Figures or folks?
Public policy makers have to juggle realities between what the budget allows and what the people need. Elected officials have to take into account the people’s needs and, if necessary, rob Peter to pay Paul, to make the budget balance to meet the needs of the public — or suffer the possible loss of an election.
Under emergency management no juggling has to occur. Emergency managers can — at their own discretion — decide what to fund, what not to fund; what to consider and what not to consider. And, as Detroiters experienced last week, when to keep the power on and when to turn the lights off. EMs can hire and fire, sign contracts or destroy agreements as they please, without answering to anyone.
Detroit EM Kevyn Orr hired former city council pro tem Gary Brown to serve as Chief Operating Officer for the city. Brown, a former police officer, knows nothing about water or lighting, bus service or waste collection — the basics of city governance. Brown does know, however, to approve consent agreements and state takeovers. Last week COO Brown smirked in front of news cameras, while letting citizens know he ordered power turned off to downtown buildings on a 90-degree day because building owners and operators were not cooperating fast enough with his order to dial down electric use.
So, pow! the power is shut off without notice.
Fortunately, in this instance it appears consequences were minor, but the fallout is not over. An eight-month pregnant woman had to be helped down the stairs of a downtown high rise. People trapped in elevators had to have the already over-burdened fire department get them out. Loving Elementary School remained closed nearly a week later. Senior citizens in downtown buildings were trapped in upper floor apartments without air conditioning or elevators. Business computers shut off, traffic lights were down and the cost of the unilateral action by an unelected and inexperienced agent of the unelected emergency manager has yet to be tabulated.
Lawsuits against the city loom.
Last week when the Police Commission met and members of the public were present to protest implementation of stop-and-frisk, the Commission could not legally meet because there was not a quorum. No quorum because the EM-appointed chief did not appoint anyone to the commission. The new charter establishes an elected Commission with the upcoming November election. Time will tell if the EM allows an elected Police Commission to function. If not, citizens under emergency management have no recourse to force compliance.
What if Detroit faced a real emergency? How and who would be in charge of making the life and death decisions? Would the same arrogance and inexperience dominate?
With each passing day of the city subjected to emergency management, the flaws of dictatorship become more apparent. Tens of millions of dollars in no-bid, friends-and-family contracts flow from the stroke of the EM pen without oversight, public discussion or even explanation.
How long will it take for Detroiters to step up and stop what the federal government is refusing to acknowledge: our vote has been taken, citizens have no way to hold those accountable who control our tax dollars.
If citizens respect their rights and fear the future under dictatorship, it is past time for action.