Barrow: ‘I’ll take control’
Tom Barrow, C.P.A., is a life-long Detroiter who started his own accounting firm. He ran against Mayor Coleman Young in 1985 and again in 1989. He ran against Dave Bing in 2009. Barrow is a 2013 mayoral candidate. He challenges the notion of a city financial “crisis” and believes much of fiscal woes are due to poor administrative oversight. Barrow says he would undo much of the outsourcing, privatizing and cuts that have been made by the Bing administration. He would also get rid of the Financial Stability Agreement with the state aka the Consent Agreement.
After several attempts, why run for mayor now?
I think I have the skill set. My strengths and ability to understand what’s happening and my fundamental belief in the community. Detroit (government) just lacks energy, vision and the financial skills to be able to understand the things we’re going be confronted with in the next 10-15 years. That’s why I think I’m substantially different than any of the other candidates, as well as my years of wisdom as a result of it.
When we did the recount and discovered the seals had been changed on dozens of cases, we challenged it but nobody would touch it because it resulted in the election of somebody who I do not think was elected. (Barrow indicated privatization of schools and the large bond issue happened soon after Bing’s election).
I do not believe I lost to Mr. Bing; I believe it was stolen.
I think that had I been in charge, we would not be confronted with what we’re now confronted with. The wholesale disrespect, the disregard of Detroit as the state’s largest city, this false financial crisis created by ineptness and the inability to grasp and understand financial statements and debentures, contracts … this disturbs me as a person who’s lived here all my life because I see us being taken advantage of. We have embedded state operatives that should not be there.
Do you have any concerns about the race?
None of the other candidates frighten me. I challenged Coleman Young — that was the frightening thing, having done that. I do not respect Mr. Duggan. I’m substantially different from the other candidates.
What are Detroit’s biggest challenges?
Finance is just one. The biggest challenge we face now is bringing back our political control.
What they’re doing to us is unconstitutional. It’s not being challenged. The Michigan Constitution Article I Section I says that you cannot take away a political subdivision’s political rights under the Constitution. Everything they have done by using unconstitutional laws is designed to encroach upon our sovereignty, our home rule, notwithstanding the fact that we are a creature of the state.
What would you do about the debt?
The public isn’t aware that when you’re cutting the workers — the DPW, police, fire and EMS wages and all the city wages — all you’re doing is affecting the general fund. The general fund is generating substantial revenue over expenses so all you’re doing is affecting it. What is drawing down the general fund is there’s a number after excess over expense called transfers — hundreds of millions of dollars is going out in transfers. So the question is, “Where are these transfers going?” They’re siphoning off money from the general fund to do something else with it. It’s going to a variety of different little pots. For example, federal programs that are fully funded through federal monies — which to the public it looks like it is owned and controlled by the city of Detroit but frankly it is money that passes from the federal government, up to the state and then down to the city. … All this gets down to understanding how the flow of financial statements works in municipalities. I have that skill set because we’ve audited a number of cities.
The debt is an issue. I can’t get my arms around it until I get inside the tent and see just how it’s functioning and what’s happening there.
As mayor, what would you about the crime?
Crime is really complex. It’s not just a matter of going out and arresting everybody … we went through that years ago. When Snyder, for example, cuts people off welfare. I believe three things: There’s a breakdown of the family unit. Second, education is a problem. If you’re not educated and don’t stay in the system it’s going to be tough to make. a living. Therefore, you’re going to turn to anti-social activities. Third, jobs. That’s why it disturbs me that we start whacking city employees and then privatizing (their jobs).
How would you create jobs or see jobs being created under a Barrow administration?
I think that’s one of the complex things where you have to meet with business folks. I think the Dan Gilberts of the world and all the others here need to understand: While it’s great downtown, we need quality neighborhoods. Which means we have to get jobs to folks, not just with college degrees … We have to talk about how we create these jobs and what incentives (the city) give (business owners) to hire them and make sure they’re doing it … We should be at full employment in Detroit based upon all the promises. The business community needs to meet with the regular community.
How would you make sure Detroiters get work on public works projects (i.e., M1 Rail)?
There’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll find a way to make sure those who can’t get jobs will.
What are the core city services?
Public safety — police, fire, EMS. Economic development. Parks and recreations. … The biggest problem is that our systems are antiquated. We aren’t using the latest in technology. Our systems need to be modernized. We should put a lot of things online so people don’t have to go downtown.
Do you support the Public Lighting Authority?
We don’t need an authority. That’s designed to transfer assets into this authority that will be controlled by DTE. That’s a Republican ploy to get control over the (city’s) assets.
What would be your top priority, if you were to be elected?
Public safety and delivering its fundamental services, police and EMS, because that’s perceived as (worsening) the quality of life in Detroit.
Do you think the city should continue to try to service the debt to the banks?
If we default on the bonds that’s a huge deal. That would have a negative impact on our overall credit rating. It could potentially bring down the suburban communities. It could be catastrophic. But it’s also our strength. I’m not afraid to use the Chapter 9 card. Because under Chapter 9, the city would remain in charge, not an emergency manager.
What’s your opinion of the Hantz deal?
I’m not supportive of the Hantz deal. I testified at the community hearing at East Lake. I watched probably a thousand people in there and only about five were supportive. I urged Council not to do this because this is giving away land at substantially less than fair market value. This man has a plan he’s not disclosing. I said this would be a bad deal for Detroit. When I watched them vote for this, despite overwhelming community opposition, I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe they would go against their constituents like that. The Hantz deal is a person who is trying to amass wealth because he knows Detroit is resurging.
What are your thoughts on Detroit Works/Detroit Future?
That’s like the Belle Isle Conservancy. I’m always happy to have people participate. I think that’s wonderful. But (they’re) not the city, (they’re) not the government. The best (they) can do is make suggestions to the mayor but it does not become the blue print.
Our systems are bad. Folks don’t even file their city returns because there’s no mechanism to go after that. We have some big people here who owe us some really large numbers. There’s a family here that has some really large assets and they don’t even pay their property taxes because they know no one is going to come after it. I have a difficulty with that. We need to resolve this, not pretend as if it doesn’t exist.
The $224 million in revenue sharing the state owes the city of Detroit?
There was admission on both sides that there was an oral contract. Oral contracts are as enforceable as written contracts as long as you have consideration. We lowered our income tax rate, that’s the consideration. We acted upon reliance of that promise. (The state) didn’t do their part. That’s what makes the difference. There would be a lawsuit. My corporation counsel would go after that.
Do you have any concerns about your past legal issues regarding tax evasion and fraud negatively affecting your campaign?
We fought the IRS for 19 years and finally won in the United States Tax Court. Now the tax court has issued their ruling showing that the tax didn’t exist and all the returns were proper and there was nothing fraudulent ever done if the first place. I’m fine with them brining it up. If somebody brings it up and they don’t tell the whole story, they’re a liar by omission. The reality is it’s made me stronger. It’s tempered me.