DETROIT – The protests said "they're stealing the city's jewels" and decried the "theft of democracy."
Did you ever wonder why no one ever wrote on a protest sign "Make Detroit Run like a Normal Big City!"?
The busses rarely run on time; many of DDOT's coaches don't even collect fares because the boxes are broken. We've heard chapter and verse about EMS vehicles falling apart on the way to runs, the fire trucks old and unable to keep up with the arsonists, the firehouses uninhabitable. The police can take an hour to show up for a call, if they come at all. It IS the norm [whether the new chief tries to convince you otherwise].
There are the other stories about how the City of Detroit's computerized payroll system purchased in the 1990s has never worked properly, got so old the manufacturer doesn't and won't work on it anymore and clerks and even police officers are doing payroll by HAND. In 2013!
While we instinctively know such atrocious stories are the tip of Detroit's operational iceberg, little else shows the true depths of Detroit's dysfunction than the fact that Detroit is so poorly run it can't even keep the gifts the federal government happily hands it on an annual basis.
What's that you say? When you are a broke student or just out of school and mom, dad or grandma put cash in your hands you take it right? You run with it, enjoy it! Who lets easy money get away? Not you; but Detroit does! In fact, the City of Detroit is so eager to allow millions to slip through its fingers no one even knows how much is getting away!
Detroit's new police Chief James Craig couldn't believe this when he heard about it last week. It turns out the Federal Government gave Detroit nearly half a million dollars in grant money to buy a top of the line SWAT vehicle called a Bearcat earlier in the year. You would recognize a Bearcat as the kind of armored vehicle Boston Police were driving its suburbs earlier this summer when they were looking for the alleged Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The monstrous vehicle can carry 16 SWAT team members at once and can withstand 50 caliber gunfire. It can evacuate 30 people at a time. Do you think Detroit might be able to use one of these? The chief does. But he found out just as he was taking his job his department allowed the grant money to go away for some reason. He didn't give specifics, but the grant had a deadline for qualifying by July 30. It came and went. When that happened the Michigan State Police approached the Oakland County Sheriff's office with word there was free grant money available.
Oakland County was only too happy to do whatever it took to meet the grant rules on a short deadline and snapped up its bear vehicle. Today it was being outfitted for street use very soon. Chief Craig said he wasn't angry at Sheriff Mike Bouchard's move to buy the vehicle; he's more upset the City of Detroit cannot do the simple things that would allow him to do better policing and offer more benefits and more effective crime fighting to the citizenry. He believes there is no excuse for this and promises to prevent it in the future.
Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr is well aware of these problems too because he's seen the reports internally at city hall. $300 million is 18% of the city's total budget. Do you think the City might be able to put that cash to good use if it could hold onto it? Local Four News learned today one Detroit department farmed its grant management out to a non-profit agency which only contributed to the problem.
The internal audit done on the 2009-2011 timeframe questioned whether that was even legal. The report suggested an entire grant management department. Orr is having none of that. He is interviewing private companies that do grant management professionally in other major American cities. He expects to have the firm hired in the next week or two.
Beleaguered Detroiters would ask Detroit to "grant us patience" but that bus left the station late and without change.