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How Bad is Detroit’s Government? Really, Really, Really Bad

Anyone seen a million dollar check lying around city hall?

by
Rick Moran

Bio

August 10, 2013 - 6:43 am

Reading this Detroit News story about the tale of a $1 million dollar check that ended up in a desk drawer for a month before being deposited, I tried to imagine what the city employee was thinking when they so casually and negligently dealt with Detroit’s money.

I came to the conclusion that the employee wasn’t thinking — period. As the story makes clear, city employees, their managers, on up the chain to their political masters — all have embraced a dysfunctional mindset where they believe the problems of the city are so immense, so widespread, that nothing they do can alter the situation for the better.

I worked for a company like that once. Of course, they went bankrupt. But for the six months prior to the firm going under, employees wandered around leaderless and helpless. We were all clock punchers — barely doing enough work to get by. What didn’t need to be done that day could be put off till tomorrow, or next week, or perhaps forever.

There was no leader to grab us by the scruff of the neck and pull us out of the doldrums because the managers were all similarly afflicted.

Such apparently is the case with Detroit; a modern industrial city on its deathbed due to incredible mismanagement and criminally negligent leadership.

In late February, cash-strapped Detroit received a $1 million check from the local school system that wasn’t deposited. The routine payment wound up in a city hall desk drawer, where it was found a month later.

This is the way Detroit did business as it slid toward its bankruptcy filing, which it entered July 18. The move exposed $18 billion of long-term obligations in a city plagued by unreliable buses, broken street lights and long waits for police and ambulances. Underlying poor service is a government that lacks modern technology and can’t perform such basic functions as bill collecting, according to Kevyn Orr, Detroit’s emergency manager.

“Nobody sends million-dollar checks anymore — they wire the money,” said Orr spokesman Bill Nowling. Except in Detroit.

“We have financial systems that are three, four, five decades in the past,” Nowling said. “If we can fix those issues, then we’ll be able to provide services better, faster, more efficiently and cheaper.”

Detroit doesn’t have a central municipal computer system, and each department bought its own machinery — much of which never worked properly, according to Orr, 55, who took over in March. The last such acquisition, 15 years ago, was of a system based on Oracle Corp. technology that wasn’t fully put to work.

The city is buying new software to improve income-tax collection, especially from suburban commuters who work in Detroit, said James Bonsall, the chief financial officer hired by Orr. The dysfunction extends beyond machinery, Nowling said.

Union rules have “bumped” workers into positions they aren’t qualified for as departments make cuts, he said. The city has no training programs and doesn’t evaluate employees in 2,500 job classifications.

“It has nothing to do with bad employees,” Nowling said. “These employees in some instances are still following work rules that were created 40 years ago.”

Detroit’s operational flaws are pronounced, according to a June 14 report from Orr.

It costs the city $62 to process each paycheck, every pay period, for its 9,560 employees, compared with an average of $18 for U.S. public employers, Orr said in the report. The main reason for the high cost is that almost 150 full-time workers produce Detroit’s payroll, including 51 uniformed officers.

The city’s income-tax receipts are processed by hand, among the 70 percent of accounting entries done manually, according to Orr. He said in his report that the U.S. Internal Revenue Service described Detroit’s tax-collection system as “catastrophic” in a July 2012 audit.

Someone — or a lot of people — should go to jail for allowing city government to reach such a low level of competence and efficiency. Say what you want to about the Chinese Communists, but incompetent local governance there leads to managers going to jail — even executed if corruption is involved.

It goes far beyond the breaking of trust between the people and their government in Detroit. It is the systematic looting of taxpayer funds by public unions and corrupt politicians who knowingly allowed this state of affairs to fester until it was far too late and ennui set in.

I don’t blame the poor schmuck who left the check in their desk for a month. I blame city leaders who knew what was happening and continued with business as usual because business was profitable to a select few. If I were a Detroit city worker, I’d probably have left the damn check in a drawer for a month too.

Rick Moran is PJ Media's Chicago editor and Blog editor at The American Thinker. He is also host of the"RINO Hour of Power" on Blog Talk Radio. His own blog is Right Wing Nut House.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
The remedy for every one of the problems cited is competent leadership. But starting with Coleman Young, there was nobody at the helm; the officers and crew were all down in the hold, breaking in to the high-value cargo. Now, the ship is on the rocks and everyone wants to be rescued.

Let'em drown!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
How bad is Detroit? Almost as bad as the Chicago government Moran supports.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (9)
All Comments   (9)
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Anybody check to see if that school board didn't ask them to sit on the check for awhile? I mean like hey, we have to make the payment on this today but we don't have the money. How about losing the check for awhile until we can cover it? Everybody else there is broke, why not the school district?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Detroit is Liberalism in a petri dish.

No one there cares. As long as their paycheck keeps coming at the end of the week they see no reason to think or do anything more than the minimum necessary. Liberalism breeds them. There is not a single one of them who would last five minutes in a highly-competitive private sector environment.

And when the paychecks do stop coming they will do exactly the same as their golden idol Barack Obama: point the finger at someone else.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This is the end of the road when you take competition out of the equation. And it works, right up until it doesn't. I feel sorry for those who experienced the learned helplessness of public employment, they are in for a shock.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Democide
Suicide by Democrat politician
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I spent almost three years in the mid-'80s rattling around rural Alaska trying to account for $58 Million in Bureau of Indian Affairs grant money that they'd mislaid over the preceding decade or so. Back then even federal agencies would notice $58 Million bucks gone missing. Some of it was stolen, some of it lost, much of it wasted, most was "recovered" by just working with the grantee to file the appropriate reports. But, in the course of my travels I did recover several dozen US Government checks totalling several tens of thousands of dollars that were just sitting in desk drawers, some for the better part of a decade. In some instances the Administrator just didn't know what it was for and put it away until somebody told him/her what to do with it. In others, the village was far from a town with a bank, you can only travel by air or in some cases water, in most of rural Alaska, so getting it to the bank got put off until the next time somebody was going into a larger town with a bank and it just got spaced. In the Detroit case, it is highly likely that some low-level employee received the check, didn't know what to do with, maybe even didn't know what it was, and just put it aside until somebody told him/her what to do with it.

My twenty-something stepkids have almost never written or seen a check and have never habitually carried a checkbook like we "old folks" once did, maybe still do. It isn't at all unlikely that a young clerical employee, the sort of person most likely to recieve a mailed or hand delievered check, actually wouldn't know what it was.

It doesn't surprise me that each city department has its own computer system; that was a real battle for governments as the desktop computer came along in the '80s and '90s. It does surprise me that the agencies don't have the latest and greatest computers and software, whether or not any of it works, is appropriate, or anyone knows how to use it. The tech companies were really, really good at and very willing to wine and dine, and, I believe, bribe anybody in government with procurement authority to try to influence them to buy their stuff. We had Democrats in power when we did most of our computerization and some people cut a really fat hog during those days. The head of my agency left government and went directly to work for a major computer supplier and took his IT director with him. Since they were Democrats and thus definitionally good people nobody questioned the Ethics Act implications of he and that director having given that company tens of millions of dollars of business.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The remedy for every one of the problems cited is competent leadership. But starting with Coleman Young, there was nobody at the helm; the officers and crew were all down in the hold, breaking in to the high-value cargo. Now, the ship is on the rocks and everyone wants to be rescued.

Let'em drown!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
How bad is Detroit? Almost as bad as the Chicago government Moran supports.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Don't be an idiot. I've been writing for 35 years about the evils of Chicago's political machine. Before you make an ass of yourself again, I suggest you know what the hell you're talking about before commenting.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The outrage shouldn't be about Detroit's financial woes - conservatives have seen that coming for years, from lax work (non-work?) rules, extravagant vacation plans, lavish health insurance, golden parachute pensions plans (except now more than a few of those golden 'chutes may not open). The outrage should be over Ed Shultz' recent rant blaming Republicans for Detroit's problems. Never mind that the city been (mis) managed by liberals since the 70's beginning with Coleman Young's probably-criminal 20yr mayorship, & continuing with Kwame Kilpatrick's antics mayoral mis-, mal-, and non-feasance.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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