Detroit and the Consent Agreement

Detroit Woodward Ave

“In a great city, City Hall must be a beacon to the people’s aspirations, not a barrier.” Tom Bradley, The Impossible Dream, 1986

As I write this, the decision regarding a financial manager for Detroit still hangs in the balance.  But, regardless of the outcome—financial manager or consent agreement–we find ourselves in a precarious position on one hand, and on the edge of certainty on the other.

I’ve said on more than one occasion that I find the current state of Detroit both wonderful and perplexing.   I suspect that many are living with the dichotomies of Detroit: best and worst, wisdom and foolishness, belief and incredulity, light and darkness, hope and despair.   In a given 24 hour period, I vacillate between most of them as I meet and interact with citizens, attend events, and watch local and national news, about Detroit.

How will the appointment of an Emergency Financial Manager or the adoption of a Consent Agreement and all that comes with it affect our “best of times”?  Ultimately, what it boils down to is: how will either option serve its residents who live, work, learn and love everyday in this city?

Many hardworking citizens just want to know if their pleas will be heard for better police and EMS response, working street lights, reliable public transportation, abandoned homes demolished, jobs, neighborhood grocery stores, clean parks and recreation centers for young people and the elderly and whether or not they truly matter in the grand scheme of things.  And yet, we wait, we hope, we suffer, we pray, for our elected officials to make a decision about the future of the city when there are so many other issues facing us daily.

As innovation, growth, and successful grassroots efforts continue to increase in our communities, I’d like to think that any negative effects will be negligible.  But, I remain concerned that many of the problems plaguing the city have been so systemic, that I wonder whether consent agreements or Emergency Financial Managers are enough to counteract years of neglect and failure to address the basic needs of Detroit citizens.

I am reminded of a quote by former Detroit Mayor Coleman Young who once said, “There is no brilliant single stroke that is going to transform the water into wine or straw into gold”. (Detroit News, 5 January 1986)

I am not naive enough to think that change is going to happen overnight, but I remain optimistic by the hundreds of ‘unofficial’ community leaders fighting to improve the livelihood of city residents and improve the reputation of the Motor City. I remain inspired to dream and plan and to make a difference in the world around me. And thus, my ‘aha’ moment: the only way change is going to happen in Detroit will be by the sheer will and determination of its private citizens. We must be the example of strength, integrity and courage to implement new ideas that will turn our beloved city around.

Change and innovation has to strategically and intentionally make its way into City Hall.  There are brilliant individuals operating in a system that is outdated and misaligned with the fresh, creative environment outside of it.

We have “everything before us”. Hopefully, prayerfully, there will be a meeting of the minds that moves us in the right direction.  The direction of change.

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