Council's grape expectations
Despite mischaracterizations, Detroit City Council mostly just is doing its job
Published: November 28, 2012
The wild ride that is Detroit politics hit full throttle last week, careening from the bizarre to the stupefying before slamming headfirst into a wall of pure insanity.
We're talking about the marathon session City Council held two days before Thanksgiving.
The craziness started from the get-go, with people arriving more than an hour early, like so many Black Friday shoppers eager to snag a bargain. Except in this case what they queued up for was the chance to address council for a whopping 90 seconds each.
Once the doors did open, the limited seating quickly filled as hopeful speakers continued to arrive. The line grew longer and longer, with some waiting hours for the chance to let the council know how they felt before votes were taken on a number of highly controversial issues.
Just down the hall, on the 13th floor of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, is a spacious auditorium that could have accommodated the throngs, but that had been reserved by others and wasn't available, Council President Charles Pugh repeatedly pointed out once things got under way and speaker after speaker tried to get Pugh to understand just how many people were forced to stand in the hall, waiting to speak their minds.
It wasn't until later in the day that Pugh revealed an ulterior motive for failing to provide enough room for everyone to have a seat all at once: He was afraid the rabble-rousers would rouse a little too much rabble.
Pugh's moment of candor came when someone in the audience — which, for much of the day, served the role of a Greek chorus, offering comments on the proceedings as they unfolded — loudly asked where the grapes were.
It wasn't that someone felt a need to boost their blood sugar as the council worked through lunch. No, it was a reference to a notorious 2004 incident when an angry activist hurled grapes at Detroit School Board members.
"That's why the meeting is in this room," a visibly angry Pugh declared. "How dare you disrespect this city!"
So, what's the truth there, Charlie? Did you decide to make as many as 200 people — including the elderly and disabled — cool their heels for hours in a hallway rather then sit in an auditorium (where they could actually hear both what other speakers and the council had to say) because it was absolutely impossible to move into the larger space, or was it because you were afraid things would spin completely out of control if the unhappy horde was actually allowed to be in the same room at the same time?
That might be a great set of abs the council president proudly displayed on YouTube, but being afraid to confront residents en masse seems decidedly gutless.
The media, for the most part, was quick to jump on the council — not for failing to adequately accommodate the people it is supposed to be serving, but rather for being nothing more than knee-jerk obstructionists.
Hell, even a quasi-commie like our own Jack Lessenberry essentially describes the council as such in this week's Politics & Prejudices column.
It's rare that we don't see eye to eye with the esteemed Dr. Lessenberry, but on this issue there is some disagreement.
From our vantage point, what we saw last week was the council acting reasonably when voting on a number of vital issues. A prime example is the proposal from developer John Hantz to acquire a mass of city-owned property to create a tree farm on Detroit's east side.
What could be bad about that?
Maybe nothing. But the operative word there is maybe, because, as it's now structured, the proposed deal to sell Hantz about 1,500 parcels at the bargain-basement price of $560,000 contains no real guarantees that what's being promised will actually be what gets delivered.
Beyond that, the city is currently working on an ordinance that would lay out the rules for urban agriculture in Detroit. That effort is supposed to be completed early next year. Is it really beyond rational bounds to say that it is probably a good idea to have that groundwork laid before agreeing to the largest transfer of city-owned property in Detroit's history?
Or, for that matter, do people really think it is irresponsible for council to say that it might be a good idea to hold a full-fledged public hearing on the issue — with a focus placed on obtaining comment from people living in the proposed project's footprint — before signing off on a deal that has the potential to affect the city for generations to come?
"What's the rush?" some on the council asked.
Well, they were told, a decision now would allow for the planting of saplings in the spring.
This proposal has been around for a while now. It seems as if the city can survive missing the spring planting of hardwood trees that take years to reach maturity.
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