Authors Posts by bjohnson

bjohnson

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0 1581

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.

thWitnessing 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.

0 1709

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.

UnknownThe 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.

1 1254

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.

Although most officers play by the rules, conflicts with police tend to go with the territory. And cops aren’t social workers.

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.

3 1705

Neither before — nor after –the imposition of an emergency manager has the Detroit City Council shown much talent in moving the city forward. Typical of the council’s ineptness is its rejection of the proposal that calls for the state of Michigan to lease the 985-acre island park from Detroit for 30 years, fix it up and make it usable.

And it’s another example of why Detroit needs replacement players on the legislative stage at City Hall.

The Belle Isle debacle affirms that the six-member council is useless in meeting even the minimal social and fiscal challenges of a city desperately looking for hope. Detroiters are probably scratching their heads trying to figure out the reasoning behind the council’s unanimous turn-down of the plan that offered to end the insanity and move forward on a deal projected to save the city about $4 million each year.

Part is the reason is that Detroit lacks deeply committed policy-makers and planners with a talent for turning the beleaguered park into a unique laboratory of innovation that families can enjoy. That explains in part that by a 4-2 vote, the council approved a watered-down, short-lease substitute that makes it easier for the city to opt out of the long-term lease proposed by the state. Members Brenda Jones and JoAnn Watson, unapologetically against outsourcing management of the park for any reason, were the dissenting votes.

“The council should not be pushed into approving a lease,” whined the disgruntled Watson. “There’s nothing wrong with the city operating its own asset. Belle Isle is a significant treasure. It’s a treasure we can manage better, and we have the capacity to do that.”

But the council has never shown any capacity to restore Belle Isle to its former luster. The island didn’t start sinking under gross neglect overnight. And am I the only one who think it strange that the council didn’t think it was a jewel worth polishing off until Gov. Rick Snyder came up with the rescue plan?

I suspect that most of the council’s resistance has a lot to do with the fact that Gov. Snyder recognized the city’s deficiencies, along with the fact that the rescue plan to end the protracted deterioration of the island was his brainchild.

But should this surprise anyone? The council’s major responsibilitiy was the budget and oversight of the financial document. Its greatest asset has been the unique ability to “paper over” annual deficits with long-term borrowing. Sadly, the group has a more difficult time papering over their incompetence.

The council isn’t known for taking corrective action to revive neighborhoods or build stronger neighborhoods, either. It would be a stretch to think that a council hat couldn’t come up with crime fighting and prevention initiatives that keep people safe in their homes and neighborhoods, could come up with a plan to prevent the city’s largest playground from going to seed.

The legislative arm appeared brain dead as the character of the city changed in ominous ways – the loss of middle-class and wealthier families. It sat idly by as the concentration of the poor placed so many service burdens on the city that they depleted the resources available to support quality of life amenities like parks and recreation facilities for children and visitors. Yet no one screamed louder than this status-quo council when Gov. Snyder sent in an EM to try and make a difference.

Let’s be clear: The reason that an EM is in play is because of the council’s historic, across-the-board failings. The EM was overly-generous in keeping members on the city’s payroll, despite relegating them to the sidelines. Now would be a good time to end this expense.

Meanwhile, The state of Michigan should ignore the council’s misadventures and proceed to rescue this island of hope from its miserable mismanagement.  City residents deserve no less.

1 1368

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Chicago, President Barack Obama’s hometown, at the invitation of the Illinois Policy Institute. I took part in a panel discussion about Detroit’s path to bankruptcy and whether the Windy City was far behind.

Since I was in Detroit during the city’s heyday and witnessed its demise firsthand, I was selected to lead off the discussion.

I recalled that when Detroit was the 4th largest city in America – behind Chicago — it ranked among the highest in employment and percentage of homeownership. When automotive-related manufacturing jobs were plentiful, the Motor City was considered one of the wealthiest big cities. It devolved from one of the most livable cities in America to one of the worse.

There were three major incidents that led to Detroit’s downward spiral. The first was the 1967 riots when Detroit still had a predominantly white population.

When groups of Detroiters took to the streets to loot and burn businesses, militants seized the opportunity to denounce government indifference to “black misery” and to air their pet grievance that the police department was a terrorizing, occupying force. The insurrection scared the heebie-jeebies out of white residents.

The second major shock wave came in the early 1970s when the federal court ordered a program to bus blacks kids in the urban core to the outskirts of the city where the majority of whites had fled, and vice versa. The reality was that there was no constituency – black or white – for busing kids out of their neighborhoods. Forced busing proved to be a failed social experiment that accelerated white flight to something resembling a stampede.

Civic, social and professional institutions lost their best and most loyal patrons. The bleeding of manufacturing jobs turned into a hemorrhage as businesses followed their customers.

In 1974, Coleman Young took office as Detroit’s first black mayor, the first of a major city in the civil rights era. Young, a tortured soul who was damaged by racism in his youth. He was incapable of rising above his victimization. His enduring pain, including wholesale rejection of rescue efforts proposed by the corporate community, colored his management of the city.

One of his worse decisions was to brow-beat the Legislature into giving him the authority to place before voters a 3-percent resident and a 1.5 percent commuter tax, the highest in Michigan. This levy was heaped on a shrinking population that had diminishing per capita income and who also paid the highest property taxes and a “utility” tax. State revenue sharing became Detroit’s major revenue stream. Dwindling city services propelled the black middle-class to begin its out-migration. And the mortgaging of the city’s future would commence for years on end.

The result was a concentration of poverty that reduced opportunities for academic success. Public school enrollment sank from a high of 298,000 in 1966 to less than 50,000 today. High school dropouts, low achieving and undisciplined students weakened the connection between education and work.

Young –and mayors that followed him –failed to encourage a hospitable business environment. Instead they solicited, received and relied on an alphabet soup of urban revitalization, anti-poverty programs, government grants and subsidies. This largesse was the equivalent of artificial life support.  But rather than using the taxpayer funded urban Marshal Plan “windfalls” to right size government, politicians used them to continue the addiction to spend.

For the last 40+ years, Detroiters believed that political power would provide the keys to economic empowerment. They elected to office people who had never successfully managed a multi-million dollar government – or anything else for that matter — and who lacked any real sense of what constitutes sound public policy.

There are, of course, social and fiscal similarities, as well as political differences between Detroit and Chicago. I was not in a position to assess them.

This much I know: If Detroit has a more promising future it will depend less on what corrective measures the emergency manager makes, and more on the grooming of a more enlightened, informed electorate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 1079

The great welfare debate took on a more forceful tone last week with committee passage of drug-testing legislation that would, among other things, mandate community service for people receiving public assistance.

images-2Seems the Legislature is moving to protect a shrinking treasury following generous increases under the Obama administration. Its goal: to extricate the destitute and put them on a path to self-sufficiency.

Some 2-million people receiving benefits from one of five welfare programs may have to participate in community service or other work-related activities in order to be eligible for the assistance. Included are those receiving cash and food assistance.

The legislation piggybacks proposals that targets public assistance recipients for drug testing and one that denies benefits to parents who fail to make sue their children get to school on a regular basis.

Most of us agree that society has an obligation to provide for people who can’t take care of themselves. But there is also a growing consensus that welfare recipients have an obligation to work. To better understand why they don’t, we need to examine their makeup and mentality.

Women head the majority of households that receive this benefit. These families units have the smallest incomes, the longest stays in poverty and constitute the heaviest demand for public dollars. These families also have the least education and the highest rates of drug abuse, crime, violence and idleness.

The core of their poverty transcends joblessness. Of course, unrealistic expectations about pay and working conditions also comes into play. Ressearch shows, for example, that the major impediment to people not making the transition from welfare to employment is their refusal to accept low-skilled, low-pay jobs. In other words, a large group of welfare recipients do not seek and do not want the jobs that match their skills.

Many of the available jobs are part-time and tend to be service related – such as in restaurants and janitorial help. These jobs that pay less than traditional manufacturing jobs –no longer a realistic income standard – are dismissed as menial.

The political consensus on welfare legislation assumes that among this class, the moral fabric of individuals, not a stagnant economy, causes their ranks to grow. The proof is in the generations of casualties left in the wake of years of federally sponsored poverty programs. Every program that made it easier to get off welfare made it more attractive to get on. The underclass became more intractable.

Welfare was never intended to be a lifestyle. It was never supposed to be an enduring heirloom, passed from one generation to the next. Even taxpayers who once supported expansion of the welfare bureaucracy are no longer willing to encourage or finance dependency by paying the spiraling costs of a welfare system that has no strings attached.

That a disproportionate number of mothers remain wedded to the system poses an ominous set of dynamics. They are perceived in the minds of many as being different, if not exempt from social norms, and immune to solutions designed to help them enter the American mainstream. To them, welfare has become an accepted economic option. Never mind that it also undermines the value of work.

Most of us have a clear obligation to contribute to the support of our families. Opportunity is all we need to overcome unemployment. So enforcing the obligation to work – through an actual job or community service – is key to reintroducing the principles of individual initiative and personal independence. The Legislature must eliminate those perverse incentives that allow recipients to receive more money on welfare than through employment.

Society’s best intentions have, in effect, robbed people of a sense of responsibility. True liberation of the poor from dependency requires restoring the work ethic and relegating welfare to its former status as a last resort.

 

 

0 3717

Detroit Police Chief James Craig swaggered into town boldly declaring that the carjackings, street crimes and home invasions were a thing of the past. Young brutal barbarians were put on notice that their reign was over. The message was clear and unapologetic: thugs will be aprehended, prosecuted and incarcerated.

The self-portrait he painted of a by-the-book disciplinarian and consummate professional heightened public expectations. But Chief Craig has since discovered that his tough talk isn’t reaching the ears of the predators.

Everyday, criminals reinforce the public demand for better police protection against seemingly unabated murders, robberies, aggravated assaults and rapes. There’s no letup in the suffering of victims, in fear, in lost economic vitality and in precious human resources.

The chief, however, isn’t entirely at fault. He may have underestimated the resolve of ruthless and reckless young men who comprise a criminal confederacy that has overwhelmed the city since the mid-1970s. But then, no credible, successful and constructive crime-fighting effort is likely to be waged in the present social climate.

Much of the plight of some Detroit youth can be attributed to their intimidating behavior. They are signifiantly more likely than any other group to be murderers, murdered, unemployed, poor, uneducated or imprisoned. This potent and dangerous criminal element engages in reprehensible behavior that disqualifies them for a long, productive life.

Irrefutable evidence of their ruinous potential is found in the number of youths caught up in the plague of random and drug-related murders. Almost all are black. Many observers attach little significant to that fact. But if young white men were terrorizing neighborhoods and slaughtering each other at the current rate, city leaders would have examined the basis of their turmoil by now.

It’s generally accepted that the poor state of public education helps steer many youth down the path to unacceptable behavior. Low expectations from education and community leaders means hundreds of students aren’t challenged early on when their interest in school is most likely to be decided.

Failure in school guarantees they will have a “skills gap” when they try to enter the workforce. Fading job prospects are closely followed by a lowered self-image and feelings of betrayal. Resentment turns into rebellion, heightened by the fact that society connects men and the evaluation of their worth to their ability to get a job and earn a living. It doesn’t take them long to discover that street hustling pays a lot better than the jobs they qualify for.

Whether by ignorance or indifference, the dimishing role and presence of responsible males in the community is another contributor to the carnage. Neighborhhoods, for example, teem with absent fathers unsuited for marriage and incapable of providing for their children – emotionally or monetarily. With no real sense of sexual responsibility or psychologal preparation for parenthood, they unwittingly engage in a ritual that continually breed and sustains the culture of violence.

Is Chief Craig the new breed cop he portrays himself to be, or another in a string of police exeuctives who fails to understand the root cause of the crime problem and, therefore, is incapable of forging an effecive crime-prevention strategy? Is his get-tough initiatives justifably catching heat for being too long on rhetoric and short on substance? Is he smart enough to factor in the social dynamic?

This much we know: First, the chief doesn’t have enough manpower to realistically  make a difference anytime soon. Secondly, public confidence in the police department, essential to effective law enforcement, is waning.

Thus, the chief must be mindful that when his big talk falls short of his obligation to protect citizens from crime he forfeits any legitimate claim to the allegiance of the people.

So it might be a good idea to minimize the tough talk, take a closer look at the deteriorating social conditions and then craft valid anti-violence measures that Detroiters can live with.

 

 

1 1829

Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Jack Martin is participating in the summer ritual of walking door-to-door trying to generate renewed public interest in the beleaguered district. His goal is to recruit and enroll 5,000 more students by the opening of school on September 3. What gives him an outside chance is the deployment of a new strategy: giving parents and students a greater say in the choice of schools.

Every year at this time, DPS volunteers, teachers, parents and community partners conduct a door-to-door enrollment drive aimed at both new and former students who might have left the district for better opportunities. Indeed, flight from the city explains much of the precipitous drop-off in enrollment from the 1966 peak of 298,000. Detroit has lost more than half of its population in the interim. Only about 51,000 students attended DPS this past school year. And the projections for the upcoming school year are not encouraging.

All out efforts to pump up the numbers are understandable. Fall enrollment is critical to determining how much state financial aid a district can receive. For each student it enrolls, DPS receives $7,190 from the state.

Thousands of the best, brightest and wealthiest students opt for charter, suburban public schools, private and parochial schools. The shrinking district is an indication that Detroit residents lack confidence in the school system and its leadership. Declining enrollments also mean the closing of more underutilized, ineffective schools. Since 2000, by necessity, DPS has closed 200 schools.

The Martin team is hoping to stem the exodus by convincing those on the verge of leaving to give DPS a fresh look and a second chance. But instead of the usual cash offerings, merchandise and other incentives to entice students to show up and be counted, the Martin enrollment campaign pitches local theme schools. Parents are being offered a varied and greater choice among schools their children can attend.

It’s not clear how far the EM is willing to advance this concept. But it’s widely accepted that parental choice – like charter schools — is another option to improve children’s learning. It also fosters healthy competition among schools. After all, competition and the need for the schools to appeal to parents in order to stay in business is the foundation of lasting reform. And such reforms can raise the educational level of the school system as a whole.

Equally important, choice empowers people rather than education bureaucrats. There is much scholarly research indicating that the most compelling factor in the learning process is parental involvement. Whether Martin fails or succeeds depends on the degree of public input and support he receives.

If Martin’s initiative goes as far as empowering teachers and administrators to share decision-making in a school site, it could usher in even more innovation. All schools should be allowed to break from central bureaucratic controls that stifle effective organization, achievement and competition. Accompanying the transfer of this control is the responsibility for schools to be fully accountable for results.

Martin, in breaking ranks with failed management practices of the past, appears to understand that the most desirable way to gain students and keep them in the classroom is to that offer them a sound curriculum that maintains their interests. Theme schools do that. Could this be the first step to bring sweeping improvements and accountability measures to DPS? It remains to be seen.

But let’s face it. Detroit students have phenomenal unmet education needs. Previously, parents had little choice but to accept the flawed judgment of misguided EMs about what is best for their children.

Jack Martin, it appears, is trying to move beyond past limitations, failures and excuses. His free-choice schools concept promises a greater voice and a greater sense of responsibility for everyone involved with education. And it’s as timely as it is critical.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

0 1058

Detroiters went to the polls in the August primary election to decide the final candidates in the race for mayor. They took advantage of another chance to break from tradition to make a discriminating choice. Rather than disappoint, they revolutionized the process of change and sent shockwaves across the political landscape. So decisive was the vote that the general election will be a mere formality.

After Mike Duggan was officially kicked off the ballot, favorite son Benny Napoleon, a charismatic, attractive political option, was expected to captivate voters and dominate the campaign. The Napoleon camp coasted, believing that Duggan could not elicit significant voter interest as a write-in candidate. The outcome, however, was more like a near death experience for Napoleon.

Over what was thought to be a super-popular, shoo-in candidate, Duggan garnered 46-percent of the total vote, emerging the top vote getter in a crowded field. Napoleon was dealt a body blow and sent reeling.

As it turned out, a major bloc of Detroiters went to the polls and exhibited unprecedented sophistication and a mission to end the destructive parochialism of the past. That Duggan is white and Napoleon black apparently didn’t matter.

The electorate apparently felt that Napoleon’s camp was too willing to advance a sometimes veiled, and sometimes not-so-veiled divisive “us versus them” ideology to advance his political ends. Duggan was painted as an outsider, the candidate of the white suburban corporate elite. But voters scoffed at the undercurrent that Detroit is about to be taken over by outside interests. Black investment, after all, had been nothing more than a trickle for decades. And for the Napoleon camp to play the race card going forward will jeopardize his re-election for sheriff — or county executive should he choose to go that route.

It is too late for Napoleon to broaden his support base. Voters ignored the hoopla and hyperbole to critically examine the real prospect that organized labor might control Napoleon’s political lifeline and hold the city’s future hostage to its demands. Duggan, they concluded, would have a less parochial sense of the constituency and greater skill at building alliances and formulating critical partnerships with investors for the common good.

It may also be too late for Napoleon to modify the tone of his campaign, hone his message and offer a more comprehensive, realistic and understandable vision.  Wary from waiting for campaign promises to reach their neighborhoods, voters signaled they want immediate attention to unmet public needs; city services, crime, inadequate trash pickup, neglected parks and playgrounds, unrepaired roads, shabby bus services and burned out homes. They are fed up with unattended vacant lots littered with garbage, old mattresses and abandoned cars.

Detroiters are finally taking seriously the need for change. Napoleon is beyond explaining how he would end bureaucratic inertia and implement sensible reforms that advance the city’s transformation and enrichment. There will be no last ditch rally to the side of the candidate seen as a status quo politician who would lead voters further away from wholesome neighborhoods and business communities.

With investment in the downtown comes a warm feeling of renewal and optimism. The expectations of residents are heightened because Detroiters believe Duggan more than Napoleon has a vision and a plan to reverse the city’s misfortunes.

So for all intents and purposes, the election is over. The turnout was low (17 percent of registered voters). But there’s reason to believe that if 100 percent of nonvoters participated, the outcome would have broken the same way as those who voted. The city, after all, has a homogeneous, ideologically loyal population. And the tendency is for people to coalesce around the perceived winner.

Napoleon’s best hope is that Duggan is charged and convicted of a heinous crime in the next couple of months. But that’s as much of a long shot as Napoleon’s chances of becoming the next mayor.  Game over!

 

 

0 1262

What do you get when you combine a down economy with masses of discouraged, underemployed and downtrodden workers? A silly season of targeted protests against businesses and outrageous demands for government intervention. Both are products of the call from the White House for a higher minimum wage.

Demonstrators who work for mega-restaurant chains such as McDonald’s and  KFC are protesting or have walked off the job in New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Flint and Kansas City. Among their demands is a base wage of $15 an hour.

This “income inequality” mania extends to Washington, D.C., a city that wants non-unionized retailers grossing $1 billion annually to pay their workers $12.50 an hour. The implication is that the labor market has failed to provide a “living wage” to those who work full-time.

This labor-inspired, socialist leaning babble piggybacks President Barack Obama’s recommendation that Congress hike the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour from $7.25 by the end of 2015 then automatically adjust it to inflation. Fortunately Obama’s call fell on deaf ears – at least inside the Beltway. But his ground troops have taken the fight across America to press city leaders to send employers an ultimatum: pay up or shut down. And the  Motor city isn’t immune to the protests or the hysteria to end “wage disparities.”

Some years back, the late Detroit City Council President Maryann Mahaffey backed a measure requiring city contractors to pay their workers a “prevailing wage.” It was designed to bring Detroit in line with a Depression-era wage law.

In 1990, the council approved a partnership proposal to the 1935 Davis-Bacon Act, which guarantees workers on federal construction projects a minimum wage based on locally prevailing rates. Some additional costs would have been tacked on to each new city contract, forcing an employer to pay higher wages and/or benefits and taking some businesses out of competition for city work.

Mahaffey claimed her ordinance would “level the playing field” by guaranteeing workers on city-funded projects of more than $100,000 the salary rate set by the federal government. The question of how much of an incentive the ordinance would have been to workers, or how much of a disincentive it would have been to the city was never answered. In a rare pro-business showing, then-Mayor Coleman Young vetoed the measure and, thankfully, the council couldn’t muster enough votes to override.

Today, there is no retreat from the obsessive belief that if the estimated 15 million low-wage workers were paid a “living wage,” it would be a boost to the sagging economy Obama must now own. Nothing, however, could be more devastating to the working poor or businesses, particularly the fast food industry.

First, the minimum wage was never intended to be the vehicle for people to raise entire families or to enter the middle class. It was meant to supplement household incomes – college students, housewives, and part-time or entry-level workers. So unrealistic expectations about pay and working conditions may explain why many of the underemployed are demonstrating rather than moving up the economic ladder.

With higher wages come higher employer expectations of performance. People with the least education and talent become less desirable and ultimately priced out of the job market.

Another impediment to the working poor not advancing is their refusal to accept low-pay jobs. Jobs that pay less than traditional manufacturing jobs –no longer a realistic income standard – are dismissed as marginal, if not menial.

Neither this nation, nor American cities for that matter, needs another hindrance to erode the competitive position of businesses. The working poor would be better served if governments at all levels accommodate job creators by eliminating impediments to real wage growth: unnecessary regulations, onerous zoning and licensing requirements and high taxes. Nothing smothers the entrepreneurial spirit, shackles the economy and impedes growth than these barriers to job opportunities.

 

 

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Detroit Emergency Manager Keyvn Orr ignited a political firestorm when he orchestrated the largest Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy filing in history. At its flaming core is more than $18 billion in debt and liabilities, including $5.7 billion in unfunded retiree health insurance and $3.5 billion in unfunded pension payouts for some 30,000 retirees and city workers.

What followed is a frenzy of activity: City retirees and workers cried foul. Labor unions and the city’s pension funds filed court actions. Federal bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes halted all lawsuits aimed at preventing retirement benefits from becoming part of the bankruptcy proceedings. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette intervened to defend the state’s constitutional protection of pension obligations he says cannot be “diminished or impaired.” The City Council called for congressional hearing on whether Detroit is misusing the process to slash retiree pensions.

History, however, shows this looming crisis might have been averted if the employees unions and pensioners had shown more flexibility forty years ago in restructuring city pension benefits. Instead, the intractable opposition demanded the city stay on a dead end course to default.

As far back as 1974, then-Mayor Coleman Young proposed what was considered reasonable changes to Detroit’s pension programs. Because labor and retirees are a potent political force, the City Council shot down the mayor’s changes.

Twice the council overrode Mayor Dennis Archer’s veto of an ordinance to increase pension benefits. Archer ran into similar resistance when he proposed an amendment to the City Charter that would have equitably distributed “excess earnings” on the investment of pension fund assets back to taxpayers. Voters ultimately rejected the amendment after it was improperly stripped from the revised charter and placed on the ballot as a little-understood issue.

Also under the Archer administration, Detroit missed opportunities to reduce pension expenses by giving new employees the option of a “defined contribution,” under which employees would have receive a fixed annual contribution to their pensions rather than the existing “defined benefit.” Pension system trustees, in order to keep the funds solvent, would have consulted an actuary, fixed the declared rate of return on the investments and paid that rate into funds within the system. That modification would have locked the city into providing a fixed retirement payment based on their years of service regardless of how well the pension fund fared in investment earnings. Simply put, the city’s share of retirement benefits would have been more predictable.

Those weren’t the only benefits. Workers had the option of several stock and bond funds for their investments, and could have passed their accumulated investments along to surviving children. Employees would have been vested in the pension system earlier and had more equity than under the “defined benefit” system.

Alas, the City Council deserves no credit for being able to judge the pulse of the unions or the wisdom of pensioners. Persuaded by a campaign of disinformation, and bowing to pressure from the “keep your hands off our pensions” lobby, the council turned a blind eye to the savings potential. The rejected proposals were labeled an assault on the retirement system. Despite credible testimony from industry experts to the contrary, critics wrongfully – now ironically- asserted that adoption of such alterations would destroy the current system.

Labor too was determined to stay the unpopular course. The anti-change hostility ignored evidence that “portable” pension plans (401k) were being adopted by a growing number of municipalities. “Portability” was also seen as the biggest factor in attracting and keeping employees outside of government.

The bottom line is this: City government is now unable to fully fund the system. The refusal of the council and city workers to get out of the way of Detroit’s entry into the modern pension era comes with dire consequences that could have been avoided. Bankruptcy may now be the best equalizer for their imprudence and collective bad judgment.

 

 

 

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“Shock” best described the reaction among some black Americans after a jury acquitted George Zimmerman in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Rallies, protests and violence in varying degrees erupted in some of America’s largest cities by those who believed race was a factor in the handling and the outcome of the case.

Some will forever argue that the jury failed to convict an obviously guilty man. How, for example, could the prosecution’s mountain of evidence disintegrate in the jury room in just a few days? The verdict, it is alleged, was a repudiation of a justice system that failed the colorblind test.

Agitators wearing hoodies took to the streets singing songs of justice and calling for an end to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows people to use deadly force if they believe their lives are at risk. The Internet erupted with outrage.

Inflammatory and injudicious statements by National Action Network leader Al Sharpton and his minions further contributed to racial divisions. The NAACP called for the Justice Department to file civil rights charges against Zimmerman.

But it’s all a charade, a pretense of perceived harm.

At best, the race baiting is sad commentary on how our moral outrage is sorely misplaced. It is not white racists who are tearing at the fabric of black life. Black America is hardly under siege by swarming armies of militant whites. Zimmerman is an anomaly.

The far greater threat to the security and well being of black America is the insidious behavior pathology waged by the enemy within. No group victimizes blacks more than the youth and young adults who are born and bred in black neighborhoods.

The death, funerals and mourning of everyday urban life provide evidence that the black male is rapidly becoming an endangered species. Homicide is the main cause of death for black males aged 15-24. Nearly all of this carnage stems from a black on black criminal tidal wave that has long surpassed the atrocities blacks faced at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups.

Preying upon the young and old, their rampaging violent binge run the gamut; murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Apparently without conscience, vicious assaults are daily occurrences on the streets of Detroit and across America without producing as much as a whimper from the NAAP, the National Action Network, or hardly any other group that claims to be “hood” change agents.

The silence in the black community about the helter-skelter being waged against black families is deafening. Nobody asks the families of black victims if they care what color the perpetrators were.  No one questions whether old style civil rights tacticians can come up with a new agenda that address the “right to tranquility” of law-abiding black residents.

None among the so-called black leadership has the answers to the social mayhem. Too few parents advocate — and too few churches preach — a return of lost values that once produced strong families, stable communities and respect for the law.

Protestors that single out Trayvon as an icon upon which to rally against racism, trivializes the thousands of young men who died before him and insults their surviving families. Worse, the loss of a black life seems not to be worth more than a funeral procession until a white person snuffs it out.

The Zimmerman verdict should not shake the public’s faith in the American justice system. We must remain vigilant in the fight for swift, certain, equal and colorblind justice.

Beyond that, black Americans must ponder why they are conditioned to calmly accept genocidal death at the hands of homegrown assassins, while viewing isolated conflicts with whites as harbingers of a return to an oppressive era that no longer exists. To be clear: the real menace to our survival today is people who live and walk among us.

 

 

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The Detroit Regional Chamber’s political action committee has endorsed write-in Detroit mayoral candidate Mike Duggan. Organized labor has cast its lot with Benny Napoleon.

This maneuvering is part of the political power game playing out in grand fashion in the primary sweepstakes. The vote could come down to who best represents the public good versus the special interests.

“The Chamber and the Detroit business community know and respect Mike Duggan,” Chamber President and CEO Sandy K. Baruah said in a statement. “Mike is a recent former Chamber Board member and we know and applaud his work to turn around the Detroit Medical Center and his strong record of public service as Wayne County prosecutor.”

In May, the Metro Detroit AFL-CIO – a labor conglomeration – gave frontrunner Napoleon the nod. “As sheriff, Benny Napoleon has stood with working people time and time again,” Metro Detroit AFL-CIO President Chris Michalakis said. “Our city has tremendous challenges ahead, and it is critical that we face them with a leader who respects the collective bargaining process and will fight for working families.”

It’s not known what, if any, tradeoffs Benny had to make to get what some consider prized endorsements that include the Amalgamated Transit Union, United Food and Commercial Workers and Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights. However, there’s evidence that few candidates elected under the union banner have been willing to take positions deemed harmful to labor organizations.    

In fact, elected leaders beholden to labor have a history of turning a blind eye to what constitutes good public policy. When employee issues conflict with a city’s fiscal or operating objectives, officeholders that rely on direct or indirect contributions from labor groups tend to give inordinate weight to their wishes.

To win labor support, past Detroit mayors have pledged, among other things, never to privatize city services. The consequences of what might be called a “deal with the devil” are apparent; essential services are in shambles, parks and recreational facilities are devastated. While efficiency suffered without accountability measures, costs shot up beyond the city’s ability to pay.

There’s also the argument that the government the unions backed, bought and paid for in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, took an even greater toll – it hindered investment, development and growth. Today, Detroit has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.

Labor is still capable of being the funding engine for the candidate of their choice by pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into a campaign that come with hundreds of volunteers, organizers, foot soldiers and get-out-the vote phone banks.

This well-oiled political machine is known to attack what it views as pro-business, anti-worker policies. Officeholders, for example, who support contracting-out of government services that would affect union jobs, are likely to attract formidable union adversaries. Those who oppose labor-backed initiatives as “prevailing wage, “living wage” or “minimum wage” hikes – generally seen as job killers by business –find themselves in labor’s crosshairs.

The business community has complained – mostly privately –that the embrace of labor by former mayors is contrary to good government. By and large, the chamber has silently sulked on the sidelines bemoaning being victimized by political neglect.

images-1Today, the group obviously believes Duggan, with a strong business background, best identifies with their idea of how to create an inviting environment for new businesses and their employees; changing the tax structure to stop business erosion and the hemorrhaging of the tax base. Does Duggan also agree with the premise that successful cities require cooperation between political leaders and the corporations that bring capital investment? Does Napoleon?

These conflicting paths to the future will present tough choices for Detroiters. Will the city be operated under a blueprint for opportunity in a free market environment? Or will the next mayor allow the city to function under the more parochial, narrow dictates from labor?

Let the debate begin.

 

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Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr will escort about 40 Wall Street bondholders and creditors on a tour this week through crime-ridden and rundown neighborhoods. His purpose is to draw attention to Detroit’s desperate condition and the need to restructure about $20 billion in debt.

Also this week, the write-in candidacy of former DMC chairman Mike Duggan will swing into high gear as he tries to fire up voters to write his name in a slot on the August primary ballot. Duggan is trying to carve out a path to the November general election ballot after a Court of Appeals ruling kept him off the primary ballot because he filed too early to be eligible under city residency requirements.

Orr and Duggan will have uphill battles.

There is a striking difference, though, in the style of Orr the bankruptcy expert and the substance of Duggan the politician. Orr has carved out a strategic plan that maps the city’s turnaround and calls for a fundamental change in the way the city must approach the future.

So far, Duggan’s plan consists of posturing, criticizing and bemoaning the appointment of the EM. He should join Orr’s tour and get a realistic look at the deep seated problems of the city and tell us why he thinks he as the right stuff to fix what he sees.

Orr’s expedition through the devastation is made necessary by the reluctance of some financial creditors to agree to concessions that might forestall the city completely running out of money and time on the road to bankruptcy.  Orr will likely tell creditors that neither a government bailout nor papering over the deficit again (borrowing) will help Detroit arrest the longer term slide that it faces. Restructuring and sacrifices at all levels will be key.

The harsh reality is that Orr’s guests will see Detroit is a long way from recovery. It has a largely poor, uneducated population, with decaying infrastructure, dwindling services and a disappearing tax base.

Thousands of homes are vacated or on the demolition list which spawns neighborhood decline that spreads as the crime and blight of distressed communities cause resident and businesses to flee. Does Mike think these neighborhoods can or should be saved – or continue to be overgrown with weeds? What’s his plan to attract a more genteel class beyond downtown?

In thriving neighborhoods, residents often find work through neighbors, friend and relatives. But in Detroit, role models, job creation and job connection goes lacking. Children grow up with little exposure to steadily employed adults, making it easy for them to see idleness or crime as a way of life. It’s also easy to conclude that the underground economy pays a lot better than the jobs they qualify for.

How would Duggan reverse poor job prospects, the lowered self-image of youth and their feelings of betrayal by the political establishment?

How would he separate them from a destructive pattern of self-limitation so they take that first step up the ladder of opportunity and climb above despair?

Orr seems to understand that the empowerment model must rely on businesses and residents creating investment opportunities and economic enterprise. Does Duggan have an agenda that signals a reawakening of business literacy?

Orr also understands that one of the culprits is a tax policy that kills housing appreciation, limits economic growth and undermines the climate for investing. He has proposed a tax hike.  Would Mike cut taxes?

My intent is not to dump on Duggan. The other candidates in the race — Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, former state Rep. Lisa Howze, state Rep. Fred Durhal and former city corporation counsel Krystal Crittendon are also short on specifics.

So Mike, when you join Orr’s eye-opening tour, invite your challengers to also take a trip away from the tired rhetoric. Detroiters need to be motivated to turn an expectant face to the brighter future candidates can articulate and deliver.

 

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A jury was unable to reach a verdict in the trial of Detroit Police Officer Joseph Weekley accused of shooting 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley Jones. Unfortunately, the rescheduling of a new trial begs the question of whether there is a double standard when it comes to police justice.

Officer Weekley led the raid in search of suspected murderer Chauncey Owens. After entering the home of the suspect, Weekley’s gun discharged killing Aiyana as she slept on the living room couch. Weekley was charged with manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm causing death.

Weekley said the child’s grandmother reached for his weapon, which she denied. That turned out to be the sticking point that resulted in a hung jury.

By any measure, this is a tragic incident. Everyone can empathize with the family of the young victim and their desire for justice. I’m not in a position to determine who deserves justice. Facts and conclusions are always debatable in the face of so such emotion.Unknown

I question, though, whether this is another instance in which a white police officer (Weekley) is prosecuted for killing a black citizen (Aiyana) when black officers have killed Detroit residents pretty much with impunity.Unknown-1

The case that quickly comes to mind is the 1990s death of Malice Green. Less than 24 hours after Green, a black resident suspected of possessing drugs, was bludgeoned to death with heavy metal flashlights, then-Police Chief Stanley Knox suspended without pay every officer involved in the incident. So swift was the chief’s action that it was widely interpreted as convicting the accused before all the witness statements were submitted. Then-Mayor Coleman Young immediately branded them “murderers.”

Officers Walter Budzyn and Larry Nevers were tried and convicted of second degree murder. Another officer, Robert Lessnau was charged with assault with intent to commit great bodily harm but was acquitted. All three officers were white, but Chief Knox dismissed any implication that race had anything to do with his decision.

There are, of course, differences as well as similarities in the Malice Green and Aiyana Jones cases. Arguably, a case was brought against Budzyn, Nevers and perhaps Weekley to counter the potential for public outrage and violence that might have erupted in the black community. Is a different standard applied in deaths in which the officer and the victim are black?

I wrote for The Detroit News during the Malice Green trial and reported on numerous cases in which black officers had committed fatal assaults on citizens. The actions of these cops rarely made the news or resulted in a public outcry. The few who faced prosecution almost always beat the rap.

It has yet to be shown conclusively that the trial of Officer Weekley was unfair or motivated by a bias against or toward white cops. The racial makeup of his jury, for example, only included one black male. Was that a factor in the mistrial?

The danger is that such prosecutions could have a chilling effect on how police officers carry out their responsibilities. If they suspect they don’t have support from the public for the dangerous work they are called upon to perform, it could be ruinous to the city’s already delicate social bonds.

In the meantime, it would be unwise for anybody to jump to conclusions. Too much is at stake. No matter how it turns out, residents of Detroit should understand just how valuable an asset an effective police department is. All too often we ask cops to go into some of the city’s worse neighbors and root out some of society’s most menacing predators. Sometime accidents happen.

Detroiters deserve reassurance from all parties – from Prosecutor Kym Worthy who headed up the Malice Green trial to impaneled juries — that the administration of justice is not shaded by color or the politics of the moment.

 

 

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The majority of black Detroiters won’t participate in the commemoration of the historic march when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. first delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech 50 years ago. Most no longer identify with the cause and have no interest in being part of the symbolism.

This weekend, power-seeking labor and civil rights advocates expect to attract 1-million people to follow the route Dr. King took down Woodward on June 23, 1963.

The theme: “We Shall Not Default On Our Freedom.” The stated purpose is to call attention to the problems that people of color still face. “We still need jobs, justice and peace,” said the Rev. Wendell Anthony, Detroit branch NAACP president.

There’s no dispute that some Detroiters, and black America in general, have faltered in pursuit of the “dream” envisioned by Dr. King. Here, at the epicenter of the original march is a large poorly educated, unemployable, racially divided population that is trying to cope with abandonment, declining services, internecine violence and pending bankruptcy. However, none of the disparities has much, if anything, to do the racial barriers Dr. King lived and died to remove.

In fact, inside – although to a larger extent – outside Detroit is a sizable black middle class that has made substantial gains up the social and economic ladder since the 60s. The glass ceiling to political access has been shattered. Whereas a half century ago it was unthinkable, today a black president occupies the White House.

So for the NAACP to blame the deteriorating black condition on forces and people who have nothing to do with the denial of opportunity brings into question the real motives of the organization, its supporters and followers.

As I see it, the event is less about the commemoration of King’s struggle and aspirations for America, and more about the self-serving NAACP and UAW. Both are trying to regain respectability.

The NAACP, which once preached “unity” has morphed into one the largest proponents of the “us against them syndrome.” Years after the decline of skin color as an impediment to progress the group causes race consciousness to remain at a high level and race relations at their worst

No longer is the organization respected as the premier legal arm of the civil rights movement. Nor is it held in high esteem among young blacks. Why? The NAACP has an identify crisis.

As a matter of record, the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act effectively destroyed the legal foundations of the Jim Crow system. Dr. King acknowledged that in 1965: “There is no more civil rights movement. President Johnson signed it out of existence when he signed the voting rights bill.”

The UAW, also looked at with a jaundice eye, needs to bolster its shrinking ranks to be seen as politically legitimate. Both organizations are not averse to using black victimization to incite, alienate and “keep race alive.”

Dr. King’s dream isn’t deferred by some vast white conspiracy – but by the failure of credible black leadership to be good shepherds for those still un-prepared to walk through the doors of opportunity opened by King.

I suspect that many former  supporters of civil rights causes question the wisdom of resurrecting 60s-style tactics to achieve the promise of prosperity in the 21st Century.  So those seeking something more meaningful should reflect on another important day in history. One hundred fifty years ago – 1863 — Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in an attempt to unite a divided nation over the institution of slavery. It led to the freeing of slaves from physical bondage.

Nothing is more worthy of celebration and commemoration as one of the great events in the annuals of human freedom. And nothing is more symbolic of the need to be free from the NAACP’s psychological bondage that prevents the disadvantaged from reaching their full potential.

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In almost any city but Detroit, council candidate Bernard Parker would already be disqualified and removed from the August primary ballot. He’s clearly not an eligible contender.

But Detroit seems to have a greater tolerance for candidates who think they are exempt from or thumb their nose at the law.

When Parker decided to run for office he signed an Affidavit of Identity and Receipt of Filing.  He swore on April 30, 2013 that: “At this date, all statements, reports, late filing fees and fines due from me or any Candidate Committee organized to support my election to office under the Michigan Campaign Finance Act, PA 388 of 1976, have been filed or paid.”

He further acknowledged that, “making a false statement in this affidavit is perjury – a felony punishable by a fine up to $1,000 or imprisonment for up to 5 years, or both.”

Parker knew at the time he signed this official declaration that he was in violation of the law; that he was ineligible to run for a spot on the city council. Public documents prove it.

Twice this year, Parker was notified by certified mail that he was in violation of the Campaign Finance Act. On February 6, 2013, two months before he signed the affidavit, Parker received an eight page letter detailing the numerous errors and omissions in his campaign reports. The letter explicitly advised him that failure to resolve these issues would generate a fee of $25.00 per day up to the maximum fee of $500. Twice he ignored the notices and warning.

The certified letter, which is standard practice, makes it difficult for him to claim ignorance. But this is not the first time he’s been a candidate or was cited for violating the campaign finance law.

In fact, he has a reputation for being a wily operative with political connections that date back to the Coleman Young era. Prior to his retirement, he was one the longest serving Wayne County elected officials.

Operation Get Down, an organization he ran for decades on Detroit’s eastside, received millions in public funds while he was in office under the pretense of helping the disadvantaged. Anyone visiting that area today – a virtual wasteland –would have to conclude that his ravenous feeding at the public trough turned out to be a bad investment.

But this is not an attempt to vilify Parker. And none of his past involvements give him license to transform a potential liability into some laudable virtue.

Detroiters should not take lightly Parker’s attempt to ignore or subvert the law. His defiance is indefensible. It also raises questions about whether he can exercise the independent judgment necessary for any self-respecting council member to serve as an effective public servant. Worse, it shows a new level of contempt for the people he wants to serve.

So what happens now?

It will take a rare display of political responsibility for the Detroit City Clerk, as guardian of the public trust, to declare Parker ineligible. Someone will have to file a complaint to start the process of determining there has been a breach of the electoral process. Failure of the clerk to respond, however, may confirm the suspicion that a credibility crisis exists in that office.

If Parker stays on the ballot, it will be up to voters to exercise their civic obligation to deal with this abnormality. Only informed scrutiny and a firm rebuff will cause future candidates to yield to the highest standards of conduct. But again, neither scrutiny nor rebuff is common inDetroit.

This is a city in which the government at all levels has become a laughing stock. But instead of laughing, Detroit voters should demand that Bernard Parker is booted from — instead of added to — the August primary ballot.

 

 

 

 

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13565484-illustration-depicting-a-green-chalk-board-with-a-failing-schoolsl-conceptBy now, everyone should understand the gravity of the prevailing educational crisis and the need to make children the central focus of policy decisions. In response, Michigan has taken up the challenge of improving its schools by attempting to institutionalize in state law the Education Achievement Authority (EAA). Unfortunately, commitment to change doesn’t always compute with improvement.

Gov. Rick Snyder and the Michigan Education Achievement Foundation, a charity his office established to tap private donors, recently announced that $59.7 million has been raised to make the EAA a stand alone school district and ultimately includes some 45 chronically failing schools across the state. Fifteen already operate in Detroit. The foundation has a goal of raising $100 million. This commitment falls under the persistently applied strategy of trying to fix schools through greater investment.

First, it’s important to acknowledge that substantial research has found there is little, if any, relationship between differences in spending and the quality of schooling. Indeed, if money alone could solve the problems of educational failure Detroit would be awash in academic success.

Educational expenditures per student in real terms, for example, are twice what they were in the 1970s. Skimping on schools has not been the chief cause of bad performance by DPS or the EAA.

The foundation’s fundraising effort will also underwrite a two-year scholarship program for graduates of anyDetroit public school to attend one of five community colleges. This type of incentive isn’t new either.

In fact, it is reminiscent of the once highly touted Detroit Compact, the school/business partnership designed to provide graduates guaranteed jobs or scholarships. At its onset, students had to maintain high academic skills to qualify.  They also needed more than a 90 percentile attendance and punctuality rate, in addition to good citizenship.

Alas, the Compact proved to be a poor choice to bring increased resources and new hope to schools most in need.  The standards were lowered when not enough children could qualify for the benefits. Because the district lacked an effective education delivery system, the Compact’s demise was tragically assured.

“This is a big deal folks, changing the lives of those kids,” Snyder said at the Mackinaw Conference. ” (The EAA) is at the forefront of education innovation.”

In fact, there’s not much innovation in the EAA at all. At best, this initiative is a compilation of general improvement measures that have made the rounds through the education establishment for most of the last four decades.

Adding to the EAA hype, advocates point to the authority’s internal test scores showing students are learning more this year than they did under DPS. But even with clear evidence of tinkering at the margins of achievement, test scores remain at the low end of state averages. And the spotty accomplishments are overshadowed by the failure of the majority. Basically, the EAA system is preparing students for a lifetime of potential failure.

In fairness, not all educational dysfunction can be heaped on the defunct system.

By and large, families that value education have left the city for the suburbs and better school systems. Those remaining tend to be poor, single-parent head of households that typically have less formal education and often find it difficult or impossible to help their children through school.

For the better part of four decades this virtual minefield of obstacles has stood between children and the education they need. And there’s not enough money anywhere to arrest the social disintegration occurring in homes and neighborhoods around schools – or to finance the EAA model to make it meaningful, for that matter.

school choice II“Tradition-shattering” educational reform like expanded school choice would help.  It begins by shifting attention from school inputs – spending programs – to school performance; making schools compete for students and giving parents more choices to seek out quality.

If nothing else, enlightened parents could opt to escape faltering public schools and recycled experiments like the status quo EAA.

 

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Best if Detroiters don’t get too excited by the expected arrival of new Police Chief James Craig. He’s leaving  violence plagued Cincinnatiand coming to the Motor Citywhere shootings and murders are multiplied by at least four. Unless Craig can pull a novel state-of-the-art strategy out of the box, he’ll witness four times as many murders he couldn’t prevent.

Chief Craig has put crime reduction at the top of his list of priorities. No doubt it was at the top of his agenda in Cincinnati,Ohio’s most crime-ridden city. There’s no need to detail the dire crime statistics. But homicides are on a clip to be up 50 percent over last year despite gun buy-backs, and catchy anti-crime programs like the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV), a multi-agency community collaborative effort.

Detroit crime is also critical. Surveys place it at the top of public concerns. Children are frequently and randomly gunned down in their own yards. The danger that residents are likely to become a victim of a violent act increases exponentially as criminals roam far and wide. The spread of crime breeds fear and accelerates flight.

It remains to be seen whether Craig is a good day-to-day manager or whether he has a coherent law enforcement strategy. Regardless, he should start with the Police Department hierarchy, which is overdue for a major restructuring.

Detroit has not waged a noble war against the dangerous dance of crime and violence in part because the city’s law enforcement arm is generally looked upon as poorly managed and in perpetual disorder. Not all of this reputation is attributable to recurring malfunctions at the top. But the current situation makes a compelling case for cleaning up and slimming down at 1300 Beaubien.

Police misconduct at the highest levels has been a department trademark since the late, discredited Chief Bill Hart, who raided the now infamous Secret Service Fund that was established to pay informants for his personal use. In the interim, the department was placed under the watchful eye of the U.S. Justice Department for, among other things, leading the nation in the murder of civilians. More recently, there’s been a string of chiefs who couldn’t keep their pants zipped long enough to implement an effective and aggressive anti-crime strategy.

Unabated homicides and high-level police mismanagement suggests the Police Commission — or previous chiefs — have preferred not to offend enough brass or officers who placed themselves on the wrong side of the “thin blue line” of police credibility. The next chief will have a tough time restoring morale, integrity and improving the department’s image with just words as a defense.

In the meantime, Detroitresidents have ample reason to be skeptical that any restructuring will have an impact on the streets anytime soon. Since there’s no money in the cash-strapped city to hire more cops, the crime reduction pledge from the new police chief will, by necessity, be centered on redeploying a shrinking police force. And with depleted ranks, Detroit’s homicide closure rate and police response time won’t improve.

The conventional strategy is incident-oriented – a citizen reports an incident and police respond. The city, however, is at the limit of the 911 emergency call system. Predators know that the capacity for a rapid response that might result in apprehension of a felon is seriously deficient. But there’s a larger issue.

Community crime occurs only to the extent that citizens tolerate it. Some of the residents who are expected to be the eyes and ears for their neighbor’s well-being also contribute to the criminal breeding process by neglect or indifference.

So if a renewed sense of community can’t be summoned to harness violence the new chief may be left with a less desirable option:  Call in reinforcements and declare Marshal Law.

Otherwise, Chief Craig’s legacy will be that he was powerless to prevent ever-mounting casualties in an un-winnable war on crime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It boggles the mind that Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan actually had the audacity to leave his crime ridden, violence prone Chicago base and come to Detroit to tell us how this city can be saved. His visit last week was, at best, a recruitment campaign.

He’s yet to prescribe a lasting, workable solution for what ails urban America at large orDetroit in particular. Detroiters are far better off gleaning what little is palatable from his message and ignoring the rest of the rant from the messenger.

The controversy surrounding his appearance notwithstanding, Farrakhan was welcomed with open arms at City Hall and in the pulpits of some of the city’s largest churches. He delivered a message tinged with emotion and direction on how the black population should pool its resources to buy distressed properties. The clergy were urged to become catalysts in the effort to “re-own”Detroit.

Of course, some of what he said is worthy of consideration. Encouraging investment in residential and commercial property has always been a great idea. But there are amply reasons to be skeptical of the messenger if not the message.

In the mid-1990s, he called on black men across the country to converge on Washington,D.C. for a “holy day of atonement.” Participants were prodded to accept more responsibility for themselves, their families and their communities. A large contingent of “disciplined, committed and dedicated” disciples responded to make the Million Man March a success. But nearly 20 years later, Farrakhan grew in stature but the problems of the black family have never been worse.

Farrakhan too has listlessly witnessed the failure of schools, churches and other community institutions to end urban terrorism. He has turned a blind eye as welfare rights became a sacred economic life-support entitlement.

Nor has this self-proclaimed cultural leader been successful in addressing the burgeoning number of black males serving time in the criminal justice system. Nothing more underscores the failure of leaders like him to reverse the social and economic isolation black men face.

With Minister Farrakhan, there is always another message lurking just beneath the surface — a message of divisiveness. His unflattering history of offending the sensibilities of people is legendary.

He has repeatedly preached a liturgy of hate, referring to Jews as bloodsuckers. His messiah mentality and misguided moralism stereotypes whites as a “devils” who are oppressors of people of color. He has called for separate states for the races.

During his Detroit visit, for example, Farrakhan blamed former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s corruption conviction on racism. White politicians are no less corrupt, Farrakhan said, but “they hide their crap under the rug” and unite to protect each other. “But anything (blacks) do, (whites) expose to destroy your love and confidence in one another,” Farrakhan is quoted as saying. “The enemy that charged him is a liar from the beginning.”

It wouldn’t be the first or last time he engaged in his ritualistic pro-black tirade. He once said of blacks: “Our degeneracy is part of a master plan…what you don’t realize is you have been set up, you in your foolishness have played into the hands of your enemy…it is not an accident that jobs are leaving the inner cities.”

He went on to accuse the government of allowing corporate America to move jobs abroad “into cheaper markets, so the inner cities are filled with joblessness, poverty and despair.”

The problem with Farrakhan is that, among other things, he’s a self-aggrandizing opportunist who tends to show up in times of despair to exploit the disadvantaged and downtrodden. His purpose is not to unite, but to grow his membership.

For Detroiters to rally to the call of Farrakhan now would legitimize his efforts and give him credibility. He’s deserving of our contempt.

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My first inclination was to laugh at the absurdity of another protest group calling on Detroiters to participate in a, “don’t buy” boycott of alcohol, gasoline and lottery tickets. It had to be a joke. Detroiters aren’t about to forego these things at the behest of a fringe group of polarizing malcontents.

The latest in a string of civil disobedience activity took place in the chamber of the Detroit City Council against Governor Rick Snyder’s appointment of an Emergency Manager. The fact that only a handful of protesters came out to decry a $3.3 million contract with the Jones Day law firm spearheading negotiations restructuring the city’s debt spoke volumes. After an affirmative vote by Council, gadfly Malik Shabazz called on Detroiters to show their disaffection by engaging in an economic boycott.

Aggrieved Detroiters have the right to show displeasure in whatever legal way they see fit. The most successful economic boycott in recent memory was the Montgomery bus boycott. But Detroit is not Montgomery, the year is not 1955 and the notion that people will be restrained from shopping based on the Governor’s rescue plan is irrational.

To say that the lottery boycott is an exercise in futility underscores the obvious: A sizable chunk of public education in Michigan is funded by the lottery…and Detroit gets a huge slice of that pie. Detroit schools, suffering from declining enrollment, would be disproportionately harmed by any appreciable reduction in revenue. So where’s the logic in that? With millions of dollars to be won in the lottery jackpot, it’s doubtful that the scores of poor people who “chase the dream” daily will buy fewer tickets.

Of course, protest leaders could busy themselves adopting as a mission the reduction in number of fatherless homes that cause more damage to the social and economic fabric than any Emergency Manager ever could.

They haven’t.

They might have more credibility and converts working to reverse black infant mortality and illiteracy rates comparable to underdeveloped countries.

They either can’t or they won’t.

Or, they could embrace a mission that examines why scores of young men are destined to be incarcerated rather than educated.

Obviously, these few “citizen advocates” don’t see that such problems have reached crisis proportions. They would rather launch meaningless initiatives than remind parents that their responsibilities and obligations to their own children go beyond just having them. No, the protest voices are not voices of authority that strive for community standards that tell young mothers that “marrying the state” is not an acceptable substitute for “parental responsibility.”

At the end of the day, this protest/boycott strategy is little more than a catchall receptacle for political gripes – more “pandering” than “substance.” And by relegating economic empowerment to the back seat of progress, the organizers are offering what amounts to dead-end agendas. Thriving cities have two essential roads to prosperity: recruit and relocate companies and jobs, or grow their own companies from within the community.

Detroit does neither.

In the real world, businesses are not only a key to self-sufficiency, they are critical to ending joblessness. Self-employment enables people to feed and educate members of their family. It also helps reduce the need for social services. It’s never made more sense to cripple rather than enhance the economy. “Enterprise” is a proven means of strengthening communities so the poor can begin to put poverty behind them. It results in cities having adequate funds to provide essential services because a robust economy attracts investment and generates the profits and tax revenue that ends over-reliance on government.

Obviously some Detroiters – some demonstrators – are paranoid about change. Rather than see it as an opportunity, they fear something will be lost. The clamor for change, however, must not be stifled. The city’s future hinges on the pace of evolution beyond the protest de jour.

Detroit won’t get too many more chances to make a clean break from the political apartheid of the past and create a right-sized government that allows the free market to flourish.

 

http://domemagazine.com/johnson/bj051013

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Kevyn Orr, Detroit’s emergency manger has the monumental task of finding ways to help the city survive its financial crisis. Getting the city back on a sound footing fundamentally requires providing services at lower costs.

There is, of course, low-hanging fruit that is ripe for consolidation or elimination. At the top of this list is decommissioning of the city’s public health and public lighting departments.

A plan has already been set in motion to covert Detroit’s health department into a nonprofit Institute for Population Health. The institute will provide most of the public health functions required by state law, including immunizations, communicable disease testing, and vision and hearing screening and food sanitation and restaurant inspections.

But the institute basically substitutes one bureaucracy for another.

Detroit is the only Michigan city that runs or has oversight over health functions. County health departments generally handle this responsibility. Closing the Herman Kiefer complex and transferring to the county all functions within its walls, would be “best practices” personified.

Include in that move the Vital Records Unit, which comprise birth and death records.

The Wayne County Clerk, for example, maintains such records for all cities and townships except Detroit.

Insiders tell me that persons requesting birth or death certificates from the city by mail, may not get a response, let alone the record requested, in six months or more. Those who come to the city to personally request the documents, typically have to wait over an hour just to see if the record is available. The record-keeping system – or customer service — is just that dysfunctional.

The County Clerk has modern technology and business know-how to handle these functions. Many former Detroiters who now live in suburbia would be able to access these records via the clerk’s multiple service locations including Westland and Northville Township.

Waiting time under this operation takes 15 to 20 minutes. And the Clerk is currently installing an online document retrieval system — that will make electronic access to these records available in minutes.

However, no city function is ripe for a spin-off more than public lighting.

A new public lighting authority was seated because the city refuses to accept the truth about the critically impaired 110-year old system. The charge of the five-member board is to draft a plan and issue debt to pay for streetlight improvements. The panel is likely to find that reinvesting another $160 million in the same old system won’t come close to remedying its ills by the 2015 target date.

The utility’s citywide power distribution is responsible for all city streetlights, traffic signals and more than 890 public buildings, including some police and fire stations, schools, libraries, etc. The city has been trying to cope with widespread streetlight outages for decades.

Streetlight outages are near the top of citizen complaints. Adequate street lighting in an important public safety concern and critical for safe auto traffic and pedestrian travel.

The PLD has repeatedly received voter-approved bond money for required equipment upgrades. Some of it even went unspent after city officials found the dollars weren’t enough to improve the system’s reliability.

It’s difficult to see how a public lighting authority can correct years of major infrastructure needs. It may explore alternative structures, including management, ownership or sale. But the PLD has been studied for eons without producing solutions. More studies merely put “lights out” on hold. The antiquated PLD is simply beyond repair.

The time has come to transform the short-circuited PLD into an operation driven by the latest technological and consumer forces. The city’s best bet for lighting up the city again is get out of the public utility business. Giving it to DTE Energy would allow the city to discard a political liability. And getting out of the both the public health and public lighting business will begin to set a higher standard for public services.

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I don’t have inside information about whether Detroit Mayor Dave Bing’s taking out petitions is an indication that he actually plans to throw his hat into the ring. I’m not convinced that if he seeks re-election he can win. I am certain of this: his potential candidacy makes a lot more sense than that of Tom Barrow.

Bing’s flirtation with running was unexpected. He now says he’ll huddle with close advisers and family members before making a decision by the May 14 filing deadline. Come to think of it, his candidacy might be a healthy sign that the 2013 mayoral campaign will be more vigorous and dynamic.

Elected to a full four-year term in 2009, Bing inherited a city with devastating bureaucratic, fiscal, economic and social problems. The environment was so severe, the problems so deep-seated, they were beyond his ability to manage. So while he can be criticized for not finding the creative energy to fix high taxes, high crime or burgeoning deficits that would eventually lead to an emergency manager, the lack of solutions wasn’t entirely his fault.

The mayor received no help from a generally weak and recalcitrant City Council, which seemed more intent of perpetuating its high-priced, high-perks existence than providing a high level of services to the people its members claimed to represent. With appointment of an EM, the council has been effectively, albeit temporarily, neutered.

Going forward, any mayor might be more effective if the EM gets runaway spending under control and removes restructuring obstacles in the City Charter that gives the council veto over needed reforms.

That Mayor Bing has never stopped fighting for the city is reinforced by corporate giants who seem to be descending from the heavens to aide Bing rescue the city from the brink of insolvency. New firms and retail stores are slowly but surely relocating to downtown or Midtown. Young gentrifiers, apparently believing that Detroit has a brighter future, are quietly making their presence known.

Quicken Loans CEO Dan Gilbert and partners are on a downtown building-buying spree. Other business leaders are supporting Bing by chipping in millions for the purchase of 23 new ambulances and 100 new police cruisers in the fight against crime.

Some 50-city parks will open this summer in part due to millions in corporate donations. Community groups, businesses, churches and block clubs will adopt more than 100 other parks.

I personally think it’s folly, but a multi-million dollar streetcar system is about to be built – partly by private dollars — to shuttle passengers from the downtown area to Midtown.

Don’t think for a moment that the mayor’s contemplated entry into the race won’t present a challenge to contenders Mike Duggan, Benny Napoleon, Fred Durhal, Krystal Crittendon, Lisa Howze and Tom Barrow.

At some point, the major media will get around to focusing on the foibles of Mike Duggan, considered at the moment to be the man to beat. I’m sure he’d prefer that some things in his political/business life remain buried in history.

Sheriff Benny Napoleon is generally thought to be a finalist. But questions also surround Napoleon’s prior and current management styles. But then, voters will find something to criticize with everyone in the race.

It is inconceivable that perennial candidate Tom Barrow believes he will be taken seriously. Twice he challenged the election outcome against Detroit Mayor Coleman Young and later mayoral hopeful Dave Bing. In both cases, Barrow claimed hanky-panky, rather than voter rejection, caused his defeat.

He’s tried, but Barrow also can’t deny his conviction for bank fraud, tax evasion and filing false tax returns. For that, he served 13 months of a 21-month sentence.

So don’t count the votes yet. The mayor, through the power of incumbency, has time to redeem himself. And once the hyperbole surrounding the race is replaced by reality, Dave Bing could be the dark horse that overcame the odds.

 

 

 

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The Sierra Club’s manifesto to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to restrict permits to new or modified facilities that emit pollutants could have mega-consequences for Detroit. It may be well intentioned. In practice, however, the push for what it calls “environmental justice” ensures that distressed cities will be permanently devoid of new manufacturing opportunities.

The Sierra Club’s State-of-the-Environment report is aimed at the Detroit Future City strategy that takes a futuristic view of land use. The document claims city planners fail to take into consideration that metro Detroit’s poor and minority neighborhoods are already deluged with excessive pollution and contaminated industrial, commercial and hazardous waste sites.

Identified as chronic polluters are solid waste incinerators, steel companies, oil refineries, vehicle pollution from nearby I-75 and coal fired power plants – mostly in Southwest Detroit and adjacent downriver suburbs. Black and brown residents living in proximity to this contamination, according to the environmental group, are subjected to inordinately high levels of diseases and birth defects.

This attempt to link pollution with alleged civil rights violations seems like the organization is trying to justify its existence while placing Detroit’s in peril. The charges are easy to make. But much of the energy and passion infusing environmental justice is neither justified nor scientific.

Claims of “environmental injustice” and environmental racism are little more than loosely defined catch phrases used by environmental activists to draw attention to the purportedly disproportionate negative effects of pollution in poor and minority communities. These terms are commonly associated with widely held accusations that federal, state and local governments may have even conspired to permit greater pollution in impoverished black and brown communities than in affluent ones.

It may be accurate, for example, to say that Detroit has more commercial hazardous waste sites in black and brown neighborhoods than in most suburban cities. However, there is no evidence that state and federal officials deliberately sited hazardous projects near places where minorities cluster, or that they intentionally overlook regulatory violations in making siting decisions. Older industrial sites have been around for decades.

Shifts in population help explain why minority populations are often found near waste-producing facilities. As the middle class moved out of cities – which were often far more polluted in the bad old days of American industry – the poor of all hues moved into vacated areas close to old plants and waste sites where housing is more affordable.

We also know that black and minority populations typically have worse health concerns than the general public. But many of these disparities may easily be attributable to behavior and lifestyle than environmental pollution. The same health disparities also exist among minorities who live in affluent suburbs around Detroit.

The Sierra Club’s minority-race-based analyses of sites and limiting new permits threatens to forever kill both expansion and new investment in depressed urban industrial areas.  Not only would it have a chilling effect on urban redevelopment initiatives on the drawing board, it would impose higher costs on businesses looking to locate in areas where the need for investment and development is greatest.

Small businesses looking to expand don’t have the luxury of economies of scale in complying with environmental and other regulations. They will be particularly hard hit. The result will be the further depression of land values and the continued out-migration of what little industry, jobs and tax base is left. The economic damage inflicted upon the city would surpass any conceivable environmental benefit.

The DEQ should continue to consider the potential for disparate impacts on low-income and people-of- color communities. But permits should be issued on a case-by-case basis. Some contamination can be abated or reconciled and some waste sites can be reclaimed.

Meanwhile, business and industry should unite to prevent the Sierra Club from sounding an urban regulatory death knell that takes Detroit out of the running for a much needed revival.

 

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In the upcoming primary election there won’t be a record number of Detroiters going to the polls to decide the final candidates in the race for mayor, city council and city clerk. It’s doubtful that the race will be the rock-em, sock-em, down and dirty outcome that produce winds of change that radically alter the political landscape. There simply aren’t enough voters left in the city who care — or believe — that those holding elective office will make a difference in their lives.

Pundits, in need of a hotly contested race that draw voters from the far reaches of the city are trying to ramp-up the dialogue by prodding and pointing out the differences between the leading contenders. A few challengers are charismatic with ideas and resumes that qualify them to intelligently discuss potent financial and bread-and-butter issues that need addressing – city services, crime jobs and investJment. But office-holding in Detroit is pretty much an unfruitful, dead-end career that is no longer attractive to incumbents or challengers.

The appointment of an emergency manager practically guarantees that for the foreseeable future the city will be managed by someone who is not elected by anyone. Knowing that eventual winners will have no real political power will cause scores of potential voters to sit out the election because they will have determined the outcome is meaningless.canstock1644114

There is no real sense that the electorate feel compelled to rush to the polls to uproot the powerless political establishment. There is no evidence that disenfranchised masses are anxiously waiting to usher into office a fresh batch of candidates who promise to “make things right.”

Substantial political research also has identified the powerful relationship between social status and turnout. When voting participation falls off, it is the poor and less educated who stop voting. And the lower down the economic ladder one goes, the lower the participation rate becomes. In this regard, Detroit has one of the highest unemployment and school dropout rates and poverty populations in the nation.

The resulting abysmal display of civic participation also suggests that Detroiters are turned off and tuned out. No doubt the historic lack of political response to public concerns is a contributing factor that adds to a sense of helplessness and frustration. That means the ranks of those who have become disillusioned about politics will probably swell since they can’t pin their hopes for a brighter future on the election outcome.

City churches once produced a reliable stream of dedicated voters. But many of the middle-class, law-abiding, educated and informed voters in these congregations have taken refuge in the suburbs.

The business community may get involved, but they have money rather than a ballot. Senior citizens, the most reliable voting bloc, may choose to throw up their hands in disgust about conditions in the city or the state of Detroit politics.

Political indifference, however, isn’t new to Detroit. City elections haven’t produced huge turnouts in decades. Of the estimated 700,000 residents, for example, there are more registered non-voters than voting age adults who aren’t registered. And on a purely mathematical basis, it is hard to make the case for any Detroiter voting. The turnout issue isn’t important without definable differences in the attitudes among those who vote and those who don’t.

There is no law to compel voting, and under the circumstances no way to browbeat city residents into participating. But who’s to blame?

It is voter apathy that allowed the Detroit political process to become somebody else’s exclusive domain in the first place. So there’s every reason to believe there will be more “Gone Fishing” signs than “Gone to Vote” signs come Election Day. So why bother?

 

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Dan Gilbert, chairman and founder of Rock Ventures LLC and Quicken Loans Inc. has sparked renewed optimism that a downtown Detroit rebirth is in the making. Although inspiring, the city remains short of major investors. Relaxing onerous regulatory barriers that keep opportunities at bay could significantly enhance its path to prosperity.

Take the example of millionaire developer Mike Sawruk, a Michigan native, who currently resides in Florida. In the 1980s he moved from a corporate position with Orlando’s largest employer, formed Sawruk Management Inc. and built Eastwood, the largest residential community in Orlando. He recalls that the challenge was to assess what the consumer marketplace dictated and try to convince local zoning and regulatory bureaucrats to allow him to meet the demand.  It wasn’t easy.

About the same time, Walt Disney decided to build Walt Disney World at the crossroads of the Florida turnpike and I-4 and faced similar obstacles.

Disneyland was up and running in California in the face of numerous roadblocks, remembers Sawruk. “The more I dug into it the more I realized that Disney used a brilliant strategy in building Florida’s Epcot (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow).”

Disney wanted to see what a city of tomorrow would look like unencumbered by government edicts. He petitioned the Florida Legislature and the governor to give him super zoning in one of Florida’s many drainage districts. It would mean that Disney had to essentially “drain the swamp.”

The surrounding communities fought the project. The city of Orlando wanted it within its city limits. So did Orange County. Disney wanted access to property unencumbered with the counterproductive minefields government seems to thrive on. He refused to commit his resources until the obstacles were removed.

Lawmakers created the Reedy Creek development district, which ultimately became the super-municipality it is today. Disney was given total freedom and control – no taxes, no environmental restrictions, etc.

Fast-forward 40 years and it is undeniable that the gamble paid off. The value of Disney World today is somewhere in the neighborhood of a trillion dollars. Orlando is arguably the top vacation destination in North America and attracts some 40 million visitors annually.

This isn’t the only example in which a similar confluence of events is applicable.

One of the major builders of Disney World, a Sawruk friend, was recruited to recreate the ski slopes of Switzerland in the desert of Dubai. The developer initially told his visionary Emir client that it wasn’t technically feasible in a locale where the temperature gets as high as 140 degrees. The Emir reportedly asked what it would take to make it technically feasible. Over a billion dollars, was the response. The developer was given both the financial resources and a clean slate in terms of regulatory impediments. Ski Dubai is a reality.

Sawruk concluded that the regulation-free model was transferable. If Disney World can be built essentially on swampland in the middle of nowhere, and a ski slope built in the desert, perhaps he could build a mega-multi-use complex in a “special development district” somewhere in Michigan. After all, the blueprint was established with renaissance and empowerment zones.

Sawruk and his partners don’t need government subsidies. They only seek an opportunity to invest as much as a half billion dollars of their own money in underdeveloped areas like the aerotropolis concept near Metro Airport. He also sees promise in a year-round International Detroit Auto Show in the auto capital of the world.

No doubt Detroit and Michigan are in desperate need of forward thinking risk-takers. But an intimidating bureaucracy, stifling mandates and a gauntlet of licenses, permits and inspections, characterizes Michigan’s regulatory climate. All are time-consuming and costly.

Is city and state government more committed to impeding development and innovation than creating synergy and jobs in a free market? If not, someone should be talking to Sawruk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Approval by the Flint City Council notwithstanding, Genesee County Drain Commissioner Jeff  Wright’s bright idea to link Flint and a newly constructed multi-million dollar, multi-county connector is, at best, a pipe dream. The best cost-saving solution to Flint’s water supply concerns is to strike a new deal with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD).

At issue is Commissioner Wright’s push forFlint to join the proposed Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) project, which theoretically would pull water from Lake Huron and ultimately replaceFlint’s reliance on treated water from the city ofDetroit. Under the KWA plan,Flint would purchase untreated Lake Huron water through an intake pipeline and treat it at the city’s treatment plant before distributing it toFlint customers.

Unfortunately, the ambitious plan is not grounded in fiscal reality. Put another way, Wright’s elaborate water pipe is a mirage.

Tucker, Young, Jackson & Tull Inc., a prestigious engineering consulting firm hired by the state Treasurer’s office, exposed KWA’s flaws. Its  report, The City of Flint Water Supply Assessment, which was released in February, examined the feasibility of the KWA pipeline and found it is anything but.

The GCDC put the project’s estimated cost at $274 million. Tucker, Young, Jackson & Tull pegged the cost at more than $375 million – revealing that Wright low-balled the project by a whopping 24-percent. And that doesn’t include other unforeseen contingencies.

The engineering company further states that, “Cost overruns and delays in completion will both negatively impact Flint’s final costs.” And there are other “unknown” risks “including the potential of explosive gases in tunneling below Lake Huron, changing site conditions associated with the large number of miles of pipe installation… the startup and debugging of the entire pumping system.”

Wright also claims Flint could reduce by $4 million what it pays DWSD annually for water service by joining the KWA pipeline. But once these additional costs and risks are factored in, it is reasonable to predict that the rates paid byFlint’s water and sewerage customers will be substantially higher than those levied by DWSD, even with the day-in-day specification changes the drain commissioner makes.

Wright further contends that Flint represents six percent of DWSD’s water sales but the city has no voice or control over rate increases. The “held hostage” issue, however, becomes moot with final approval of the Detroit Board of Water Commissioners (BOWC) process to make DWSD an independent public authority. Under the new board structure Genesee Countycould have both a seat and a vote.

Since 2001, DWSD has attempted to negotiate a new contract to address Flint’s concerns. Five options are on the table, including an offer to sell KWA untreated water from the existing intake onLake Huron, which would make a separate intake pipe an unnecessary expenditure. The new model also has latitude for Flint to reduce or increase their customer capacity obligations as needed. Equally important is the potential for 20-30 percent savings. The caveat is that Flint would have to sign a new 30-year contract with DWSD to make adjustments cost-effective.

Despite the council vote — and in light of the Tucker, Young, Jackson & Tull expert assessment — DWSD remains committed to a constructive engagement with Flint and the GCDC to reevaluate all water delivery system options so to better serve this important customer base.

Bill Johnson

DWSD Consultant

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It amazes me that protest groups march, taunt, disrupt and demonstrate over issues that have little to do with the overwhelming despair faced by the average Detroiter.  None has made the slightest contribution to the improvement or advancement of the city.  These political mercenaries have boundless expertise in running their mouths — and nothing more.

The UAW, AFSCME, NAACP and Council of Baptist Pastors, among others, are busy holding news conferences or blocking traffic. Their supporters have staged 1960-style marches with the intent of painting Gov. Rick Snyder’s emergency manager decision “anti-democratic.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network has taken to the airwaves to accuse the governor of attempting to undermine voting rights and “the will of the people.” The Rev. Jesse Jackson added his tired voice to the mix.

We know that the Detroit vote is mostly lost to apathy, a self-imposed disenfranchisement. In non-presidential elections, for example, voter turnout in the city is around 20-percent. And there’s no evidence that political power has done much to reverse the deterioration of the city.

Who ordained these pseudo-champions of the people as the only legitimate voices of Detroit? Where did they get the moral authority?

These hypocrites have never run a business or created a job. They sat on the sidelines as unemployment among city dwellers swelled to more than twice the national average. They looked the other way as the city became deluged with untenable levels of crime. They helplessly observed generations of uneducated children become hopelessly mired in poverty.

By their silence, they sanctioned the fracturing of families. Neighborhoods plagued by deplorable abandonment and blight were beyond their powers of prevention.

Not one organization could prevent Detroit from becoming the murder capital. And they couldn’t stop the stampede of outbound residents and the loss of more than half the city’s population.

Further proof of their impotency is a long-festering sore associated the violence visited upon the young. The same people that feign concern about the fiscal crisis were AWOL when it came to diverting high-risk children from criminally violating the life, liberty and property of their neighbors. Missing are principled, committed role models who feel obligated to get down in the trenches and wage war against self-generated destructive forces among the aimless young. It is this leadership “void” that allowed the urban terrorist to become a sad commentary of how the moral outrage about Snyder is misplaced.

The sum of these pathologies is directly or indirectly linked to “pretenders” that now shamelessly advance conspiracy theories to justify the absence of solutions. Rejected is any suggestion that the “enemy within” makes the city immune to self-reliance, resourcefulness and recovery. And nothing will fundamentally change if their anti-Snyder crusade derails the EFM process.

The utterings and actions of Jackson, Sharpton and their self-promoting clery-cult followers are more attuned to holding Detroiters in psychological bondage than helping them rise above their miserable condition. Intoxicated with their ability to generate media coverage, these power-mongering agitators use divisiveness for  political advantage — or to get paid. It is they — not the system they rail against — who have failed the people.

It is not a betrayal to criticize these articulate but dysfunctional demagogues for their shortcomings. Too many communities became neglected and desolate under their watch. The survivors are left with a social and economic calamity that won’t be corrected through civil disobedience or further exploitation of the downtrodden.

Sadly,  those who identify with their messages of doom find pleasure in wallowing in a perpetual state of victimhood; self-righteousness, self-pity and anger. Liberating them requires an uncompromising resolve by “authentic” leaders who are capable of playing a responsible role in containing the sinkhole that slowly swallows the city. Unfortunately, Detroiters may have to look elsewhere for the voices of reason.

 

 

 

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On March 7, 1965, civil rights demonstrators were beaten by club-wielding police on the Edmund Petus Bridge at the start of what became the “Bloody Sunday” march to Montgomery. Selma, Ala, would be forever linked with the struggle for racial justice and passage of the Voting Rights Act.

However, in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Shelby County in Alabama has challenged the Act on the grounds that it is no longer relevant or constitutional. More specifically, the lawsuit questions whether the Voting Rights Act now represents reverse discrimination against Southern states.

Prior to the mid-1800s, the black vote was a limited franchise. The end of the Civil War gave Southern states another reason to erect obstacles. It took the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified, in 1870, to establish black suffrage. But by the turn of the 20th Century, a series of subtle and overt barriers reduced black voting participation. Intimidation was coupled with poll taxes, literacy tests and “grandfather” clauses that limited the vote to only those whose grandfathers had voted.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 gave real meaning to the right to vote. It effectively dismantled embedded discriminatory practices. These barriers had kept elected offices beyond the reach of black contenders.

images-2No black American had been elected to Congress during the 20th Century in Alabama, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina or Virginia until 1992 and the creation of majority-black districts in those states. No state, let alone the seat of the Confederacy, had ever elected a black governor until Virginia Democrat Douglas Wilder was elected in 1989.

The  issue before the High Court surrounds Section 5 of the special provisions of the Act. It requires nine to 16 Southern states to obtain advance approval from the Justice Department for any election system change. States must show that any deviations – like Voter ID requirements –have no discriminatory purpose or effect, even if that is not their initial intent. It’s widely held that no redistricting plan can pass muster if it leaves minority voters worse off than they were before.

These provisions essentially ushered in bizarre and odd-shaped election district boundaries that accomplished what they were intended to do — maximize the black vote. It didn’t seem to matter to the civil rights establishment that the systematic constructing of “safe” seats for blacks was tantamount to re-segregating voters into political “homelands.”

In recent years, the courts have limited how far states may go in giving black voters and politicians an edge. Federal courts have disbanded mostly black majority districts in Florida, Louisiana and Georgia. The Supreme Court threw out predominantly minority congressional districts in Texas and North Carolina, saying the states unlawfully made race the main factor in drawing the boundaries.

The courts are onto something. Today, apathy, not legal impediments, is more likely to stand between black Americans and the voting booth.

In 1970, less than 1,000 blacks throughout the United States held elected office at the city and county level. Today, black elected officials number more than 10,000 across the political spectrum.

Black representation in the 435-member House of Representatives is up from 24 in 1992 to the current 44.  Due to the Voting Rights Act, it is not surprising that most of the dramatic and historic gains are in Southern states. Mississippi, which once ranked last now ranks first in the total number of black elected officials, followed by Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia.

The old franchise –that disenfranchised – no longer exists. Americans have twice elected a black president. Never has the potential voting strength of blacks been so potent.

Whether or not the Supreme Court rules that the Section 5 provision of the Act protects an unacceptable system of racial quotas that distort American democracy, the right to vote for blacks is not in jeopardy. The United States Constitution guarantees that right, and that guarantee has no expiration date.

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There’s nothing in the state financial review report given to Gov. Rick Snyder last week to account for his gushing optimism that Detroit can be turned around now or in the foreseeable future.

In fact, pretending that Detroit doesn’t have irreparable structural problems is exactly the kind thinking that contributed to the city’s slide into an urban wasteland. The governor should acknowledge that the bubble has burst.

It’s important to understand the reasons behind this dire assessment. Detroit, after all, provides the best example that heavily taxed cities are abandonment prone.

The numbers don’t lie.

In 2011, city of Detroit coffers were almost $175 million short in property tax collections, which widened the gap between what the city spent and what it collected. On the other end of the chasm was an accumulated deficit of $327 million and a projected cash-flow shortfall of more than $100 million by June 30.

The rate of tax collections to taxes levied has been on a precipitous decline for decades. It’s estimated that less than 50 percent of the property tax bill is currently collected. That compares to a 1971 collection rate of 98.2 percent.

These delinquencies contribute to $14.9 billion in total debt, including unfunded pension and retirement liabilities. If the city cashed out today, its liabilities would exceed its assets. But a more immediate prospect is that the rating of city bonds will drop from their marginal investment grade to near-default status.

None of this is new or unexpected. The city has lost more than half its population since 1950 — from 1.85 million to just over 700,000 in 2010. Primarily owing to abandonments, Detroit has also lost more housing than it has built every year since 1960. Even today, homes are being abandoned, bulldozed or burned faster than the city can tear them down.

Some absentee landlords contribute to the vacated building inventory after properties no longer produce income and become unmarketable. Vandalism and arson whittle the value of these assets. Education dysfunction spawns more population flight, shrinking the pool of employed and responsible tenants. So unoccupied dwellings quickly become eyesores that further depress property values and add to an irreversible cycle.

Further damage to the tax rolls comes from Detroit’s several versions of tax incentives and abatements, which allow “connected” property owners to legally avoid taxes. The city, although overly generous in this regard, has moved no closer to regaining its competitive edge.

An aggressive foreclosure policy and programs offering negotiated payment plans to delinquent taxpayers is no more effective than suing scofflaw landowners or hiring tax collection agencies. Amnesty programs that  “forgive” penalty and interest charges on back taxes result in loyal taxpayers delaying payment.

Hauling landowners into court, aside from being a heavy-handed collection policy, cause distressed owners to walk away sooner. And although the average age of the housing stock is probably close to 60 years, the neighborhood decline is so severe that it discourages the construction of new market rate housing, particularly in a high crime environment.

Raising taxes is out of the question. Detroit already has the highest property tax rate in the state. And the city relies on inflated assessments that in some cases are more than 10 times their market price.

Detroiters, entitled to a fair return on their taxes, get an inefficient, ineffective government that can’t deliver basic services. Outmoded political strategies continue to collide with the reasons why households continue to flee.

Bankruptcy, while merciful, may not be enough to again make the city a place of opportunity, an engine of economic growth and social vitality. More likely, a declaration of insolvency will increase, not stop the decline as more businesses and residents stampede to the border.

It bears repeating:  Detroit will get substantially worse before it gets marginally better — the governor’s optimism notwithstanding. The trends and the numbers make the case.