Duplicating Efforts By Shea Howell – Week thirty-three of the Occupation

Thinking for ourselves

Duplicating Efforts

By Shea Howell

Week thirty-three of the Occupation

November 19, 2013

shea25The incompetence of emergency management raises critical questions.

What exactly are we paying these high paid consultants to do on our behalf?

A recent article in Crain’s notes that much of the new plan to get us to financial security being touted by EM Orr is remarkably like the old plan put forward by the elected Mayor Dave Bing.

This shouldn’t be surprising. There are only so many things the city does and limited sources of revenue. What should be surprising is that we are going to pay close to $100 million to implement in 2014-15 the basics of a plan developed in 2011.

Joe Harris, a former Detroit finance expert, as well as an EM to Benton Harbor said, “I haven’t seen anything new” in Orr’s proposal. He asked, “If the consultants are using that (plan) at all, then why is the cost so high? Are they reinventing the wheel? It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me for those types of costs to be incurred.” 


There are some notable differences between the two plans. The most important being that the Mayor submits his budget to public scrutiny. He has to engage with Council, unions, and the larger community to justify his decisions and to build consensus. In essence, budgeting requires a public political process. Out of this process compromises are made, priorities negotiated, and collective values are established.

In contrast, Emergency Management is shrouded in secrecy, far removed from public review. On those rare occasions when decisions come before the public, the judgment, truthfulness, and ethical standards of the EM have all been questioned. Consistently.

EM Orr issues edicts. Thus we end up with financial decisions that are directly opposed by the majority of citizens. Further we end up with public money being spent in ways that invite corruption.

One way to understand the enormity of the money being spent on outside consultants is to consider Belle Isle, now in the hands of the state for the next 30 years. We are told that this is a good financial deal. The reasoning goes that this deal, rejected over and over again by elected officials, will save the city $4 to $6 million a year. How could any one oppose such a generous offer?

Another way to think about this is that if we did not pay financial consultants to move us toward bankruptcy, we could finance Belle Isle with the savings. For the $19.1 million already spent, we could cover Belle Isle for the next 4 to 6 years. On what we are projected to spend over the course of this bankruptcy effort, we could finance it for nearly two decades.

Some will say that this is a foolish argument, because we need these consultants to get us out of debt. Another way to think about this is we need these consultants to recreate and implement the same plan that Mayor Bing devised three years ago.

In an almost laughable argument we are told by high paid spokespeople that we shouldn’t make too much of this comparison of plans. There is a “learning curve” for “people who have not been up to speed” on the city’s budget woes, they say.

There are only two possibilities here. Either the high paid consultants studied these earlier proposals as part of their learning curve, or they didn’t.

If they studied them, why is it costing us nearly $20 million thus far to have a plan?

If they didn’t study them, what kind of lame excuse do they have for not doing their homework? And what exactly are we paying them to do?

If our elected mayor had decided to spend $100 million to recreate and implement a plan they already had, it is hard to overestimate the outcry.

Duplication of efforts, secrecy, back door deals, questionable ethics and questionable competence are the marks of our emergency mis-management.

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