citizens feel comfortable about entrusting the mayor to come up with a realistic plan under which students believe they have a future?
And then there’s this. The last time Duggan was given a major role with DPS, he was placed in charge of spending the loose change from a $1.5 billion voter-approved capital bond program. Rather than making a serious attempt to address the dilapidated and dangerous physical condition of schools that hindered teacher and student performance, he used the opportunity to further his political ambitions.
In 2010, Wayne County privatized prisoner meals and awarded Canteen Correctional Services and Continental Distributors a five-year, $26 million contract to provide three-a-days to the adult and juvenile inmates at the county’s jail facilities.
A couple of years into the contract, the county’s Management and Budget Office received word that invoices from Continental/Canteen Correctional Services contained “irregularities.” Last year, federal authorities were handed a package of information alleging the possibly of millions in overcharges.
Next to the botched jail construction project, this contract may be one of the most mismanaged in the recent history of Wayne County – and that says a lot. The real scandal, however, is how Sheriff Benny Napoleon seems to tolerate a climate of administrative peccadillos that run the ethics gamut.
Privatization was intended to save money. But as WXYZ TV’s Heather Catallo reported, food service billings did not take into account a 2.8-cent per meal reduction that was to start in the second year of the contract. That modification was not “detected”by the department — or implemented by the vendor– until news leaked out of a possible federal investigation. Continental ultimately credited the county for $237,000. A subsequent audit found among 13 areas of concern that the sheriff missed out on a $2.5 million dollar grant from the state to pay for food in the Juvenile Detention Facility.
Sheriff Department administrators claimed that if the county paid for more food than necessary it was due to greater than expected complexities with food delivery. But was padding-the-count actually a way of circumventing the competitive bid process? Were the cost overruns poor oversight, or permitted with a wink and a nod?
In this volatile climate of county scandals and federal investigations, Napoleon ought to be anxious to show that neither he nor people under his command are playing fast and loose with taxpayer dollars. But that doesn’t appear to be the case as the department is rushing to rebid the food contract.
The current contract doesn’t technically expire until March 2015. Why the rush? It is to get ahead of the new county executive who takes office in January, and who may have issues with Napoleon’s record of contract oversight and vendor compliance? New bid requirements also appear to give Canteen/Continental preferential treatment, or at least the advantage. And prospective vendors are given less time to prep questions and prepare a proposal than the first time bid requests went out.
There are other allegations that cast doubt on the sheriff’s ability to judiciously manage his department. Federal authorities may also be looking into whether Napoleon improperly dispersed $5 million to four companies that provided inmate tethering and tracking services. The third-ranked supplier, Michigan Tether, received most of the money, even after the county’s purchasing director ordered the sheriff to divvy the amount between other vendors.
According to published reports, Michigan Tether, which also has a $3.7 million county dental contract, donated $40,000 to Napoleon campaigns. A social network for union employees owned by a Michigan Tether “principal” hired the wife of Napoleon’s chief of staff.
By charter, the sheriff’s mandated duties are restricted to operation of the jail. But Napoleon’s complaints about not having enough money to keep prisoners locked away may be complicated by his 41 appointees — 16 of whom are paid at least $100,000 annually.
An audit of the department’s 232 vehicles questioned charges to the department’s gas cards, including more than $265,000 for non-fuel purchases for which the sheriff couldn’t present receipts –as well as the necessity of 76 take-home vehicles assigned to employees with primarily administrative duties.
Napoleon’s vehicle and gas use may have violated state law. He admitted during an interview with WXYZ TV’s Ross Jones that he used county vehicles during his unsuccessful campaign for Detroit mayor. The sheriff may have to reimburse the county more than $10 thousand dollars.
The Sheriff’s Department is turning into an unsightly quagmire unable to command broad respect. Napoleon, though, seems to be laughing instead of acting to curtail this erosion of credibility and conscience.
A community forum, Strengthening the Health of Detroit’s Mothers and Children, is taking shape to examine the causes of high rates of infant mortality. Let’s hope the results will be more than illuminating. No health issue is more misunderstood, misinterpreted and without imminent solution.
Despite major advances in medical technology, infant mortality threatens to unravel the very fabric of life in urban America. This medical malady, after all, leaves its most discernible mark among the black population.
For years, public health officials have grappled with its staggering consequences, the origins of which are many and deeply rooted. Debates about where to attach responsibility range from a lack of improper prenatal care, to poor nutrition and whether teens having babies is a cause or consequence of poverty. The magnitude of the problem, however, rejects any one narrow diagnosis.
Economics may play a role in the difference between black and white infant mortality rates, but probably not to the extent social scientists would have us believe. After all, studies show that even among college educated, middle-class mothers, black infants have nearly twice the mortality rates of comparable white infants.
One indisputable contributor is that babies born to teenage mothers are most at risk. More than half of black babies today are born to a single mother who is socially, economically and psychologically ill equipped for motherhood. These mothers are apt to develop serious, nutritionally related medical problems because they are poorly prepared for understanding the biology of reproduction.
Also contributing to a complicated continuum of trends is the underutilization of existing prenatal services. Health providers often have no way of reaching thousands of young mothers who may never see a doctor before delivery. The result is often low birth weight babies that are born with long-term and often fatal disabilities that result from their fragile condition.
This tragic dilemma may be immune to socially engineered, government-financed remedies when we consider the devastating consequences of crack and heroin on black families and communities.
Drug-addicted babies, exposed to drugs while in the womb, made their way onto the social agenda in the 1980s. Studies show babies born to heroin and cocaine users are four times more likely to be born premature. Many require extensive, intensive care. Low birth weight infants are 20 times more likely to die the first year of life than babies born at normal weights. Those that survive the neonatal period face a future of uncertainties and lifelong disabilities such as autism, retardation, cerebral palsy, vision and hearing impairments, and learning disabilities. Typically irritable and extremely difficult to nurture, they need special medical care, as developmental problems may not surface until age two or three.
The surge in drug use, smoking and alcohol use among the young will only add to this already depressing morbidity and mortality forecast. Personal values, sexual practices, cultural attitudes, low self-esteem and indifference are intricately woven into the complexities of infant deaths.
More distressing than the plight of these children is that this well-documented problem still lacks, a well-defined solution. Infusions of taxpayer dollars and creative state and local health programs have done little to take Detroit out of the running for the national leader in infant mortality and morbidity.
Our failure to save defenseless babies from preventable death and sickness is a manifestation of our inability to come to terms with a more ominous cultural disease. The force pushing easy solutions beyond our reach is the social breakdown that occurred in the city. Reversing that trend requires long-term behavior modification. Detroit’s unborn and newborn don’t have that much time.
Before bad policy decisions permeated Detroit City Hall and disrupted long-established patterns of economic vitality and community organization, the city was largely defined, and given much of its character, by its great neighborhoods.
Population loss destroyed political influence, affected taxes and spending and business investment. Neighborhood decline spread as blight caused residents, then businesses to flee. Today, neighborhoods bear witness to signs of a vulnerability that in the city’s heyday was unimaginable. The fabric of Detroit’s existence now hangs by a thread.
Detroiters with means pay dearly for city services that shriveled in proportion to the population. They pay for a public school system that can’t find a formula that assures delivery of quality, cost effective education. They pay financially and psychologically for a persistent crime problem propelled by predatory street criminals. Simply put, most Detroit neighborhoods have a quality of life that most middle-income families find unacceptable.
The city has been acquiring tax-foreclosed or vacant property at accelerated rates since the 1960s. In the ensuing years, it has become the biggest landowner in America. Besides amassing property, the city wants to act as broker of its various real estate holdings. But based on the unenviable history of past administrations, it’s difficult to fathom why the city council believes it should still be trying to manage what amounts to worthless property.
A case in point is the council’s recent approval to assign some 10,000 vacant parcels to the Detroit Land Bank. The move is intended to get these lots back in the hands of residents for a paltry sum of $100 and on the tax rolls. A secondary intent might be to keep large tracts of parcels out of the hands of speculators who theoretically might hold-up redevelopment projects with exorbitant price demands sometime in the distant future.
The action, however, can hardly be considered a serious effort to rebuild the shrinking base of homeowners. Land banking isn’t the answer. It is merely a control mechanism that allows the city to operate as a master planner. It hasn’t worked.
No amount of land bank holdings will allow the city to compete with the suburbs in attracting developers who need large parcels for major industrial or residential projects. The city has always been willing to make properties available to developers who submit “reasonable” plans. But few “desirable” plans ever surfaced. The city is left with a bunch of parcels that are of no use to anyone.
Taming the population hemorrhage requires a significant improvement in the life prospects of residents and their children who struggle to exist in a rapidly deteriorating environment. The city desperately needs streets that are filled with homeowners with a stake in where they live, as opposed to renters. But high taxes make it very unattractive to own or sell homes in the city. An across-the-board property tax reduction would reduce the cost of homeownership, raise property values and be a catalyst for bolstering a stagnant real estate market.
Before any community can become vibrant again, a sense of community must be restored. Communities of opportunity must be created.
Since those most likely to set up residence in downtown Detroit tend to be younger than those opting to leave, neighborhood revitalization hinges on vastly improved amenities for blue-collar and educated professional families with children. Vacant lots don’t interest them. Middle-income or market rate housing might get their attention if safety and education concerns are addressed.
If city officials are serious about attracting new, middle-and-working class residents, they should first get out of the real estate business.There are benefits in letting licensed real estate brokers sell city held property on the open market –if a market exists.
Of course, if city officials don’t think the “hardest hit” areas can be made attractive under any circumstances in the foreseeable future, it’s perfectly okay to continue making meaningless gestures under the guise of neighborhood restoration.
News that the city of Detroit intends to apply for one of the Obama administration’s new “Promise Zones” has expectations running high. Wishful thinkers are chomping at the bit to see how they might take advantage of the president’s proposed urban revitalization package of technical support and preferred treatment in the awarding of new federal grants.
Mr. Obama should be commended for offering to help distressed cities focus on those things that bring out the best in neighborhoods. His proposed Promise Zones are intended to be a catalyst for launching profitable opportunities in neighborhoods that have been all but written off. Conceivably, they fill a niche by unleashing pent-up talents and potential of people.
As a practical matter, the concept is an illusion; a whimsical attempt by the federal government to do for economically bankrupt cities what they can’t – or won’t do — for themselves.
Conceptually, these zones, like other revitalization efforts, are supposed to liberate the entrepreneurial spirit. But they are neither new nor successful.
Under the 1960s Model Cities program, for example, untold federal grants and regulatory directives were doled out. The same is true for the now defunct Urban Development Action Grant programs, meant to stimulate private development projects.
President George H. W. Bush made Enterprise Zones a key part of his urban agenda. President Bill Clinton funded Empowerment Zones. In 1996, then-Gov. John Engler introduced tax-free areas called Renaissance Zones to Michigan. In various ways, Detroit was the beneficiary of all of them, albeit without any obvious long-term benefit.
What resulted from the billions poured into Detroit were a few isolated monuments and a lot of payments to the politically connected. So while the goal of helping communities create jobs and jump start businesses is laudable, the city’s landscape remains littered with the corpses of failed redevelopment initiatives.
These kinds of zones might work in an area that merely needed a boost in developing a strong, local business community. New small businesses, after all, are the most innovative and responsive in creating new jobs. Some sort of zone designation might be a useful tool if accompanied by seed capital. Risk capital would improve cash flow, give employers more freedom to expand and employ marginal workers.
Detroit doesn’t meet those criteria. The city, after all, has an acute case of high unemployment and housing abandonment blues that can only be addressed through an organic pro-business master plan that untangles the web of bureaucracy and overregulation. The few entrepreneurs that try to make a start in Detroit these days routinely complain that planning, environmental, and building and safety procedures are a nightmarish obstacle course. Additionally, federal zones only hold out the hope of a significant stimulus if paired with comprehensive efforts to deal effectively with rising crime and education decline.
That’s why it’s difficult to understand the excitement over “zones” amidst so little recognition that the city lacks the resolve to provide a wholesome business environment on its own. They too are an expensive way to achieve very uncertain benefits for a limited number of people. The fact that Detroit even wants to compete for one of them suggests the city is doing something wrong.
Mayor Mike Duggan and the City Council must come to terms with the reality that federal government intervention is not by itself a means to an end. Detroit has the power to dispense powerful incentives to encourage risk-takers to put their energy, ideas and venture capital to work. It lacks the will.
More than a fantasy, the most dangerous aspect of Obama’s Promise Zone aid is that it encourages politicians to remain wedded to government-created dependency. That means as long as Washington keeps churning out urban programs that subsidize failure, Detroit will never see the light – or the necessity to move past the graffiti to the Promise Land.
Detroiters are daily witnesses to the worst results from drugs and violence — and not just because — as the Detroit News recently reported – police ranks have shrunk and the narcotics unit disbanded.
I can’t get inside the head of Detroit Police Chief James Craig. I’m not qualified to flyspeck his crime-fighting strategy. But I’m certain that he sees all the social ills that accompany drug use. And if the chief has determined that too many resources were directed to a drug war that can’t be won by conventional means, it makes sense to stop chasing street dealers, cut back on drug house raids and deploy resources to combat more manageable crime.
More importantly, the failure of the “war on drugs” should cause all Detroiters to give serious thought to removing criminal penalties from those that tear at the core of the city.
Drugs began a death march, killing and destroying family relationships and neighborhoods decades ago.
Thirty years ago, for example, there was a consensus that comprehensive, community-based and collaborative prevention measures held the most promise for forestalling a child’s early initiation into drug usage. The thinking then was that the tug-o-war with children’s minds needed to start early if the ghetto’s gluttonous appetite for getting high was to be checked. But hitting kids hard and often with anti-drug messages failed to turn them against drugs before they were exposed to the pusher.
That’s because the lessons taught on street corners are compelling and seductive. Drug dealers are often the heroes, role models and symbols of success to children who see few other options.
There too was a recognition that the first responsibility for controlling this problem belonged to parents. Schools also needed to reinforce principles of personal responsibility. Today, a combination of drugs and parental apathy now weakens the vitality and mission of schools. Cohesive families are vanishing and drug-free children and academic excellence are a rare combination.
Crime prevention historically meant getting a handle on drug trafficking through interdiction and massive crackdowns. We bought into that too. The less-than-encouraging war on drugs is evidence that cops chasing down dealers isn’t a cure-all for drug-infested communities.
Neighborhoods are more violent; crime more ruthless. Drug dealing, drug abusing and drug-oriented gangs have laid siege upon a defenseless people. The best efforts to sweep the city’s streets of drug dealers are laughable. Even when police rack-up record numbers of drug arrests, offenders quickly make their way back to the street due to a lack of jail space.
Our dissent to this lamentable state was not achieved by setting program objectives too high or too low, or through cutting the police budget, bad administration or lack of compassion. It is the result of trying to deal with the consequences instead of trying to get to the root of the problem. It’s clear by now that the roots are entrenched in the supply and demand side of the equation.
Thousands of Detroiters, recreational and hardcore users, have a voracious appetite for, or addiction to drugs. Suburbanites are willing to risk their lives by venturing into the bowels of the city to purchase contraband.
High demand means there are mega-profits in the “game.” Mega-profits means there is no shortage of people willing to meet the demand and give customers what they want, even at the risk of prison or death.
Addicts will cross any boundary to obtain the next fix. Pushers have a low tolerance for those who invade their turf. Drug deals often go bad, ending in death for buyers, sellers and innocent bystanders.
A powerful argument can be now be made in favor of decriminalizing the hard drugs that spawn most of the violence. Legalizing them would take the profits out of the trade. No profits lead to less violence.
We now have a pretty good idea of what does not work. It’s time for the next step.
Better to address addictive behavior through education and treatment than continue to roll the dice on not becoming a victim of our intransigence.
Each year, millions of women are battered in much the same way as revealed in the shocking video of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his fiancée in an Atlantic City casino elevator.
The abuse is no longer cloaked in silence or denial. More women have been willing to report acts of severe aggression. But there’s still reluctance among most men and women to talk about the root causes of this social disease. That must change.
Domestic violence may be the country’s fastest-growing crime. Black women are more likely to be punched, kicked, choked, beaten or suffer from gunshot or knife wounds by a current or ex-partner, compared to other races. On any given weekend, domestic violence runs may be the number one police emergency call.
Who initiates these incidents is not always obvious. Are women guilty of violence toward men? No doubt. By and large, however, men engage in more aggressive acts, more severe acts and multiple aggression actions against their female partners. Of course, these incidents usually result in quite different outcomes for women and men.
The root causes vary. Our legal system has come to identify those accused of domestic violence as victims of upbringing and circumstances. Children born into female-headed households a more apt to be physically and emotionally abused, neglected and more socially maladjusted than those where a father is in the home. But parental hostility in two-parent families also plays a role in shaping the future abuser.
Witnessing parental violence as a child or adolescent is consistently associated with young men becoming an adult basher. Those raised in homes where family turmoil exists are more likely to emulate the behavior.
It’s one thing to recognize the relationship between dysfunctional families and aggression. It may also be beneficial to examine the extent that the spewing of verbal effluence into the popular culture becomes the soundtrack of the lives of young men, and whether it contributes to the problem.
Some, not all “rap,” combines images of crude, raw sex and violence against women. Much of it is vulgar, offensive and culturally degrading.
Yet no one – certainly not men — challenges media depictions of women as nothing more than sex objects. And women, victims of sexually denigrating lyrics that degrade and reduce them to a one-dimensional subservient role, are conspicuously silent. Organizations that purport to support women seem unconcerned about the anti-woman theme of these dehumanizing recordings. Their indignation, if any, is neither vocal nor public despite a body of research that tends to confirm that excessive exposure to media violence is a factor in the upsurge in real-life violence.
So what are policymakers to do? Nearly every state has enacted legislation addressing violence between adult partners. The criminal justice system addresses the problem after the fact. Counseling and education programs also deal with the aftermath. The challenge is to take preventive measures that break the domestic violence cycle.
It is an uncomfortable reality that families, schools and the larger society fail to steer young boys in the right direction. The role men traditionally played in socializing young boys and girls have all but vanished, particularly in inner cities. Boys need to see their fathers in healthy relationships with mothers. Girls need to see mothers in a loving relationship with a man.
The burden would normally rest with community institutions that understand that for young women to survive and blossom, these dire trends in the popular culture must be addressed and reversed. But many inner-city institutions have also disappeared.
So for their own survival, women need to revolt against the proliferation of rap’s cultural decadence — the same way they are speaking out about family violence. Men and women must find ways to restore dignity and respect to intimate personal relationships, and more importantly, to the sanctity of marriage.
It was hardly a shocking revelation that Detroit Public Schools ranked last in attendance among 21 big-city districts that took the National Assessment for Educational Progress exam. Nor was it revealing that high absenteeism is linked to poor performance, and may have a lot to do with the dropout crisis.
All of these deficiencies should be a rallying point for DPS to focus more attention on how to keep kids in school, off the streets and out of trouble. But DPS doesn’t have enough money — or time– to reverse this downward spiral of student disengagement.
The essence of a study by Attendance Works was that 30 percent of DPS fourth-graders and 33 percent of eighth-graders missed three or more days of school the month before taking the NAEP in 2013, compared to the 20 percent national average. These students received 11 fewer points on the math portion of the test and between 8 and 9 fewer points on the reading portion when compared to students with perfect attendance.
Over the years, DPS vainly tried to curb truancy. Counselors, social workers and psychologists were hired. Cash bonuses and merchandise were doled out to students who attend classes regularly.
The artificial inducements were a bad precedent because they sent the message that life is a crapshoot and hard work didn’t really matter. So DPS decided to get tough on the parents of the chronically truant.
After more than nine unexcused absences, a student’s attendance record ends up before the Wayne County Prosecutor for possible “endangering the welfare of a child felony charges.” This solution potentially punishes ignorance; criminalizing parents who may have little appreciation of the value of education, and who may be uneducated or undereducated themselves.
This brand of tough love also does not take into consideration that school readiness is shaped and affected by the erosion of basic values and the collapse of community institutions that teach them. The fragmentation of family, for example, plays a major role. Children who do not live with the mother and father are more likely to have attendance problems and drop out than children who do. And the high absenteeism rate is highest among the poorest families, who also tend to move frequently. Thus, it goes against the grain of tradition to ask schools to be responsible for correcting the poor educational performance of children born into troubled homes.
Criminalizing parents also ignores the fact that thousands of young children each year are exposed to health risks such as prenatal exposure to alcohol, drugs or smoking, lead poisoning, malnutrition or child abuse and neglect. These too may be factors that cause students to miss school.
Schools also can be hazardous to their health. Since DPS has more than its share of schoolyard violence and schoolroom disciplinary problems, it is no wonder the kids stay home rather than face a clear and present daily threat to their lives.
Teachers already complain that discipline problems impair their effectiveness. Forcing students who may be disruptive back into the classroom will likely contribute to the chaos and their discontent.
Some kids don’t like school. Others don’t attend because they are failing. Students who repeat one or more grades, for example, are probably twice as likely to skip than those never held back. Of course, many students suffer from low personal expectations and general boredom.
The issue is complex and the social problems kids face, pervasive. All make easy solutions daunting.
It might help if school administrators provided interesting, motivating and inspiring curriculums.
Ultimately, though, communities will have to be “re-cultured” before schools can be restructured from war zones to safe learning environments. Only then will the classroom become places youngsters want to be, and where they can acquire the skills to make it in an increasingly technically advanced workplace.
It will take a fair and impartial investigation to put to rest public concerns about whether a white police officer used proper procedures and good judgment before pulling the trigger and fatally wounding Michael Brown, a black unarmed teen in Ferguson, MO.
I’m in no position to assess blame. But before all of the details of the incident were revealed, unruly crowds took to the streets to loot and burn stores and vandalize vehicles. Their attention would have been better directed toward trying to find out why so many black males end up in the same space with cops — and whether this lethal combination is an omen for the strife and alienation to come in urban areas across America.
Being a police officer in the “hood” is far from easy. Cops who work in the urban core are typically accused or suspected of targeting black youth. They also deal with a criminal underclass unlike any in our past. Every day of every year, black youth are involved with gangs and drugs, or are perpetrators or victims of drive-by shootings, murder, rape and robberies that terrorize the communities they live in.
Controlling the crime wave has a lot to do with how police are managed, how they are deployed and how their mission is defined and executed. Where they exist, lax administrative controls that permit, if not condone, police misconduct must be tightened. An effective disciplinary system also is required to prevent or otherwise deal with officers who abuse their authority.
At the root of the reprehensible behavior among urban predators is the breakdown of the family structure. The poorest of these non-traditional families are often a breeding ground for “bad seeds.” Youngsters rooted in this environment have less chance of learning to live with delayed gratification and of resisting the temptations of the streets. Characterized as ruthless and pathological, they tend to be devoid of strong values, morals and conscience.
Their apologists claim black criminals strike out due to their feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and despair. Black children, it is alleged, are prone to such behavior because of their feelings of racial inferiority that stem from an inherent handicap in self-esteem.
Part of the answer to violent teen behavior, they say, lies in creating inner-city jobs and correcting the failures of public education. It’s well known that young male school dropouts, who join the ranks of the chronically unemployed and succumb to macho pressures from their peers, commit most of the crimes. But do they qualify for anything but the most menial jobs?
We’ve tried for generations to rationalize away this widening social deficit; even soliciting government to grab the reins fractured families let slip away. But government can’t do for us what blacks must ultimately do for themselves. And it’s time advocates stop transmitting the message that these cold-blooded thugs are merely passive pawns to social forces.
Most law-abiding citizens realize that occasional mistakes by police in the normal course of their duties are unavoidable when dealing with extreme elements, and part of the price we pay for vigorous law enforcement. At the same time, history teaches that threats to liberty and constitutional rights often follow the failure of government to protect the lives and property of the people. That’s why inside distressed communities support grows for not less, but more aggressive policies and bolder steps to suppress the crime surge.
Will an all-out counterattack against the extraordinary violence and moral degeneration of homegrown offenders usher in a police state mentality that ignores or refashions procedures that protect the rights of the accused? Will tougher enforcement be viewed as too extravagant when charges of racism surface?
The proliferation of inner-city dysfunction poses a dilemma for the black community: Find a way to restore black families, or give cops a longer leash to deal with the criminals they breed. Otherwise, internecine violence and confrontations with cops will continue to cast their ominous shadow over urban life.