Traverse City Record-Eagle


October 17, 2013

Phil Power: New model is public-private partnerships

Believe it or not, there is good news out there.

The news from Lansing may be, at the very best, mixed, and Washington had, even before the shutdown, fallen into a vast sinkhole of dysfunction, fueled by partisan and ideological wars.

Still, it may sooth the mind and rekindle a little optimism to consider these Michigan success stories:

n The Kalamazoo Promise, funded by local wealthy families and facilitated by civic consensus, has literally changed the lives of hundreds by providing college tuition to those who graduate from Kalamazoo public schools. Along the way, it has strengthened the school system, firmed up the local housing market and provided a rallying call for a community under stress.

n Grand Rapids’ ArtPrize has just finished handing out nearly half a million dollars to hundreds of artists whose work graced local streets and now draws hundreds of thousands to a thriving city every September. A local, state or federal government program? Nope. It’s all done through private, local philanthropy.

Detroit may well be ground zero of municipal failure and incompetence. But many institutions that used to be creatures of the city - Cobo Center, Eastern Market, Detroit Historical Museum - have been off-loaded to non-public entities — and are thriving. Larger institutions - the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Zoo — remain technically city-owned, but are managed, funded, operated and run by separate nonprofits.

These examples highlight a significant movement quietly gaining ground under the surface of both our state and our community governmental institutions.

For generations, we assumed that various institutions of government were properly responsible for design and competent to manage activities aimed at the general good of our people. But increasingly, that’s sadly no longer the case.

Instead, what has grown up over the years at the core of many public bodies (which are all, to some extent, political institutions) are layers of encrustation by interests that tilt public policy and government activities toward their particular parochial benefit.

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