Outrage and a consent agreement

Rod Meloni discusses Detroit's review team meeting, residents' disdain

By Rod Meloni - Reporter, CFP ®
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DETROIT - What Detroit wants and what it needs are at a crossroads.

Rarely has the City's citizenry displayed such disdain and contempt as it showed today at the Financial Review Team meeting inside the state office building in New Center.

A loud, angry crowd was unrelenting in its frustration with the team's work, and for that matter its existence. There was the usual "how dare you?" outrage. There were those chanting "no justice, no peace" in the middle of the hearing. But this crowd ramped up the antics. One woman from Pontiac, whose city is under an emergency manager, asked board members if they have any idea how close they are to going to jail.

A man professing to be a professional wrestler wore a t-shirt proclaiming himself "The Emergency Manager" saying the city needed one as if he were recording the traditional "bad guy" TV promo for next week's big time matches. Former Detroit School Board member [replaced when an emergency financial manager took over DPS] stood up and decried racism; even though most of the review team members are African American.

There was the woman given two minutes to address the board on its dealings and spent nearly ten minutes ranting about all manner of ills, never once talking about the consent agreement or anything the board is considering. Then a woman who did not have a copy of the consent decree decided to walk up to the board table and start reading over the shoulder of one of its members [all during the meeting and after the public participation had ended]. She stood there briefly and was asked to sit down. She did, right there on the floor and stayed there through out the rest of the hearing. The only thing missing was the clown car!

The meeting went on, the board agreeing to one motion; the City of Detroit is in fact faced with a severe financial crisis. Board members finally got their chance to speak their minds. Remember that Judge William E. Collette slapped an injunction [a stop sign] on a signed contract between the city and the state on a possible consent agreement. Board member Shirley Stancato said she did not understand how a copy of a consent agreement even appeared considering the board had never discussed one and it had not even fully finished its deliberative process that would have led to the drafting of a consent agreement.

Treasurer Andy Dillon told her Governor Rick Snyder and Mayor Dave Bing had a gentleman's agreement to work on a consent agreement from the start and he [Dillon] had in fact authored the document. Board Member Conrad Mallet Jr. said he is concerned the review team's efforts don't amount to much but believes it can be helpful and that is his greatest hope. As the members spoke they broke out a wish list for the final version of any consent agreement. The want an advisory board with some teeth, they want to see a complete financial plan for the city, they want advisory board members with municipal government experience, they want a delineation of what city services will be offered as the city continues downsizing and it wants the city's debt renegotiated with bond holders. All of this accomplished in-between shouting and chanting and nasty invective showered on board members, particularly Ike McKinnon.

Treasurer Andy Dillon stated in a quick news conference afterward he thought the crowd would be tougher than it was and laughed off the antics. He did acknowledge next time he will be less tolerant. Somewhere behind all of the noise a few tidbits of information actually leaked out. One of the things that so enraged the crowd was the sight of Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh, the city's DFO Chris Brown and others stepping off an elevator. They had in fact been upstairs in Andy Dillon's office just prior to the hearing to drop off the city's counter proposal to the governor's consent agreement. Dillon told me he is anxious to read the document.

Having talked to those involved in the negotiations the city wants to keep its autonomy and the governor's advisory board would only advise. There appears no mechanism that would force the city to become fiscally sound where it has not in the past. That will not fly with the Governor. But, again, this is a negotiation. Dillon also admitted the state finds Judge William Collette's rulings on the open meetings act quite disruptive. The state intends tomorrow to ask Collette to relent on his injunction to allow the consent agreement to be worked on by the Governor's March 26th deadline [the Collette hearing is scheduled for March 29th.]

If Collette says no then it's off to the appeals court. The state is also going to another appeals court tomorrow to try and overturn Collette's original ruling that the Financial Review Team must operate under the open meetings act. There's no telling how all of this will go. Somehow, someway the process of trying to get Detroit's finances limps along with some progress. The question remains whether any or all of this is enough in enough time. But that is the Detroit way; outrage in the face of inevitable change at the crossroads of the financial abyss.

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