‘Big 4’ serve the usual menu of Pancakes & Politics banter, with side order of their own problems
Public safety and personal management responsibilities threaded through much of the discussion among the “Big 4” panel of regional leaders today at a meeting in Birmingham.
The Michigan Chronicle Pancakes & Politics breakfast forum at The Townsend Hotel offered the usual pleasant banter and mix of regional perspectives seen in other recent meetings of Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel.
They also hailed the recent board approvals to put a Detroit Institute of Arts request for 0.2 mills — or the equivalent of $20 on a home worth $200,000 — before voters in Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties in August. Patterson joked that many residents would pay far less because their home values are half that.
“That’s a bad day at Starbucks,” he said. “And since the communities who pass it are going to gain free admission to the DIA, you’re going to get that back.”
Bing also identified gaining legislative support for a new bus system as the next collaboration priority among regional leaders.
But the conversation also turned several times to crime and questions about individual leaders’ own involvement with controversy in their administrations.
Bing today identified public safety as the No. 1 concern for his administration outside of the financial crisis and implementing the recently adopted consent agreement with the state to avoid an emergency manager.
“But the real (crime) problem in Detroit is within neighborhoods. It’s not in downtown or in Midtown,” he said.
Bing also gave a cautious response to the question of whether he personally had authorized a recent letter from the Detroit Law Department to Gov. Rick Snyder concluding that the consent agreement violates Detroit’s city charter and Michigan law.
Bing said that he was concerned about airing discussion from a closed meeting last week that preceded the letter to Snyder but that he and other officials were concerned about complying with a decades-old law governing whether a contract is enforceable when one party owes the city a debt.
“I had some issues, quite frankly,” he said. “Because if we look at getting into the legal ramifications of a potential lawsuit, I don’t think we’ve got the capacity to (both) get into a lawsuit and try to do the things to fix the city.”
Ficano, for his part, said he has no plans to resign from office after a series of federal corruption charges were filed against former employees. Former county information-technology employee David Edwards entered a guilty plea this week to a federal bribery charge for taking $13,000 in cash from a private contractor. He is the fifth former Ficano administration employee to face corruption charges.
“I’m not going to resign. I have not done anything that is wrong, and I have been holding people accountable” within his administration, he said.
The executive said his office is cooperating fully with federal investigators, and he hopes a “difficulty” facing his office in the past six months would not overshadow his 29 years of public service. Ficano has not been charged.
“It makes good theater (and) it’s not pleasant,” he said of recent media coverage. “But I’m an attorney, and I understand the importance of the First Amendment and that public officials have the least amount of standing to push back when you feel that something is wrong.”
Hackel also briefly addressed a recent power struggle with his own board that culminated in a Macomb County Circuit Court ruling in his favor. Hackel brought a lawsuit in February against the board over a resolution that would have given it power to review contracts valued over $35,000.
He also said the county is looking at a broader form of collaboration among municipal law enforcement departments, after several audience questions focused on crime and public safety.
Patterson said criminal justice programs make up one of the largest areas of his county’s budget. He also was at turns sympathetic to and comical about the questions of Ficano’s administration.
“We all know Bob’s had a rough road these last few months, but … I would also hope he would be judged on all of his record,” he said.
“That’s the nicest thing Brooks has ever said about me,” Ficano said.
Patterson replied: “I have a (election campaign) fundraiser coming up, Bob.”