Fed up with switched off street lights, service cuts, and layoffs Detroiters mobilize to retake cityBy Diane Bukowski Contributing Writer | Last updated: Jun 15, 2012 - 11:34:55 AM
The state debts, if paid, would eliminate the alleged need for unprecedented cutbacks in Detroit, and put the city in the black, literally and figuratively.
State and city statutes prevent municipalities from contracting with entities in “default” to them, laws that Attorney Crittendon says are not voided by the state’s Public Act 4, also known as the “Dictator Act.” Attorney Crittendon and city law department attorney James Noseda filed the suit in the state’s Court of Claims because it has exclusive jurisdiction over monetary claims against Michigan.
“Free Detroit-No Consent,” a group of prominent city activists, is leading the battle to retake Detroit.
“Presently ‘we the people’ do not have a voice regarding the management and future of Detroit,” the group said in a founding statement. “We view Public Act 4 as a Racist Test Case. The Consent Agreement and the Emergency Manager strategies are racist and White supremacist in effect. Public Act 4 takes away the power to govern from the duly elected Black officials, and places it in the hands of Whites and cooperative Blacks who will do the bidding of the corporate community.”
The agreement mandates state approval of city spending among other draconian requirements. Under its pressure, the city has initially approved $250 million in budget cuts for 2012-13.
They include the layoffs of 2,566 city workers, and the shutdown and/or privatization of entire departments, even those which are primarily supported by federal grant dollars. Those agencies provide needs for the poor including medical care, job placement, and prevention of foreclosure, eviction and utility shut-off as well as day care, emergency food and clothing, home weatherization, and education under the Head Start program.
Mayor Dave Bing has ordered that 42,000 streetlights in the city go dark as part of privatization plans for Public Lighting. The budget cut $20 million in funding for the city’s Department of Transportation, which is slated to be replaced by a regional board. Detroit would have only one representative on the 10-member board, even though it has the largest transit system in the region and receives the most federal funding.
“This is unconscionable,” former Charter Commissioner and longtime attorney Rosemary Robinson said. “I urge Attorney Crittendon to advance her defense of the people of Detroit by standing firm and allowing no coercion by the state. She is doing the right thing for the people she represents. The council effectively destroyed representative government in this city and gave away the city’s assets. We are organized and being awakened. We do not consent!”
“Free Detroit-No Consent” announced plans to bring busloads of Detroiters to the first hearing on the lawsuit June 13 in Ingham County Circuit Court, near the state’s capitol of Lansing.
Ingham County Circuit Court Judge William Collette is to hear the case. He earlier ruled that meetings of Financial Review Teams which foist state control on municipalities and school districts must be open to the public, but his ruling was overturned on appeal.
The $230.4 million in state debt to Detroit cited in the suit includes $224 million in revenue sharing payments, a $4.75 million debt to the city’s water department, and numerous other outstanding invoices for various services.
State Treasurer Andy Dillon did not disagree that the consent agreement is barred if the state is in “default” to the city, but denied the validity of the debts.
Dozens of Detroiters packed council chambers and hallways for two and a half hours June 5, condemning the City Council “Fatal Five” who voted for the agreement, as well as council members who voted for the 2013 budget.
“How does a human being get out of the business of helping other human beings?” asked Brenda Hurt, a signer of the letter and a Detroit Department of Human Services worker. “You are giving away funds that the federal government has granted to the people of Detroit, and throwing us workers out in the street.”
“This means grant-funded programs are being privatized and will not be subject to City Council approval,” said Cecily McClellan, vice-president of the Association of Professional and Technical Employees and a member of Free Detroit. “Civil service requirements will not apply. This is going on across the nation.”
Susan Glaser, a member of the city’s Pension Board, said, “Once others find out the city is not going to be providing these services, private agencies will be scampering to get tens of millions of dollars in grant awards. I started working for the city during the years of the Fight Against Poverty, but poverty has not ended, the only thing that has ended is the fight.”
Greg Murray, president of the Senior Accountants, Analysts and Appraisers Association, warned the cuts may be the first step in dismantling the city’s $6 billion pension system.
“Has anyone recognized the impact the layoffs of 3,000 employees will have on the pension fund?” he asked. “This is a long-term plan to destabilize the pension fund so it can go to an outside entity like the private Michigan Employees Retirement System.”