The Craig Fahle Show

Craig Fahle Consent Agreement Essay

April 5, 2012

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Shhh...do you hear anything?

Neither do I.

For the first time in decades, the faint but ever-present noise of a tin can being kicked down the sidewalk has stopped. The sidewalk ended. The Detroit City Council, Mayor Bing, and the Governor have finally put a plan in place that could end a condition that has been perpetuated far too long.

They waited until almost the last possible minute. But they had to approve this. Every single member of council probably knew when they were elected that this day was coming.

The decades of papering over huge deficits with revenue projections based on never-consummated deals, or outright fantasy projections;

The decades of mayors distracting us with imaginary shiny objects like train stations that morph into a new police headquarters, while quietly telling us not to worry about a couple-hundred-million-dollar deficit;

The decades of fiscal watchdogs speaking truth relegated to Cassandra status by politicians, residents, and the media alike;

It had to stop. The bill is long overdue.

The final arguments all have weight. And they were given a hearing. We heard so much in the last months about fair treatment from the state and unpaid, owed money; the historic roots of middle class flight, disinvestment, and the Great Recession and middle class flight; the uncaring and sometimes outright contempt from outside forces. And race. In Detroit, it always comes back to race.

We didn’t hear so much about the city’s own role in its decline. And when I say city – I am not only referencing the elected and business class. Across the spectrum, Detroit has refused to adapt. Detroit has not risen to the many competitive challenges that have been laid at its feet. There has always been a belief that recovery for the city was more dependent on riding the wave of the next upswing in the economy than adapting.

But something happened after 1981. Detroit stopped participating in the upswings. But we sure as hell continued to get walloped in the downturns. Taxes remained high, while service delivery suffered. Businesses complained about massive levels of red tape, and apathetic bureaucrats were more concerned about work rules than customer service. We had opportunities to change things. We could have taken small, incremental steps over the years that could have done much to stem the outward migration. We didn’t.

Instead of dealing with the structural reforms, we changed the subject. We blamed an uncaring and unprofessional national media who just wouldn’t tell the REAL Detroit story. We banked on moonshot projects that would revitalize downtown. We put a white hot light on the new arrivals and social entrepreneurs.

All with the idea that if these things were allowed to take root, the benefit would trickle down to the neighborhoods. Eventually. Don’t worry, we’ll get around to your neighborhood. Eventually. We know it’s bad, but hang in there. The problem is, when we finally looked at some of the neighborhoods…we realized we were too late to save them. We have been reduced to a situation where we are performing triage on ENTIRE NEIGHBORHOODS…ranking them based on the severity of their condition to determine what order we can get to them, if at all.

So here we are; with a city that we love, but in some ways we barely recognize.

Detroit: where once proud houses are stripped bare by desperate people willing to kill a neighborhood for a few bucks worth of scrap metal; a police department stretched thin by geography and cuts, working hard simply to regain the trust of those they are sworn to serve and protect; a fire department that every day puts the lives of its men and women on the line fighting fires in homes that the government was supposed to have torn down months ago; an EMS system that struggles at its most important function, getting to people before they die. And the schools. We adults have mortgaged the futures of hundreds of children and THIS is our greatest shared disgrace.

The real question for all of us, every single one of us, is a simple one:

What is the best way to improve the essential quality of life for residents and visitors to Detroit?

Any discussion we have should focus on that one simple question. This consent agreement doesn’t answer that question. It is simply the first step in a long and difficult recovery process. Real healing only occurs when the afflicted recognizes the extent of the problem, and finally pledges to do something about it.

But there is a second VITAL question to consider.

Are we right to demand some introspection of our neighbors?

Did the burbs exploit Detroit’s weaknesses? Of course they did, and in some cases still do. But many of them are starting to realize the short term gains they enjoyed at Detroit’s expense threaten their long term stability. So when they say a healthy Detroit is important for a healthy Michigan…they better not act shocked or offended when someone calls on them to put their money where their mouth is.

Detroit, despite its deficiencies, isn’t solely responsible for all of the conditions and circumstances. There have been plenty of enablers, those all too willing to allow Detroit to struggle along, as it made them look that much more attractive in comparison.

That won’t fly anymore.

All of us are going to play a role if this city is to achieve some sort of sustainable equilibrium.

The political leadership has taken an important step. Let’s all do our best to help. Cynicism is not an option. Whether it comes in the form of bemoaning the city leadership, suggesting that Detroit should just be abandoned and left to rot or, the suburbs – you know how they are!

None of this hot air will get us closer to answering the essential question.

Because, look, let’s face it, we’ve given all of that stuff fifty years to of center stage.

How’s that plan working out so far?