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Change in governance is a bad deal for Detroiters

As Detroiters, there are so many changes that merit our attention — the EAA and Financial Stability Agreement, to name a few — but one issue many may have overlooked is the transfer of Detroit’s Department of Workforce Development (DWDD) and the Department of Health and Wellness Promotion’s (DWHP) responsibilities and resources.

In what may be one of the most underreported news stories, almost $100 million in federal grants will be transferred out of city departments into newly-formed nonprofits — out of public oversight into private management. Local business and corporate leaders — all appointed by the mayor — will manage federal funds. Many city employees will be lost.

Detroit receives these federal dollars because its population is poor, hurting and vulnerable. To help correct abysmal unemployment numbers, DWDD receives $65 million a year to institute programs that help Detroiters find and prepare for work. A successful program could help change the course of the city. Turning under and unemployed people into fully participating, taxpaying citizens — shaping the future of the city. A state review, arguing years of mismanagement, called for resources to be taken from the city and transferred to a new, private entity. Yet, it does not make sense to begin new nonprofits headed by the same people who managed the dollars under the city department. The argument of mismanagement goes awry. Frankly, it doesn’t seem smart, wise or prudent to begin new nonprofits to manage millions of dollars in federal money that Detroit citizens are ultimately responsible for.

Public oversight is there because it is a form of protection — to remove this is downright frightening and reckless.

We agree with Sharon McPhail. The city is ceding its responsibility. The administration doesn’t seem to care enough about its residents to demand accountability.

The problem with this department has always been a failure to monitor contractors and put the adequate protections in place. We do not know how reducing the workforce and public oversight will improve performance, which is ultimately measured in jobs for Detroiters.

Furthermore, corporate leaders do not have the depth to understand the magnitude of the jobless problem in the city or understand the structural inequity that has created the problem. In fact, many of them are part of the problem. Some business executives may know and understand the skills for their own companies. Or they may understand opportunities in a changing job market. But we run into the danger of becoming a one-horse town again. Do we want a one-industry town the global economy has been punishing us with for more than 40 years?

This is an opportunity to align policy with the future of the city. You need community leaders and small business owners who have an understanding of what Detroit needs — as a vibrant, sustainable city — and can align training for the work of tomorrow with the city we envision. For example, we should and could have a city of master artisans to repair and repurpose the thousands of abandoned, blighted houses that are in almost every neighborhood.

The nonprofits — and the opportunities for fraud, corruption and abuse — are a bad idea for managing the resources of Detroit’s citizens.

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