Game over for Detroit leaders

Hip-hop sensation Jay-Z in his lyric from “Run This Town” called himself “the only rapper to rewrite history without a pen.” That statement is only true if you believe in his linguistic prowess, and his attempt to weave critical race questions into his music to show the lowest ebbs of his former urban existence.

In Detroit, the city council and the mayor run this town because they were elected to do so, not for themselves but to cater to the well-being of all Detroiters.

However, with the financial crisis now on the verge of transforming city government into a different political structure, just as Jay-Z claimed being the only one in his genre to rewrite history without a pen, there is a deliberate attempt by some Detroit leaders to rewrite history without memory. And if you believe in this narrative and the attempt to weave the state into everything the city does, it appears as if Rick Snyder is actually the mayor of Detroit, not Dave Bing. It makes it seem as if the State Department of Treasury were the Detroit City Council, and not the members who ran on a platform to represent the interests of Detroit on the legislative arm of local government.

If you believe in the new song “We Run This Town But Blame the State,” it creates the false impression that the mayor and city council from the very time they came into office have been powerless and unable to deliver services.

There is no accountability of local leadership in the ongoing conversation about where Detroit should go next. The failures of city government to avert a financial collapse and the inability to work together for a common agenda, making reasonable and sensible compromises, defies any political logic and the art of compromise.

What is happening in Detroit will make for an interesting project about what a local government gone wrong can become, because those who were elected to govern did not govern the way they should.

While the city council chamber commanded the world stage as it became the showroom for ego-driven postulations, political infighting, lackluster decisions and bitterly divided loyalties, Detroit EMS services were hardly functioning for the people who live and work here, and public safety barely kept people safe.

In essence, what we see in Detroit is broken government that has failed Detroit, and leaving little hope that the next round of government will be any better.

It’s amazing to watch how hurriedly Detroit’s elected officials are responding to the threat of an emergency manager. We are hearing of all sorts of meetings being held, all in a bid to prevent what seems to be the inevitable: an emergency manager coming unless city officials are willing to make drastic changes now, maybe an enhanced consent agreement.

What is interesting about these last -minute responses is the sense of urgency it carries, when two years ago it was a different conversation and political climate.

The Detroit City Council and the office of Mayor Dave Bing waged battles incessantly as if each was the other’s enemy. Spewing political venom, they traded insults, often like kids because of political disagreements. Yet in all of these exchanges that we saw as hallmarks of the relationship between the city council and the mayor, there was no real sense of urgency.

But now that the city is on the course of a new reality with an emergency manager, after Gov. Snyder made it clear that there is financial emergency and something would be done about it, all hell is breaking loose.

Detroit is a city where blame is a staple of the daily politics. Officials like to point fingers at who is responsible for epic failures in this city from one administration to another. But we have to be clear that it is the city council and the mayor not coming together on so many issues that has gotten us to this point.

Blaming Gov. Snyder for the financial mess is again trying to rewrite history without obligation and responsibility to facing facts and utilizing a memory.

The governor was elected to run the state, not Detroit. The city council and the mayor were the ones elected to run this town and ensure that the next generation of Detroiters have a better place to live in and be proud of. But they did not do so. They squabbled, fought every day when they should have been crafting ways to stop the city from bleeding financially.

The times spent trading jabs could have been spent discussing ways to generate revenue for the city so Detroit coud be on a track to financial solvency.

When the city council and the mayor can only be known for the antagonistic relationship that dominated their discussions about moving Detroit forward, then something is drastically wrong. Hard-pressed taxpayers are not getting the things they have every right to expect.

While the city is on the road to the unknown, it is important to bear in mind that much of this would not be happening today if Detroit’s elected officials had done due diligence and honored the call to public service by working to generate revenue, balancing the budget and saving the lives of children dying in this city before their time because ambulances failed to come promptly.

When Mayor Bing appointed his friend Kirk Lewis to be his chief of staff, many raised their eyebrows about whether this man was qualified to handle the weight of governance on the 11th floor of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center.

In any government, a chief of staff is the most important position because it is the one job title that is supposed to connect all the dots in government, and prevent the mayor’s office from embarrassment as well as ensure that the other branches of government, including the city council, are all aware of issues emanating from the mayor’s office.

But in the case of Lewis, according to some of Mayor Bing’s confidants, he was not effective as a chief of staff. In fact, one put it bluntly, that he was not chief of staff material and that he did not do much to help Bing in all of his negotiations with city council. As they swam in the financial waters, Lewis came up short, offering few, if any, lifesavers.

I listened carefully as people close to Bing told me this week how a more competent chief of staff could have worked to help prevent Detroit from being where it is now. They believe this individual should have been one who commanded not only the full respect of city council, but also have a relationship with that body that is beyond reproach.
A deep understanding of government and the ability to navigate complex issues while asserting pressure is most important for the city’s future.

But Lewis did not bring all of the essential attributes of a chief of staff to that office. He was a top aide at Bing Steel, handling finances for the company formerly owned by Bing.

Detroit leadership has a lot to explain concerning where the city is today, and their part in the deplorable developments.

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