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Michigan Taxpayers Alliance Updates: Some Detroit Leaders Providing Hope

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Some Detroit Leaders Providing Hope

Sadly, the word "Detroit" is synonymous with "dysfunction" thanks to the scandals of Monica Conyers and former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and the ineptitude of the City Council. But let's not let those dark clouds obscure several bright lights emerging from the ranks of Detroit's political leaders.

Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb is the brightest of those lights. Since being appointed in March, Mr. Bobb has tackled the seemingly hopeless disaster that is the Detroit Public School System with inspiring vigor.

In just a few months, Bobb has slashed a $430 million deficit nearly in half by eliminating bloated staffing and uncovering fraud. Bobb has cut 181 positions out of the 231 person curriculum department, terminated half of the district's assistant superintendents, and dumped eleven of the 21 "executive cabinet" members.

Bob hasn't just juggled numbers and laid off unnecessary personnel - he's aggressively tackled fraud and corruption. In the past two weeks, Bobb uncovered over 250 non-existent "ghost workers" on the payroll and suspended seven more employees accused of theft and embezzlement after investigations were initiated under his watch.

And Mr. Bobb isn't finished yet. He plans on privatizing the district's transportation services, is considering additional privatization, and will close 29 schools this fall.

Cold hearted? Only if one believes that a school district's primary job is to employ adults and coddle unions instead of putting resources into educating children. The kids and taxpayers of Detroit should hail Bobb as a hero.

And Mayor Bing should take notice. The Mayor started out on the right foot by rejecting the perk of the Manoogian Mansion, opting to rent out the building for the benefit of taxpayers. Bing then suggested that the City's grossly inefficient public lighting department be outsourced, only to back away when confronted by union intimidation. Let's hope the Mayor regains his nerve.

Bing need only to look to the Wayne County Building downtown for another example of strong, responsible fiscal leadership.

Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, facing a sizable deficit, isn't foisting a tax hike on suffering citizens like nearby Macomb County. Instead, he’s proposing a 20 percent budget cut - including the layoffs of about 500 county employees and consolidation of two departments. Ficano is also asking the county's employees to accept cuts in wages and benefits to avert 440 more layoffs. Ficano's crusade to put Wayne County’s financial house in order is good for Detroit.

With Mayor Bing joining Detroit's widely-respected City Clerk Janice Winfrey in City government, there's hope for ethical and stable leadership. Now, Mayor, please take on the City’s sacred cows. And Robert Bobb's professionalism, courage and leadership may finally result in a functional school district for the City.

Michigan's next governor should take notice and bring Mr. Bobb to Lansing.

Leon Drolet
Director, MI Taxpayers Alliance