- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 20, 2011

In Detroit, battle lines are being drawn between the mayor and the city council over ways to keep the Motor City out of bankruptcy and what some fear will be a state financial takeover under a new provision in Michigan law.

Since last week, when Mayor Dave Bing offered a tough-love prescription to fix the city’s mounting financial crisis, the backlash has been festering along with a impending reality that cuts will be deep and city services will be further slashed or privatized — if the city is to continue to manage itself out of a dire fiscal hole that could see it broke by summer or even sooner.

“If we continue down the same path, we will lose the ability to control our own destiny,” Mr. Bing warned in an urgent speech last week.

On Friday, 21 of 26 police officers from Detroit’s Northeastern District cut short their 4-8 p.m. shift in a symbolic “blue flu,” sending a message that they are a force to be reckoned with in any future negotiations, even as the mayor seeks a 10 percent cut in wages and benefits for police and firefighters.

Mr. Bing hopes to avert the state’s new emergency financial manager law, which would cede local control to an independent leader appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder. But the mayor has added that such a turnover is inevitable if drastic changes are not quickly implemented and city departments and their powerful unions don’t agree to significant cuts aimed at cutting a $45 million deficit.

The mayor, who said he hoped to minimize service losses in key agencies like police and fire where response times have drawn previous criticism, announced Friday 1,000 citywide layoffs to begin in February. He plans to meet with department heads Tuesday to plan a strategy for the job eliminations.

Meanwhile, however, the city council, which has frequently opposed Mr. Bing during his tenure as mayor, says he didn’t go far enough.

Despite his warning that they don’t run the city, the council will unveil its own plans Monday for salvaging the city’s finances that include slashing up to 2,300 city jobs if unions don’t agree to wage and pension cuts along with selling city parking lots and buildings, privatizing some service jobs, and ending city support for cultural entities such as the Detroit Zoo, the Detroit Institute of the Arts and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

Mr. Snyder, Michigan’s Republican governor, issued a statement after Mr. Bing’s speech last week, saying he was committed to avoiding the emergency financial manager scenario but said he expected the city to ask for an initial preliminary inquiry, the first step in the EFM process.

Under the EFM law, a takeover manager could void union contracts as a part of the repair strategy, a notion that sent labor protesters to picket Thursday outside the city government headquarters.

“Based on the mayor’s remarks tonight and the severity of the situation he described, we anticipate he will be submitting a request for a preliminary financial review in the near future,” Mr. Snyder said last week.

While the police sick-out is under investigation from internal affairs, others around the state expressed concern over how Detroit’s woes make the state as a whole look to the world and much-needed future investors.

“So much of the world looks at Detroit and thinks, ‘Michigan,’ ” Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell noted, in an interview with west Michigan’s WOOD TV8. “The economic engine can’t attract business and can’t grow that business sector if municipal services are at an all-time low.”

Others looked deeper at the impact on workers in an area long hit hard by high unemployment and the ongoing real-estate crisis.

“It is a human tragedy,” John Riehl, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 207, told the Detroit Free Press. “The city won’t be able to function with these layoffs. Many city departments are already bare bones. And we are getting floods of people retiring, about 20-30 a week, because they are afraid of the pension cuts.”

Others, worn out by the city’s long history of sketchy finances, including a school district already under emergency financial control, say they applaud an EFM takeover and think it’s long overdue.

“For many years, especially the last 11 years, Detroit has really been drowning in red ink and leadership hasn’t been able to stem the tide or find its way out of darkness,” said Detroit blogger John K. Bennett, writing in the Huffington Post on Friday. “As a city worker I say to other city workers we can no longer be afraid of an EFM and in fact it could be the best thing to happen.”

Mr. Bennett chided Mr. Bing for a lack of leadership and called for a certified public accountant with no ties to politics or city leadership to act as a “bottom-line bean counter” for Detroit.

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