Detroit’s Corporation Counsel Krystal Crittendon has been accused, this week, of going rogue. She has been called incompetent, crazy and just flat-out wrong. All because she, in her position as the city’s top lawyer, asked a court to decide whether the state owed the city of Detroit money. Anyone who wants to do business with, or otherwise engage with the city, must not owe the city, according to the Detroit City Charter. Part of Crittendon’s job description is to assure compliance of the charter. From parking tickets to revenue sharing, the state of Michigan is into the city of Detroit for more than $200 million. This is what Crittendon asked the court to decide. Establishing the state owes the city could void the Consent Agreement between the two.
Crittendon clearly hit a nerve.
If you didn’t believe Crittendon was onto something before, Gov. Rick Snyder and his administration confirmed it. Calling the suit frivolous and perilous for the city, the governor and the state reacted.
State Deputy Treasurer Tom Saxton went so far as to send a letter threatening the city to drop the suit or else it would lose funds. Detroit CFO Jack Martin backed up the state and said we would run out of money by the end of the week.
Mayor Dave Bing even joined the fray, “demanding” Crittendon to back off. The judge dismissed the filing but the end of this is still uncertain.
The City Council could take the issue up. Crittendon could also file a motion for reconsideration. We hope she does and Council joins her.
We are existing in a political climate where anyone who wants to respect any sort of procedure — i.e., not being able to unilaterally dismiss public officials or sell public assets — is roundly criticized, harassed or ostracized. Process is important to democracy and local governance.
Any cursory reading of the new charter would show how and why Crittendon brought the debt complaint to the circuit court judge. According to the city’s charter, it is her duty and responsibility. After the Kilpatrick administration, Detroit residents wanted to make sure Corporation Counsel had authority outside of Council and the mayor’s office. Citizens believed this safety was necessary to enforce the charter.
And apparently it is.
If you want to talk about rogue, let’s point to the Snyder administration, the Bing administration and the state legislature. These are the parties intent on stripping local people of their input. We have had more encroachment and usurping of local authority in the last year than ever before. Detroit will no longer manage its public lighting department and Department of Human Services will be farmed out to a nonprofit. We are under a Consent Agreement that could mean a takeover, if local government objects to the state’s financial plans for the city. And it looks like none of these changes will mean improved city services for residents.
Process is important and could have kept the city out of the Consent Agreement in the first place. The city law department would have actually worked on the agreement. Instead, the mayor contracted Miller Canfield to work on it. All in an effort to expedite this master plan for Detroit that no resident seems privy to.
History will show who is on the right side of this issue.
We applaud Crittendon and hope she will not end the fight here. We also hope city council joins Corporation Counsel in asking a court to recognize the debt the state owes the city.