DETROIT – Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder held his first town hall meeting in Detroit and said that he has no desire to run Detroit. With the April 2 budget deadline quickly approaching, Snyder said that the negotiations with the city are in the “90th-percentile” range.
“One of the big challenges in Detroit is we don’t need more plans, we’ve had plans going back 40 to 50 years in Detroit,” Snyder said in front of a crowd of over 200 people at Wayne County Community College on Wednesday, “I’m not here to run the city of Detroit, I’m here to be a supporting resource. I’m waiting for it to come from the mayor and city council.”
On Monday, the state’s appointed financial review board officially declared the city in a state of financial emergency. The board, led by state treasurer Andy Dillon, stopped short of recommending an emergency manager, but the option is still on the table if the city cannot come up with a sufficient agreement.
Snyder said that the state is willing develop public lighting and regional transit authorities for the city — at no cost to the city — as well as a lease agreement under which the state could run Belle Isle, Detroit’s largest public park, as a state park. He also repeatedly insisted that he has no interest in running Detroit, but in helping it get to a point where it can be managed from within.
Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, who is recovering from abdominal surgery, did not attend the town hall, nor did the city council. The state and city officials have been embroiled in a contentious battle over the city’s finances since Snyder took office in Jan. 2011. The two sides only started negotiating an agreement in the last six weeks.
“There isn’t a lot of good reason why (the consent agreement) wasn’t done some time ago,” he said. “I’m impatient. As a practical matter, I think the citizens are impatient. They want action.”
Tensions in the city have run high in recent days, with incendiary rhetoric hitting a fever pitch during Monday’s public board meeting. Crowds of angry residents and activist groups loudly disrupted the meeting, with some singing spirituals such as “We Shall Overcome” and others shouting threats toward the board that, they feel, is trying to take over the city and strip it of democracy.
“It’s white supremacy,” said minister Malik Shabazz of Detroit on Monday. “This is white-on-black crime. Before you can take over our city, we will burn it to the ground.” During a meeting on Tuesday, councilman Kwame Kenyatta compared the relationship between the governor and city officials to a “master-slave relationship.”
Snyder countered by saying that the consent agreement will allow the city to run itself. He added: “The citizens of the city would be electing their officials during the normal course of things. The mayor and city council would be responsible for the policies.
“If you look at the financial history of the city, it needs to do a better job of managing its finances. How many plans have there been over the last few decades for Detroit have been implemented?”
Late Tuesday evening, the Detroit City Council approved a $137 million bond loan to cover the city’s payroll for April and May as the city was staring down missing paychecks. Snyder noted that since 2005, the city of Detroit has borrowed over $600 million to cover various budget shortfalls and payroll, not counting the new loan.
“You look at the evidence of the city doing it to itself,” Snyder said. “How many times since 2005 has the city borrowed money? Many of these (budget issues) are things that should have been worked on and resolved going back for years.”
Snyder said he is willing to consider a state bailout for Detroit, and said that some programs require investment by the state. But he also added “it shouldn’t be just about spending money.”
Snyder noted that Detroit is not the only city in the state with financial issues. Along with neighboring suburbs Highland Park and Inkster, Pontiac, Flint, Saginaw, and Benton Harbor are all under some form of emergency management.
“I’m not picking on Detroit at all,” Snyder said. “I’m happy to invest in Detroit. The most important thing that we need to get going is helping the citizens of Detroit.”
Follow Jay Scott Smith on Twitter at @JayScottSmith