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Posted on Mon, Mar 26, 2012 : 1:08 p.m.

Detroit leaders offering too little, too late - it's time for the state to step in

By Tom Watkins


Members of the Financial Review Team Shirley Stancato, left, Conrad Mallett, Jr. center, and Andy Dillions confer during a March 21 meeting at Cadillac Place in Detroit. The review team, appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder to examine Detroit's troubled finances, determined that a "severe financial emergency" exists in the city, a finding that could lead to the appointment of an emergency manager should state and city leaders fail to agree on an alternative solution in time.

AP Photo | Detroit News, Daniel Mears

Detroit to State: "Trust us, we'll fix the problem."

Watching the last-minute maneuvering to try to avoid fiscal accountability, which has eluded city leaders going back decades, would be humorous if not such a damaging farce.

What city leaders have offered up to "fix" Detroit is classic too little, too late. Plans and promises have been made and broken going back decades.

The time for false fixes is over. Real change requires real change.


Tom Watkins

Just because you tell a big enough lie long and loud enough-then blog it, tweet it and shout it on local news and partisan talk radio shows, does not make it true.

Yet, far too many local politicians and city hall hangers-on have a history of believing their own press releases.

Watching the city/state consent agreement/emergency manager dance play out, two stories come to mind:

First, a story attributed to Abraham Lincoln. Honest Abe asked, "If you call a horse's tail a leg, how many legs does a horse have? The answer is four, because calling a horse's tail a leg doesn't make it one."

Second, Groucho Marx posed the right question when he asked, "Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?"

To pretend the actions to date taken by the mayor or City Council come close to addressing Detroit's fiscal crisis, will damn the city, region and state to mediocrity or worse for another generation.

If you have a hole in your roof, pretending to fix it, does not keep the rain out. The days of pretending and spending must come to an end.

Some city leaders are playing a game of chicken with both the city's and our collective future.

The state has historically looked the other way as Detroit spent money it does not have for decades. The day has arrived to enforce fiscal integrity.

Pretending will not get the job done.

Don't flinch, Gov. Snyder.

Tom Watkins is a former state superintendent of schools for Michigan who now works as a business and educational consultant in the U.S. and China. He can reached at:



Mon, Mar 26, 2012 : 9:27 p.m.

No matter how you look at it,Detroit is a financial mess and the people are suppose to fix it have shown they do not have whatit takes to do it. Detroit have far too long existed in a culture of greediness, graft, hring relative and friends rather than seek the best person to run the operation. If you have ever tried to do business with employees in Detroit, they are rude and unprofessional, they don't return phone calls. As much as people in Detroit need to work, they can't depend on their buses to get to and from their jobs. During this whole time that Gov Synder has put pressure on Detroit to come up with a plan or he will place a consent agreement on the City, City Council, the Mayors and Union continue to bicker and show they are incapable of getting it together. Seldom have I heard the City leaders express concern for its citizens. It's all about maintaining their power and control. The argument that an EM ursurp Democracy. My response is when less 20% of your registered voters turn out to vote in elections, thereby returning the same characters to office the ones that help get you in this mess in the first place, that's undermining democracy. I remember when people got dogs put on them for daring to vote, little girls got firebombed, Yet, you can't get the citizens of Detroit to turn and voteand toeven think about getting some qualified people to run that City. I say to anyone, why should Gov Synder believe that by leaving them control anything will change. I say it's time for The Gov. to step up.


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 3:21 a.m.

That's about he same number that voted to return some of the same council members to the AA City Council. Should we call the Governor and ask for an emergency manager? Perhaps so when our art fund is greater than the councils will to fund police, fire, and infrastructure (roads and bridges) ???


Mon, Mar 26, 2012 : 8:59 p.m.

What do you expect when Democrats run a city? The Financial well being of Detroit is left to the party (Democrats) that constantly tax and spends more than they have. Bankruptcy or State Control, That is the question?


Mon, Mar 26, 2012 : 7:50 p.m.

the present city leaders cannot fix the city. It would be a political nightmare to do the things that need to be done. There are too many city workers, doing too little for too few. The city is 1/3 the size it used to be and there are the same number of city workers. The math is harsh and brutal and so must the corrective actions. The long term pension and health care liabilities have bankrupted the city and driven out its citizens (who wants to pay a city income tax when you get no services? who wants to pay $5,000 a year of property taxes on a $5,000 house?) Simply pouring money into the burning fireplace that is Detroit will not fix the problem. Let's not even mention the corruption and the poor schools. Time to let the grown up take control.


Mon, Mar 26, 2012 : 11:57 p.m.

Very good answer braggslaw......very good !!!


Mon, Mar 26, 2012 : 11:02 p.m.

The children are those who live in denial. The children are those who have charged up the credit card to the point that they need to cry to their parents to pay off their debt. The children are those who think that math is not a universal truth but a cultural variable.


Mon, Mar 26, 2012 : 8:24 p.m.

"Time to let the grown up take control." Who exactly is not an adult? Mayor Bing? Gary Brown? Please clarify the persons you are addressing as children.


Mon, Mar 26, 2012 : 7:09 p.m.

This may be deleted.... however I think that Ann should encourage and promote more LOCAL reporting and opinion articles. It's a tad arrogant to act as though Washtenaw County, Ann Arbor City, Ypsilanti City, etc don't have enough problems and issues needing resolution. Maybe after we resolve all of our OWN problems we could share opinions on how to fix other cities, other counties. In short, physician, heal thyself.....first.


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 12:02 a.m.

Tell me cash....Do you believe the citizens of Washtenaw County, Ann Arbor City, Ypsilanti etc. should have to send their hard earned tax dollars to Detroit so they can keep squandering it away? Please be specific.....Thank You.


Mon, Mar 26, 2012 : 8:14 p.m.

And we are also in the midst of financial troubles in this COUNTY. It seems to me Ann and the residents of this county should be looking inward first. Fix ourselves first....because the time may be coming soon enough where some local entities are in the same boat as Detroit.

John of Saline

Mon, Mar 26, 2012 : 7:13 p.m.

We are directly affected by Detroit, like it or not.


Mon, Mar 26, 2012 : 7:07 p.m.

I'm afraid nothing can fix Detroit - certainly not the state.


Mon, Mar 26, 2012 : 7:10 p.m.

Any ideas on who can fix Washtenaw County?


Mon, Mar 26, 2012 : 7:04 p.m.

Mr. Watkins presumes that the problem can be fixed somehow. I think that everyone, from elected city officials to the governor's office, are fooling themselves. Detroit has social problems which lead to financial problems. The city has barely 40% of the population that it had 50 years ago yet the same land area. The business tax base is a fraction of what it was. When my grandmother died we got $6,000 for a house that would have cost $250K in Ann Arbor, then the thieves stripped it before the new owners moved in. They can't attract young people because they worry about schools. Crime rates are among the highest in the nation. They don't even have one single grocery store within the city limits because theft losses exceed their margin. They do not have sufficient revenue to cover even the most basic services. I think that the emergency manager law is silly just because nobody can save the ship once it's already sunk. The best manager in the world can't do anything if the revenue is simply not there. The only way to possibly save the city is to commit a lot of money to make it a place where people want to live and businesses want to locate and pay taxes, but I'm not sure that anyone is willing to commit the resources necessary, or even that it's a good idea. Manage away, it won't change things.


Tue, Mar 27, 2012 : 2:34 a.m.

Meijer is in the process of opening two stores in Detroit.


Mon, Mar 26, 2012 : 8:28 p.m.

Sorry, no chain groceries within city limits.


Mon, Mar 26, 2012 : 8:19 p.m.

It's a myth that there are no grocery stores in the city limits. I used to believe this one too, but it's false.

Dog Guy

Mon, Mar 26, 2012 : 6:42 p.m.

The antonym of "adroit" is "Detroit."

Top Cat

Mon, Mar 26, 2012 : 6:32 p.m.

Bankruptcy is referenced in Article 1, Section 8 of The Constitution and exists just for situations like this.


Mon, Mar 26, 2012 : 6:01 p.m.

An unconstitutional solution, such as Rick Snyder's emergency manager law, is never the answer — even to a problem as serious as Detroit's.

Wolf's Bane

Mon, Mar 26, 2012 : 5:43 p.m.

The problem with Detroit politics is that they always promise to "look into it"; a sort of elaborate "passes the buck" routine. Meanwhile, the city and its infrastructure continue to rot and nothing is done. The most recent example of this charade is the proposed "High Speed" rail service from Canada to Chicago via Detroit. What happened to that deal? Where are the follow up news articles keeping us abreast of the latest developments? Manuel Moroun's organization, supposedly, has taken steps to rehab the famous Michigan Central Depot in preparation for the new improved rail service, yet everything seems to have gone black again!? What is really going on? I think it is time for the city to hand over the reins to a more qualified team that will embrace transparency as much as follow through. At least then we'll know what has transpired and what may never see the light of day.


Mon, Mar 26, 2012 : 7:12 p.m.

And what is the problem with Ann Arbor? Ypsi? Washtenaw County ? Because, in my opinion, we ought to fix our own mess before we tell others what to do!