The Ghost Mayor - KMSP-TV

The Ghost Mayor

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Anybody seen Dave?

With financial Armageddon on the horizon -- the state threatening an emergency takeover of the city of Detroit -- the mayor took time out of his schedule on Thursday to fly to Washington, D.C., to watch the president sign an executive order.


I hope he got a commemorative pen because he sure didn't bring home a pot of gold.

Call me a hayseed, but if the bank was about to foreclose on my house I think I'd skip the journalism convention in New York City and get in the same room as the banker.

On Tuesday, a draft of Gov. Rick Snyder's financial stability consent agreement was presented to the mayor and city council. That's less than a week before a state-appointed team reports to Snyder on March 26 on whether Detroit needs an emergency manager. Without a deal on some sort of consent agreement, Snyder could impose an emergency manager with Mussolini-like powers to run the city -- a move that would disband the council and neuter the mayor.

Bing threw a hissy over Snyder's draft. He complained his authority was being usurped.

Bing wants the power, but over the past three years, he's shown he can't exercise it. He has no plan to point to. Every signature program of his has failed -- from house demolitions to "right-sizing" Detroit. Renegotiated contracts with the unions have yet to be voted on. The entrance to the mayor's executive suites may as well be a revolving door, what with all the defections and firings.

Yes, yes, there is the matter of the economy; falling property tax income and unemployment and all that. But Bing has only cut his budget by ten percent during his three years in office. So why does the city feel 100 percent broken? The buses don't run. The ambulances break down. The cops -- like Bing -- are overwhelmed.

It's also worth reminding you that Bing was elected on his business acumen. But as soon as he took office, Bing Steel went under and was sold to private interests. His creditors sued.

If he is the businessman he claims to be, then surely Bing must see that the restructuring of the city under the governor's proposed consent agreement mirrors that of a corporation. The financial review board is more or less a board of directors. Bing would maintain his role as the CEO while the board would vote on his restructuring moves.

In fact, Bing's powers would be heightened under the proposed agreement, giving him the powers of an emergency manager -- able to fire workers, sell assets and impose work rules on any union that has not signed a collective bargaining agreement.

The decree is not perfect, starting with the Initial Recovery Plan, a restructuring template that Bing and the board would follow. The problem is, there is no plan. That page of the consent draft is blank.

Secondly, there is no sunset clause, meaning the board could hang around for 20 years.

Third, the governor has influence over six of the nine members.

But at least it is a starting point.

Let me do the math for you. The governor threatens to impose an emergency manager if the mayor and city council don't sign the agreement.

But the mayor and council know the emergency manager law -- Public Act 4 -- will likely be suspended in May until a statewide referendum can be held in November.

With no credible threat of punishment, it is almost certain the city council would reject a plan that would make itself irrelevant.

The governor might then use the only stick left in his bag. Let the city drown.

Already vendors and contractors are not getting paid and the city will run out of cash in a month. That means cops, paramedics and tax collectors won't get paid. Ambulances won't get fixed. Parks won't open.

Under that scenario, you can expect a long, hot, bloody summer.

The most constructive arbiters in this fiasco seem to be the Council of Baptist Pastors. You don't see them marching with pitchforks calling Snyder the blue-eyed devil. After all, the head man in Washington -- a black man -- had to send in an emergency manager to straighten out General Motors, a mess that white men in suits created.

It is the pastors who are meeting with the governor, the mayor, the council and the people. They understand the moment is at hand.

"They've got to tone down the rhetoric and get to work," said Rev. Michael Andrew Owens, president of the council of pastors. "The document in its current form I cannot support but it is a foundation. The deficit is out of control. Funds have been misappropriated. Something extraordinary needs to happen now."

So in that spirit, the Rev. Owens and I have come up with a counterproposal for the governor. First, the board is skewed too heavily toward Lansing. Allow the mayor and/or the council at least one more appointee to balance it.

Second, remove the belligerent clause the triggers an emergency manager.

Third, build in some sort of sunset clause that caps the state's involvement once the finances get turned around.

Fourth, send the city $150 million cash, not loans, to meet its short-term obligations.

I called a representative of the governor with our proposal. "That's a good starting point," she said. "That's something we can at least talk about."

If anyone can find the mayor, tell him he can have that one for free.

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