City Council’s pigsty

City of Detroit

Detroit’s fiscal frenzy gets crazier by the day.

Last week, Mayor Dave Bing presented to the City Council a hyped-up short-term, cash flow problem proposal that no one believes will save $40 million, or come close to averting the naming of an emergency fianancial manger.

stock-photo-piglets-eating-in-a-trough-on-a-farm-98579099In contempt of the people, members of the City Council refused to cut their budget by 30 percent, claiming the legislative body wouldn’t make additional cuts just to score “political points.”

Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Snyder named a high profile team of Detroiters and Lansing officials to conduct what amounts to a séance to evoke the lost spirit of fiscal accountability.

Expectations were never high for Mayor Bing, who hasn’t make a substantative move to bring costs in line since he’s been in office. Even he knows massive layoffs and drastic cuts in essential services must occur unless employee unions help balance the budget through a wage freeze, pay cut and fringe concessions.

But the mayor’s meager cost-cutting measures are merely stopgap. They don’t come close to solving the city’s budget problems. The administration’s business as usual strategy means gaps between revenues and expenditures will ultimately have to be addressed by an EFM somewhere in the future. Detroiters, however, should be outraged at the council’s defiant resistance to bring its costs in line.

Members rejected Council President Pro Tem Gary Brown’s proposal to give up city-owned cars with free gas maintenance and insurance and cell phones. They also dismissed a 70-30 split on health insurance, an end to furlough days and a 10 percent wage cut. The council opted to continue the gluttonous feeding at the public trough at a time when city coffers are badly stretched, the tax base depleted, all service delivery systems are in shambles and a state takeover imminent.  Their action, or lack thereof, makes a mockery of political responsibility.

Since 1974, the budget of the City Council has jumped from just over $1 million to more than $13 million – even as the city’s population disappeared. Budgets of the council have grown faster than almost all city departments that provide essential services.

The council staff has also increased exponentially. It’s hard to find evidence, however, that the staff has been used to very good effect. Constituent services are pretty much an oxymoron.

It is commonly understood that the primary mission of staffers is to increase the electability of their respective councilpersons. In other words, the council views its major responsibility as perpetuating itself, not acting in the public interest.

The council missed an opportunity to gain credibility and establish justification for even tougher cuts that, by necessity, are inevitably just down the road. Not seriously curbing its voracious spending habits and not showing fiscal discipline, the council can’t be trusted to set real budget priorities or to implement bold initiatives required by the budget crisis.

Real budget balancing means reducing outlays for inflated salaries and wasteful programs that make little contribution to an efficient, effective government or a strong economy at all levels of government. The council has never, and likely never will, make a convincing case to employees that they are leading by example.

Generating budget savings doesn’t always mean taking on the unions or sacrificing public employees or the residents who need them to service their neighborhoods. Ultimately, the solution must include selling major city assets and putting costly public services out to competitive bid. But neither the mayor nor the council has shown any grit for a more reasonable long-term plan that includes a sweeping remake of the bureaucracy.

There still are a couple of ways to roll back the thoughtless pig-out by the council. It is, of course, immediately vulnerable to the whimsical ax of an EFM. Absent that, the best defense against greedy, overpaid elected officials is to remove them from office at the first opportunity.

4 thoughts on “City Council’s pigsty

  1. Bravo, Mr. Johnson for speaking out on this greed. How on earth can you ask the union members to make drastic cuts while the City Council keeps taking and taking and taking. Again, there are always people who think they are special. Please don’t let up on this subject. They need to be shamed. If an emergency manager is authorized, they will have no one to blame but themselves. I read something recently that tells it all, “winners take responsibility, losers make excuses.”

  2. The City Council should not be allocated 13 MILLION DOLLARS OF THE DETROIT CITY BUDGET TO SET UP SHOP, TO HIRE AND STAFF WHOEVER THEY WISH TO, AND TO SET THE WAGE THAT IS PAID. It is time to pay salaries to each council member, and for a re-tool to bring integrity and accountability and just as importantly to SAVE MILLIONS OF DOLLARS THAT ARE CURRENTLY DIVIDED AMONG THE COUNCIL MEMBERS to spend as they wish, and without a serious accountability instrument in place. They should be paid salaries, they should not be allowed to employ their family and friends, and they create the job titles, and they determine what they will pay them. The City Council should be constructed as a department, and jobs, positions should be filled like other city departments, providing Detroiters an opportunity for employment. Take away their cars, take away the waste of police officers who drive them around under the guise of security. The city that can least afford to continue giving the City Council 13 MILLION DOLLARS to divide up and spend like they want to–needs to stop IT NOW! There is no other city in the state of Michigan that allocates 13 MILLION for the administration of a city council, as a matter of fact, most have volunteer city councils, or they are paid a salary, or they are paid on a per meeting basis. If I was the leader of any union, I would say Hell No to concessions, let’s get rid of the financial waste of 13 MILLION DOLLARS NOW FOR A CITY COUNCIL THAT IS NOT WORTH 2 MILLION DOLLARS! Now we know why 500 people applied to run in the election, easy way to get control of some MILLIONS!

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