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Detroit’s Big Fix: An Open Letter to the Honorable Gary Brown

Dear Mr. Chief Compliance Officer:

Detroiters really want the basics. They want their trash picked up, their street lights on in the evening, and; a cop when they need one. Easy, right?  Well, we all know it’s just a bit more complicated than that, and I sincerely hope that the now former Council President Pro Tem is up to the challenge of reshaping and remaking government in a city we all love and call home.

Here’s some practical unsolicited advice:

  1. Get the DDOT and SMART merger done.  The City of Detroit is our nation’s only municipality which funds their department of transportation out of its General Fund.  For the past ten years, we’ve spent anywhere between $59 million to upwards of $85 million to fund public transit. Key to this mission is to get the two bargaining units together—the UAW represents SMART mechanics and AFSCME & ATU represents DDOT mechanics.

  2. Begin the conversation for a metropolitan form of governance.  Given the woes of both the City of Detroit and Wayne County; this just may be the opportune time for our own version of Miami-Dade County (FL).  Several groups should be at the table including the Detroit City Council and the Wayne County Commission.  However, SEMCOG, Michigan Association of Counties, Michigan Municipal League and other stakeholders should come up with a viable solution before next January.  A sidebar for Governor Snyder: We have over 500 school districts in the state of Michigan—that’s 500+ school superintendents, 500+ purchasing directors; and, 500+ school boards and more than 500 separate school board elections, a very expensive form of governance by any measure.  Maybe it’s time to borrow from the County ISD model and begin to consolidate public school districts in Michigan ASAP and pass the enormous savings onto our public colleges and universities, so that our children can afford college both now and in the future.

  3. Implement a Defined Contributions Plan—401(K) immediately. In 1998-99, the Detroit City Council, led then by the late great President Maryann Mahaffey passed legislation for the City’s chief executive to roll out a 401(K) program for all City employees.  And, four (count ‘em—Archer, Kilpatrick, Cockrel and Bing) mayors’ later City workers are still without a viable alternative.

  4. Sole-source healthcare for all City employees, appointees and elected officials. We are blessed with three major healthcare entities in Detroit—go out to bid and choose one. The City of Detroit’s healthcare costs is about $300 million per year, roughly the size of the budget deficit. All of Detroit’s Other Big 3 have facilities in most of the lower seven counties in southeast Michigan. If this sole-source contract is done correctly, the Taxpayers could be spared almost half the current costs or about $150 million per year in savings.

  5. Eliminate the Group Executive level in the Mayor’s Office. The Group Executive form of governance was installed by the Archer Administration and with a billion dollars in Empowerment Zone funds from President Clinton, who could blame Mayor Archer.  It costs the Taxpayers about $7 million per year which is too expensive given our financial emergency. Department Heads must be able to function at the department level—period.

  6. Cut all City contractors and vendors by 20%. We spend a lot of money to run city government. In fact, the City of Detroit is DTE’s fifth largest customer and spends over $150 million in energy costs each year (20% of a $150MM is a saving of $30MM in just this transaction alone). This is not a new concept; you may recall the Big 3 Automakers implemented similar measures to assure their collective survival. The savings produced here could total anywhere from $410 million (@ 10%) to as high as $800 million by taking 20% off the top;

  7. Get out of business processes and functions that we fail miserably in or have no business being involved in. There are 35 to 43 city departments—are they all missions critical? I doubt it.

  8. End Overtime and replace it with Compensatory Time—a savings of more than $100 million per year. We are either in a fiscal crisis or we are not. Hopefully, this move will produce immediate dividends so that DPD and DFD can be spared eventually.

  9. End the nightmare of lawsuits. The City of Detroit spends anywhere between $85 million and $125 million on lawsuits each year and that’s not including the Kilpatrick legal matter or whatever is to come as a result of the current Council President’s legal challenges.

Gary, this is my two-cents.  Good luck in your new role.


Victor L. Marsh, Sr.


About the Author: Victor L. Marsh, Sr., 56, has provided servant-leadership at the senior executive level for the City of Detroit, the Charter County of Wayne and the Detroit Public Schools. Mr. Marsh resides in Rosedale Park.

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