Can Detroit Be Saved? City engulfed in scandals, financial crisis and leadership challenges

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by Bankole Thompson
Michigan Chronicle Senior Editor
The leadership challenges facing Detroit are begging for answers that are hard to find in this town.

Because failed political leadership, accompanied by an enabling resistant culture, is the order of the day, and people for so long have not demanded much from those who have been guardians of the status quo at city hall, it is difficult to believe that the current crop of candidates running for mayor and city council have answers for a city that is on the brink of bankruptcy and serious financial reform.

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DETROIT EMERGENCY MANAGER KEVIN ORR

It’s problematic to even remotely suggest that those who are currently seeking to be entrusted with serving in Detroit government will offer anything different from the current political and economic turmoil that the city is faced with as a result of those in government today.

A reorganization is in order if Detroit is going to make any headway in the public interest. The present challenges are crippling the city politically as well as financially.

Let’s begin with the sweeping scandal of Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh disappearing from public sight and now under a police investigation, following allegations of inappropriate relationship with a teen. Without knowing much detail in this titillating scandal, still, Pugh, as head of the largest municipal government in this region, owes Detroiters an answer. And running away is not the answer for a man who was elected to serve on the council as well as be its president.

When former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s scandals began to unravel, he too disappeared from public sight and later surfaced at a church to render a televised apology for his misdeeds.

When the going gets tough Detroit expects its leaders to face the difficult choices head-on, not to go into hiding.

Whatever is driving the scandal is Pugh’s personal issue and the city, at a time when it is facing tough choices on reform, should not be a victim to the personal choices of its leaders.

Added to the Pugh conundrum is the resignation of his deputy president on the council, Gary Brown, who grabbed a $225,000 job on the 11th floor of the Coleman Young Municipal Building working as top deputy for emergency manager Kevyn Orr.

In this unexplained and yet to be defined position, Brown will serve as chief compliance officer for the city, leaving a city council that is already in a political transfix, further rendering the legislative body toothless even though it’s mandated to take care of much day-to-day business.

Since compliance by definition requires some regulatory certification or requirement, as former council member Sheila Cockrel rightly put it during a live broadcast of “Flashpoint,” WDIV’s Sunday morning political show, the public has yet to learn what in Brown’s background makes him the appropriate choice for compliance manager for the city.

Would it have served the public better for Brown to stay on council until the end of his term and then announce his next public venture, instead of jumping ship in the midst of a political crisis that’s already fractured the legislative body for a highly lucrative position?

In the private sector you can change positions any time and in any way without much explanation. It won’t merit a mention in the media. But in the public sector, where taxpayer dollars are on the line, there is explaining to do for these kinds of moves even if it is tactical and calculated for Brown, given his supposed relationship with State Treasurer Andy Dillon.

If and when Orr exits after 18 months as emergency manager and heads back to Jones Day law firm, is Brown being positioned or positioning himself to be the next emergency manager or de facto mayor until all of the reforms at city hall are complete?

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