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Commentary: Detroit - What Happens Next?

You may think I am pessimistic, but I have deep doubts about whether the governor’s proposal to save Detroit from an emergency manager will work. There are two main problems.

First, it isn’t clear that those supporting it can muster five votes on the nine-member council to approve it. Second, I am not sure it will work even if it is ratified. The structure is too complex.

While it takes some power away from those who have failed so badly to live up to their fiscal responsibilities, it may leave them too much authority still. And I can see the city leaders fighting every rational decision all the way.  Three of the nine council members are what you might call the irreconcilables. They are unwilling to listen to compromise, unwilling to face reality in any way.

One of these realities is that the city is likely to completely run out of cash next month, and then the law mandates a state takeover by some means that won’t be pretty.

But Brenda Jones, Kwame Kenyatta, and JoAnn Watson are determined to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking by riding Detroit right down to the ocean floor.

Yesterday, Kenyatta left the council table when this last-ditch effort to save some authority for the city was being discussed. “I left because I did not want to engage in any dialogue,” he said.

Now that’s leadership. So the governor has to win the support of five of the remaining six, and that will be like herding cats.

The city unions, who apparently lack any leader with the foresight of a Ron Gettelfinger or Bob King, are determined to scuttle this deal too.  It would require them to make more concessions than they have agreed to, and they are digging in their heels.

Henry Gaffney, head of the bus drivers union, virtually promised, quote, “some type of civil unrest,” if this was approved.  That is anything but responsible. Does anyone think what happened in nineteen sixty seven was good for Detroit? If it happened again, the consequences would be worse. I hate seeing workers give up the pay and benefits that created the black middle class.

But to once again quote the Big Bopper, “there ain’t no money, honey.”  And no more time for silliness, such as Congressman Hansen Clarke’s introducing a bill in the Republican-controlled House asking the government to give Detroit half a billion dollars.

Councilman Gary Brown, who has been a voice of sanity, noted yesterday that his colleagues were going to have to enter into some agreement by next week or say bye-bye to all their power.

The governor pleaded last night for city leaders to be “focusing on the positive, about how we’re a team together. The goal is financial stability for the city.” But sadly, too many seem unwilling to do that. What also worries me is that in the governor’s latest proposal, the committee that was to have run things becomes only an advisory board. Fiscal power stays with the mayor and the council, though the state treasurer could apparently overrule them.

Everything has to be decided, one way or another, by next week. Whatever happens, Detroit and Michigan are in for some interesting times ahead.

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