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July 31st, 2013

Detroit has finally hit rock bottom - it’s time to rebuild



Harry C. Alford

It has been a long and rocky ride down the economic slope for the Motor City. The first time I moved to Detroit was 1974. I was just discharged from the United States Army as a 2nd Lieutenant and motivated to excel in my new civilian career. Procter & Gamble hired me out of the University of Wisconsin as I graduated in 1970. Knowing I was about to be drafted they placed me in Toledo, OH for training and assured me that I would be placed in Detroit after my service. When I was discharged I found the sales office to have left the city of Detroit and moved to nearby Dearborn, MI. This was part of a big migration by corporate Detroit which had given up on the city and its firebrand mayor, Coleman Young.

That was the beginning. Year after year and decade after decade the businesses, white middle class and then Black middle class left for the suburbs or across the country. The declining tax base, increasing crime rate, blight and debt beyond belief became too common for any good. Authorities "kicked the can" down the street on an annual basis (pretty much like our federal government today). Now Detroit is in very dire straits. It has a debt of $20 billion and can only generate about $1 billion per year for its annual costs. Bankrupt indeed!

I am glad to see the "bottom" because now we can only go up. Detroit is too big of a city with a great heritage for us to turn our backs on it. This is the stuff great things are made of. What we need now is a Project New Detroit Commission appointed by the Michigan Governor. Members of this panel should be made up of nonpoliticians and credible business managers. If I ruled this matter here is how I would throw down on the bleak situation.

There is rampant corruption. All city officials involved in any process where money is involved such as licensing, procurement, taxation, etc. should take a lie detector test and undergo a background check (revenue exceeds noticeable income). If anyone resists it should be considered a resignation. This should be handled by the prosecutor’s office after he and his office goes through the same scrutiny.

Gangs are the biggest distributors of drugs and the violence and crime related to it. Gang leaders (captain level and above) are to be identified and then prosecuted for Racketeering under the RICO statutes. No more leaders; no more gangs. Good riddance!

More than half the property tax owners do not pay their tax bills. Give them 90 days to catch up or make strict arrangements. Failure should lead to property seizure and quick auctions. This cash flow is critically needed for the city treasury.

The school system of Detroit is one of the worst in the nation. Effective immediately, there should be a Charter School licensing system. All schools charter and tax funded must teach literacy and mathematics with some science to grade efficiency beginning with first through twelfth grades. Elementary public schools can be replaced with these charter schools whenever practical. High schools should be considered for merger with others or just closed when literacy and math levels are inferior. Libraries will be privatized. You can’t have a great city without a quality workforce.

Detroit is the Capital for unions. This will end. All city related union contracts should be voided immediately and payroll and benefits will be in accordance with the Bankruptcy Committee and the ability to pay by the employers and shareholders.

The city will no longer be responsible for the parks and recreation facilities. The ownership remains with the city but the maintenance, grounds keeping, security, etc. will be privatized via a Request for Proposal process (3 year terms).

All utilities and hospitals will be privatized. RFP’s will be renewable on 10 year terms. City or county commissions will provide oversight and regulatory enforcement.

In regards to empty buildings and vacant lots, proposals will be accepted and reviewed. If viable and up to code, proposals will be approved deeded for $1. Development must begin immediately. 90% of workforce during the developmental stage and permanent hiring thereafter must be residents of Detroit.

City and schools bus systems will be privatized as soon as possible. Revenue sharing will be between the new owners and the city. Ownership can be for the entire city or particular zones.

The new Department of Transportation will be responsible for upkeep and repair of city streets, alleys, roadways and snow removal. A multiple or single privatization process will be applied with oversight done by a citywide commission.

Well, I think the above is a good start. Any comments or additions are welcomed. Here’s to a safe, vibrant and family friendly Detroit - devoid of corruption and blessed by our Lord.

Harry C. Alford is the co-founder, President and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.


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