Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

July 6, 2014

Jack Lessenberry: Could Warren Evans rescue Wayne County?

Normally, few people outside the Detroit area know or care who the Wayne County executive — a sort of super-mayor — might be.

Except this year, that choice may be important to everyone’s wallets. Wayne County, by far the state’s largest in terms of population, is in trouble, largely due to appalling mismanagement.

The county has been rocked by scandal after scandal, blowing more than $125 million on a new jail that will never be built.

Current Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano’s administration has squandered millions more on bad investments and astronomical payouts to political appointees.

Things have gotten so bad that there is open talk of a possible Emergency Manager for Wayne County, which includes Detroit.

That would likely be an economic nightmare for everyone.

For the first time, the state would be coping with jurisdictions with layers of emergency management. Detroit, which makes up nearly 40 percent of the county’s 1.8 million population, already has a manager and is in bankruptcy proceedings.

Detroit Public Schools, an entirely separate entity, has been under emergency management for years.

More of this is exactly what Michigan doesn’t need in order to attract desperately needed new business and jobs.

Warren Evans, who polls say is the clear front-runner in the race for county executive, says putting the county under emergency management would be even more difficult that anyone realizes.

“Unlike Detroit, the county prosecutor, the sheriff, are elected independently. They have their own budgets. They wouldn’t come under the emergency manager’s authority.”

Evans should know. He managed and balanced $150 million budgets back when he was Wayne County Sheriff. Dapper and dignified at 65, he has spent the vast majority of his career in law enforcement. He won high marks for reducing violent crime while staying within spending targets.

His record, however, has one blemish. Five years ago, he impressed many by voluntarily giving up his elected post as county sheriff to serve as Detroit Police Chief under Mayor Dave Bing.

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