Commentary
10:06 am
Mon June 11, 2012

Commentary: Common Sense

Now that I’m in my sixties, I find myself forced to confront the sad truth that I am never going to be a concert violinist or play professional sports. So instead, I have decided to devote my life to urging our leaders to exercise common sense.

True, there are days when it does seem that trying to make the Detroit Lions might hold out slightly more chance of success.  But as an idealistic baby boomer, I refuse to give up.

So today, I want to propose a common sense solution for Detroit and Wayne County. Both are in a mess, to put it mildly. As you may know, some of Detroit’s leaders seem determined to force the governor to appoint an Emergency Manager by sabotaging the consent agreement that was artfully crafted to prevent just that.

What’s baffling about this is that the minute an Emergency Manager takes over, those now fighting the consent agreement no longer have to share power with the state. They lose all their power.

Meanwhile, there is surrounding Wayne County, where the slowly unraveling extent of corruption and malfeasance has been truly astonishing. I cannot imagine any private sector industry, including the Mafia, in which County Executive Robert Ficano would have been allowed to keep his job.  But he refuses to leave.

Now it turns out that Wayne County is also in a financial mess. The Detroit Free Press yesterday reported that the county has a $155 million deficit, and things are worsening by the day. Wayne’s auditor general says the county already meets several conditions that could lead to the appointment of an Emergency Manager. Officials are scrambling to try and fight this.

But forget that. Here is the perfect opportunity for the governor and legislature to exercise some leadership that could leave a huge and stunning positive impact on our state’s future.

Governor Rick Snyder should move immediately to appoint an Emergency Manager for Detroit. Then he should move as fast as possible to appoint one for Wayne County. Then, he should propose that after a decent interval in which both managers try to clean up the worst of the messes, the legislature pass new laws merging Detroit and Wayne County into a single governmental entity.

That would be terribly unpopular with a lot of residents and local politicians -- but would be the best thing possible for Michigan. If you are listening to this in Grand Rapids or Frankenmuth and think Southeastern Michigan’s agony isn’t your problem, you couldn’t be more wrong.  This state’s economy, and our ability to attract new business from other states and countries, will always be impacted by the health of its largest metropolitan area. Detroit and Wayne County both have enormous problems and dysfunctional governments, and starting anew is exactly what we need to do. Yes, this will be hard. But think about Berlin.

You couldn’t imagine a starker contrast 22 years ago between the glittering rich west and the shabby, run-down east.

Yet they were merged into a new city that has become an economic and social powerhouse, in part because that‘s what all the Germans wanted. There’s no reason we can’t do the same.

All that‘s needed is the political will.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Political Analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Jack Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.