Big top floperoo 

There was a circus and a sideshow going on simultaneously when the Wayne County Board of Commissioners met last Thursday. The big-top spotlight centered on deliberations over a proposed budget, which is never a pretty process, but can get particularly brutal in lean times such as these. The center ring’s main attraction was whether the county should dip into its “rainy day” fund and pull out $12 million in savings to make up the projected budget shortfall, leaving only $6 million in reserve. “I keep telling people it’s raining, but they don’t want to believe it,” said Commissioner George Cushingberry Jr., chair of the budget committee. When his fellow commissioners began raising questions, Cush gave them a tongue-lashing, saying if they really cared about the issue they would have showed up at his committee’s meetings. Those sessions were long, arduous and moved at warp speed because the budget handed down by County Executive Ed McNamara arrived so far behind schedule. Big Ed was supposed to have delivered his proposed spending plan by July 1, but didn’t actually hand it in until Aug. 19, giving commissioners a ludicrously short time to review, adjust and approve a budget by its charter-mandated deadline of Sept. 1. Throw in all the revenue uncertainty created by establishment of the new airport authority, and it’s easy to understand why there’d be lots of turmoil. It doesn’t help that commission meetings never, ever start on time. And then when they did actually get rolling, it was without Chairman Ricardo Solomon, who eventually strolled in mid-debate to pick up the gavel and start hammering down the shouting matches around the council table as commissioners vied for floor time. Those who weren’t shouting were disrupting things by parlaying with selected cohorts. Then there was Commissioner Susan Hubbard, who walked in and out like she was making the rounds at a cocktail party.

The end result: Saying he didn’t want to saddle McNamara’s replacement with a measly reserve fund — but cautioning that one of the few options otherwise available is layoffs — the chairman steered his unruly crew toward approval of a temporary budget covering Oct. 1-Dec. 31. That at least allows them some time to look for places where cuts can be made.

(Note to Bob Ficano: Are you absolutely sure you still want the county exec job?)

While the commissioners were busy clomping about in oversized red shoes and spritzing each other with seltzer, an intrepid little band of citizens sat in the audience, hoping the commission would explain what happened to its promise to place an ethics amendment on the November ballot.

The deadline to do that came and went last week with no action. Which means Solomon reneged on a a promise earlier this summer to champion the cause once supporters ironed out legal questions (which they dutifully did).

Mary Mazur, spokeswoman for the commission, said there’s just been too much going on, what with dealing with the budget and airport problems, to pay sufficient heed to the proposed ethics amendment. The reformers want to severely limit campaign contributions from individuals (and their family members) associated with companies that do business with the county.

Grosse Ile resident Blair McGowan, one of the leaders of the ethics effort, told News Hits on Friday that the plan now was to form a coalition that will gather the more than 60,000 signatures needed to get the measure on the ballot that way. That won’t happen by November, but McGowan says the important thing from this point on is to create a solid foundation to ensure the measure’s eventual success.

McGowan saw a direct connection between the ethics issue and the county’s budget woes, saying that it would cut into the kinds of sweetheart deals that contribute so mightily to budget bloat.

“This amendment really strikes to the core of how county government can be run effectively, and with accountability,” said McGowan. “Passing this will help address budget shortfalls for years to come.”

Those interested in joining the effort can contact McGowan at blairj@gate.com.

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