Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Council's Dumbfoundedness is No Excuse

Over the last few days, I have watched two different meetings of the Detroit City Council, which are broadcast on Detroit's Channel 10 following the meetings. (Although I would love to watch every publicly-televised meeting, I have yet to find a schedule listed on the Council's website or the city of Detroit's. When I do, I will let you know). Aside from the sluggish, disorderly nature in which these meetings are conducted, the biggest concern I have after watching these meetings is the claim by many of the Councilpersons that they were not aware of Detroit's budget crisis. While I am pleased that they have been brainstorming ideas to plug the city's mounting deficit, I am utterly astounded that they claim to have had no advance notice of it. Even the Council President, Maryann Mahaffey - who has served on the Council since 1974 - claims she wasn't aware of the severity of the budget problems.

Although members of the Council stated in these meetings that Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has not provided them with ample information about the budget, and has ignored their request to have a private meeting about it, I found two reports published for the Council that prove otherwise. If you go to the Council's website, you can find the Auditor General's reports on both the 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 Proposed Budgets of the Mayor, which both convey the A.G.'s concern about the economic and fiscal sustainability of the city of Detroit under the Mayor's fiscal planning propositions. In the report on the 2004-2005 proposed budget, the Auditor General clearly states that the city is in an urgent situation with regards to its finances and that strict actions need to be taken. In addition, the Auditor's report for 2003-2004 states that the City Council has continually ignored warnings about the city's financial ability, citing an instance from "a few years ago" (the report was from April 2003) when Dennis Archer advised of an $860 million budget shortfall over the next 10 years, which was disregarded when, according to the report, someone the Council hired said the figure was wrong.

Aside from the fact that the City Council is a full-time elected body that should be aware of every penny that the city is spending, even if Mayor Kilpatrick is not supplying the Council members with the full budget picture, they can access any of the information on their own through the Freedom of Information Act. But, the Council doesn't even need to put that much effort into it - they have appointed members, such as the Auditor General, whose sole jobs are to provide Council with research reports on the budget, amongst other city-related issues.

The Auditor General did his job with the preparation of these reports - they are well-written and researched and clearly point out the faulty areas of the Mayor's proposed budgets. It is the Council who did not do their jobs and no one should take the blame for that except for them.