Bobb's deep debt
It's worse than you think
Published: October 13, 2010
A lack of transparency has been a focal point of criticism aimed at Bobb and his team with increasing frequency. Freedom of Information Act requests filed on behalf of this paper as far back as March have yet to receive a response, even though the law dictates that such requests be acted on within 15 working days.
"Bobb has thumbed his nose at disclosure," says Adams. "He should be held accountable."
Critics who complain that Bobb is continuing to operate in secret, and failing to give the public an accurate and open accounting of how their tax money is being spent, can point to the most recent budget document posted on the district's website.
In the previous year, the posted budget ran hundreds of pages. This year's budget — which totals about $1 billion — contains a single page.
Another concern is the number of outside consultants Bobb has brought on board.
"His spending pattern has increased the deficit," alleges Adams, who was previously deputy mayor in the Kwame Kilpatrick administration. Bobb has brought in an inordinate number of consultants that added to the deficit without any real benefit to the district."
The Detroit Free Press reported in October 2009 that, at that point, Bobb had spent $40 million on consultants. Although Bobb claimed the report was inaccurate, the paper stood by the credibility of its story.
In addition, the Bobb administration's autonomous attitude and failure to communicate with the board and district staff is adding to the district's financial problems.
"Bobb's failure to collaborate with the board and the lack of oversight by the governor has resulted in costly decisions, including his unchecked spending on consultants and vendors," says Scott, the board's immediate past president.
One example is the $40 million spent on textbooks and testing systems that, according to highly placed school administrators who spoke with the Metro Times on the condition that they not be identified, were purchased without consultation with district administrators or teachers, as would normally be the case. Neither was a needs assessment, typical for such a purchase, conducted.
Adams, who previously served as general counsel for DPS, describes the lack of transparency as highly disconcerting.
"It is a violation of everything you know and come to understand about how government should operate," he says. "People have a right to know how their money is being spent. In the situation where you have [an appointed] financial manager, it is even more important that people understand how money is spent. These are public dollars and they should be accounted for."
Concern regarding Bobb's lack of transparency prompted former DPS board member and current state Rep. Jimmy Womack (D-Detroit) to author a law requiring emergency financial managers to disclose more information so that the public and, presumably, elected boards as well, can "serve as watchdogs to prevent financial harm to school districts."
Despite going into effect last December, Bobb has failed to produce the required financial data, Womack says.
"I would like to believe that it is not deliberate evasion," Womack says. "I have a hopeful expectation of compliance in the near future."
The woman who put Bobb in control, however, continues to give him her full support. And its not just moral support. When Gov. Granholm offered Bobb a one-year contract extension in March, she saw to it that he received a $20,000 raise from taxpayers. In addition, three private foundations kicked in $145,000, according to terms of the contract, bringing his total annual compensation $425,000.
"The governor supports the work Robert Bobb is doing," says Liz Boyd, spokesperson for Granholm. "It is going to take time to resolve this financial emergency."
Russ Bellant is a freelance writer. A Detroit resident, he serves as a volunteer co-chair on a facilities task force established by the school board. Curt Guyette is Metro Times news editor. You can reach him at 313-202-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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