Traverse City Record-Eagle

Op-Ed Columns

April 8, 2012

George Weeks: Detroit gets helping hands

On occasion, during Detroit's decades of decline, politicians and others from northern Michigan have extended helping hands.

So it is now as Detroit is in its worst decline — an economic basket case that faces bankruptcy if the historic consent agreement that Gov. Rick Snyder and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing signed last week does not work out to help restructure finances in Michigan's largest and most troubled city.

The situation now is far, far grimmer than it was when 1969-82 Gov. William G. Milliken worked out some state aid efforts, and Democratic Mayor Coleman A. Young said the Traverse City Republican "carried out policies that recognized the interdependence of the city and the state."

Another northern political leader, 2001-04 Republican House Speaker Rick Johnson, of LeRoy in Osceola County, was helpful to Detroit, working well with Democrat Kwame Kilpatrick when he was a party leader in the state House and later mayor of Detroit.

Last week's Detroit agreement provides for a nine-member financial review board and appointment of two top executives to implement its directives.

Snyder, just back from a foreign trade mission, said of the agreement that his administration worked out:

"I believe it is historic in the sense that if you look at the problems of Detroit they go back for several decades. So this is not a new problem we've been facing with financial distress in the city. It's one that's been going on for decades.

—¦ But we're going to be part of the solution and moving forward in a positive way."

Among forms of assistance that Snyder has talked about for Detroit and other cities fighting crime is State Police assistance. (During his administration, Milliken, after dispatching aides including Marc Oberschulte of Leelanau County to spend a night monitoring Detroit freeways, ordered State Police to begin patrolling them.)

Detroit this week must create the positions of chief financial officer and program manager. It then has a month to hire from a list of candidates submitted by Bing and State Treasurer Andy Dillon.

One encouraging Metro Detroit thrust by Snyder is supporting a regional system of rapid transit.

At one point in the Ford Administration, Michigan got an election-year commitment of federal support for such a system from Transportation Secretary William T. Coleman Jr., in a Washington meeting with Milliken, if the region could get its act together on the issue — which it has yet to do despite renewed promises from subsequent administrations.

Jim Lively, program director of the Michigan Land Use Institute based in Traverse City, wrote April 6 in the Record-Eagle:

"The history of regional transit in Detroit — or the lack of it — began in the 1970s when Gov. Milliken made the first unsuccessful attempt to bridge the divide between Detroit and the surrounding suburbs. There have been nearly two dozen failed attempts since."

However, Lively said, "We are again seeing leadership from northern Michigan to finally resolve this critical issue. State Sen. Tom Casperson, from Escanaba, introduced the bills to create a regional transit authority and Traverse City state Rep. Wayne Schmidt is an outspoken supporter of public transit statewide, including Detroit."

In touting passage of the three Regional Transit Authority bills for southeast Michigan, Lively said they will benefit all of Michigan — making "it more likely that similar agencies could be created for other regions of the state, including ours."

As Lively wisely wrote, Michigan's future, including that of those of us Up North, "is inextricably connected to the fate of Detroit." Or, as the late Coleman Young, whose effectiveness has yet to be matched by any of his successors, said it so well, there is "an interdependence of the city and the state."

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