Council's grape expectations
Despite mischaracterizations, Detroit City Council mostly just is doing its job
Published: November 28, 2012
As it is now, the only thing really preventing Hantz from doing anything he wants with the land a few years from now are the zoning ordinances that are already in place. Which means that the commercial properties next to residents might be put to any number of uses neighbors might not be happy with.
So, yeah, the promise of tearing down at least 50 abandoned houses, and of cleaning up debris-strewn lots and cutting the grass, and of putting abandoned parcels back on the tax rolls while planting acres and acres of lovely hardwood trees sounds wonderful.
But there are too many unknowns to hand over all that land to one entity.
Did we mention that the council didn't say "absolutely no" to the project? Instead, the measure was tabled so that the urban agriculture ordinance can be nailed down before the council decides whether to give the go-ahead to what would be the world's largest urban farm.
Conflict over conflicts
The Hantz Farm proposal, as big and significant as it is, wasn't close to being the most pressing thing on the council's agenda during its marathon session.
There are a number of contenders for that top honor, but we'd say the winner was a demand that the council approve a $300,000 contract to have the law firm of Miller Canfield provide legal services for Mayor Dave Bing.
As city contracts go, $300,000 is a relative pittance. We sat and watched Detroit's legislative body approve contracts worth tens of millions of dollars, one right after another, last week without much discussion at all.
So why was this one particular agreement of such importance?
Because Detroit's financial solvency could be hinged to it.
A few weeks back, officials in the Bing administration signed a memorandum of understanding with state Treasurer Andy Dillon detailing exactly what the city had to do before the state would release bond money borrowed by Detroit but being held in escrow.
There were, in fact, several so-called "benchmarks" the city was supposed to meet in order for the city to be able to withdraw portions of the $80 million in bond money remaining in the escrow account. One of those benchmarks involved approval of a $6.6 million contract with the accounting firm of Ernst & Young to provide "cash flow analysis."
We'll do the same for free: Way too much cash is flowing out, and there ain't nearly enough flowing in.
That's especially true now that the state didn't release $10 million from the escrow account last week, and likely won't release millions more that is supposed to be turned over to the city in mid-December.
Mayor Bing wasted little time telling everyone just how serious the situation is, issuing a press statement while council still sat around the table considering other issues after it had voted 8-1 (with Council President Pro Tem Gary Brown providing the sole "aye") to reject entering into a contract with Miller Canfield.
"Due to the failure to meet the first milestone in our agreement with the State — and with the second milestone now at risk — I have directed my Administration to begin planning to offset an anticipated $30 million cash shortfall," the mayor announced. "In order to compensate for the deficit, the City will begin to institute unpaid furloughs and other cost-saving actions, effective January 1, 2013. We will ensure that revenue-generating departments are not impacted by these cost-cutting measures."
In other words, the sinking ship known as the city of Detroit just started taking on even more water.
Why would the council put the city they are supposed to be serving in such jeopardy?
For those who would say that the council is just mindlessly saying "no, no, no" to everything put before it — we suggest framing the question differently.
Here's what we wonder:
Why would the mayor and the governor put the city in risk of insolvency over the implementation of a measly contract with one specific law firm?
Who is really being irresponsible here?
It seems that if keeping Detroit solvent — that is, having enough cash on hand to pay employees and vendors — is really everyone's primary goal, hinging that outcome on the approval of a $300,000 contract amounts to something far more than irresponsible.
It's absolutely ludicrous.
The mayor has legal counsel: It is the city of Detroit Law Department. The problem is that the mayor and his team don't like what the head of that department, Krystal Crittendon, has to say about the legality of what's going on.
Crittendon, greeted with booming applause when she showed up at last week's meeting, has already challenged the legality of the consent agreement with the state that the city is currently operating under.
That challenge was struck down by the courts. But now that voters have repealed Public Act 4, the emergency manager law that enabled creation of the consent agreement, it's not much of a stretch to think another challenge could well be forthcoming.
> Email Curt Guyette