In search of bright ideas 

Around the time of September’s primary election, Metro Times columnist Jack Lessenberry lamented in print about how unfortunate it was that only the race’s front-runners received any serious media attention during the campaign. Even among the people who had virtually no chance of success, suggested Lessenberry, there could well have been any number of good ideas that, given a fair hearing, could eventually have been adopted and implemented by whoever did win.

We thought his point a good one. So good, in fact, that we decided to make sure that no potentially helpful idea went unnoticed. We contacted all 18 candidates for Detroit City Council’s nine seats and asked them to offer up what they considered to be their single most innovative plan or creative approach to issues facing the city. Here are the responses that we received. —Curt Guyette

Alonzo Bates

For the city to slow down urban flight we must address the housing, recreation and neighborhood and business development. I would address these concerns by: 1) Allowing homeowners to rehab houses in the immediate neighborhood or to acquire land adjacent to his/her property; 2) Talking to businesses about acquiring commercial land at very reasonable prices; 3) Consulting churches and other nonprofit groups to develop donated land; 4) Consulting block clubs for ideas about specific land use in their communities; 5) Hiring a staff person to coordinate and implement this project; 6) Getting agencies, businesses, block clubs, churches and the appropriate city offices to work together on this project; 7) Talking with land developers regarding development of low- and moderate-income housing on larger parcels of land; 8) Making acquisition of vacant city-owned land a simple process by eliminating the red tape.

Avery James Bradley

I propose that the City Council establish a Property Task Force comprised of the city of Detroit Planning and Development Department; a consortium of banks invested in “community banking” programs; the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development; the Michigan State Housing Development Authority; interested bonded developers and construction companies; and community and faith-based organizations.

The task force would be charged with finding an affordable way to “marry” low-income Detroit residents with available city-owned properties worth saving and placing them back on the city’s tax rolls. This should be accomplished by “giving away” the properties, either to developers or citizens who are bound by contract and commitment to refurbishing these houses for private home ownership.

Sandra Pace Campbell

As the legislative body of local government, one of the most important charges of the Detroit City Council is its budget oversight. Atop my to-do list, if elected, would be to pull my colleagues together and insist on implementing committee structure as defined by the current charter. I want budget reform and this type of in-depth, line-by-line research would have to be done in committee. Our budget should be more in line with the priorities of our citizenry with the goal being a better quality of life. This has to be done collaboratively with the mayor, the council, community leaders and residents.

Hansen Clarke

The fundamental change that I will bring to city government is to transform the culture of arrogance in City Hall into a mission of serving Detroit families. To begin to transform city politics, I would expand the citizen input process that I successfully started as a state representative. I would hold citywide forums to listen to the concerns of our residents and hold myself accountable for accomplishing their priorities.

By leading by example, I could enroll other city officials to be committed to the issues that our residents want addressed, such as cleaning up our streets, rebuilding our neighborhoods and making the city safe for our families.

It’s cruelly ironic that this innovative solution is a basic principle in any democratic form of government except for the government of the city of Detroit.

Ken Cockrel Jr.

The best way to improve the Detroit City Council’s effectiveness is not with a revolutionary new idea but with an old one that is overdue — creation of a standing City Council committee structure.

The 1996 City Charter calls for the creation of council committees that could include but not be limited to: budget and finance, neighborhood and community services, human resources, law and public safety, and planning and economic development. Committees would make the council more efficient and fast in managing its calendar, passing legislation, and resolving city service problems.

In March 1999, I proposed a committee structure that would have created eight new committees. Incredibly, I could not get a majority of my colleagues to vote in support of this plan, even though the City Charter mandates it! I plan to reintroduce this plan in January.

Sheila Cockrel

One of my major initiatives will be to call for the implementation of the Detroit City Charter requirement for the city to convene a Risk Management Council. The purpose of the council is to make policy recommendations to minimize exposure and liability of the city to claims and damages. During the past four years, I have made it a policy priority to ask questions of each and every city department whose actions result in lawsuits against and payouts by the city. While I have received answers to some of the questions and corrective measures have been taken in several instances, there is currently not the coordinated city approach to risk management that the council would provide.

Barbara-Rose Collins

I consider the building of low-to-moderate income homes the most important issue to be addressed. The way to go about this will be to partner with developers to build premanufactured homes on the thousands of vacant lots the city currently owns. Buying in large quantities will enable the city to purchase homes at low prices (approximately $20,000 to $25,000) and sell to citizens at a reasonable cost. Rebuilding housing in the neighborhoods will attract more businesses to the communities, thereby improving the quality of life, making our city a pleasant place to be proud of calling our home.

Kay Everett

I understand the importance of improving the quality of life. Our experience has proven that the key to making an initiative successful is working jointly with community organizations, corporations and various levels of government. Working with such organizations brings forth a sense of community unity and pride in the neighborhoods. I will work with the new mayor and my colleagues to make sure the following will be implemented: 1) An Adopt-A-Can program, where businesses would maintain and sponsor garbage cans near their businesses. 2) Continuing to improve coordination of clean-up and grass-cutting efforts by the city, county and state government. 3) Developing coordination between the Public Lighting Department, Department of Public Works and the Police Department to remove posters and signs placed on light poles and enforcing laws against violators. 4) Continuing to educate the community about the importance of keeping our city clean.

Kenneth L. Hollowell

I would seek to maintain the former integrity of our now-blighted neighborhoods by increasing home ownership via: 1) Salvaging abandoned homes that are repairable; 2) Demolishing homes that cannot be saved; 3) Constructing homes on vacant lots, comparable in style and size to those on that street.

The city provides land and/or dwellings in a public/private partnership. The preimprovement property value becomes the equity of the owner/occupant; the developer or repairing entity and the city profit from the enhanced valuation upon sale of the property. The city would maintain limited control to assure that all these goals are met.

Kwame Kenyatta

One of the first things I want to do is get the council to conduct business in the way the City Charter says it is supposed to. the charter states the council should operate under a standing committee structure, with committees established to oversee specific areas or departments. The council hasn’t established these types of committees but it needs to, because keeping track of each department committee by committee, and seeing how the department heads are or aren’t spending the money that’s been budgeted, is they only way to hold them accountable for the money that’s been appropriated. It’s the only way for council to make sure the people running the departments are qualified to be doing the job they’ve been appointed to do. The way things are now, just enforcing the City Charter would be innovative.

Maryann Mahaffey

We need neighborhood-oriented government. The contribution of residents who have been working steadily in our city for years will be a key factor to the success of revitalizing Detroit. My plan calls for establishing community neighborhood councils. Each citizen advisory council would develop neighborhood plans, which would be then formally adopted by the city. These plans would then be integrated into a citywide comprehensive plan. Each citizen advisory council would develop their own organizational structure. An umbrella citywide organization made up of representatives from each CAC could improve communication between government officials and the CACs. Full-time, city-funded neighborhood planners would be available to provide technical assistance. The CACs would be funded for operating expenses.

Veronica Massey

The program I’m going to pursue that’s considered rare in today’s market is to initiate accountability within Detroit city government. There are many issues that must be addressed and resolved in order to effectuate positive, progressive improvements to city services and the overall quality of life of all citizens.

However, my goal is to become a champion for our children. And the areas that need immediate attention are the schools and the parks and recreational facilities. Improvements can be accomplished by lobbying the private sector, such as community groups, businesses or individuals, and private foundations to become partners for positive change in an effort to give the children an opportunity to become well-adjusted. This will provide activities, programs and services that are efficient and effective in clean, safe, renovated, well-maintained facilities that will also be a remedy to that other problem of juvenile delinquency.

Sharon McPhail

Several years ago, I read the story of a wealthy man in New York who adopted a middle school of poor children with a high dropout rate and low grades. His promise to them was to pay their college tuition if they graduated and got admitted to any college. Detroit should start a fund that would pay for the college education, at a Michigan-based college or university, of every graduate who had been in our public schools for at least eight years. Casino profits are one source of the funding for this program. There are others. Most people cannot afford to send they children to college anymore. This program, combined with housing incentives and tax abatements, I believe, will repopulate the city and make it viable again as a place to live and raise a family.

David Murray

The thing I want to do first would be to facilitate the redeployment of the police department from being so concentrated downtown and spreading officers out into the community so the response time would not be so slow. Also, provide better equipment for both the fire and police departments, and more human resources. Council needs to pass a budget that allows for better public safety. Because in Detroit, people are concerned about neighborhoods deteriorating because of crime.

Bettie Cook Scott

There are two keys to my platform, and both entail a commitment to quality-of-life issues. 1) When on council I will work aggressively to work with other members to push utility companies to reopen service centers to serve Detroit-area residents. I strongly feel there isn’t any dignity in paying your bills in liquor stores, which charge an additional service fee. Economics and convenience are the most prevailing factors. 2) After surviving good times and lean years in this city, seniors should not lose their homes. It is for this reason I am making the unique proposal that once a citizen reaches age 65 their property taxes be frozen. Ideally, the homeowner’s property tax would be exempt from the rolls. Only when and if the senior moves or dies will the property return to the tax-assessment rolls.

Brenda Scott

When re-elected to the Detroit City Council, I will continue my work to improve the neighborhoods. I will continue to have abandoned buildings and homes in the neighborhoods removed or renovated.

There are city ordinances on the books to address illegal dumping. The key is enforcement of these ordinances. I will continue to encourage an increase in usage of environmental officers who are now in place at most, if not all, of the police precincts. There is no more fundamental city service than picking up the trash. I will continue my work to improve the city’s waste-collection services.

Felix Sharpe

As Detroit approaches yet another crossroad and our nation a depression, there is little room for error. While many candidates want to talk about new approaches, programs and ideas, the reality is that solutions are better found in good government. As an elected member of the Detroit City Council I pledge first to show up for work! Secondly, to use the City Council’s budget authority to increase public safety resources, so that we truly reduce crime and put fires out. I will also lead the effort toward a clean city by placing greater responsibility on those that litter our city in the first place. Contrary to public opinion, the city’s Public Works Department does an excellent job of picking up the garbage.

Plainly said, it’s time to stop the fighting and nonsense and get to work on our City Council.

Alberta Tinsley-Talabi

I created the Office of Targeted Business Development in the budget for the 2001-2002 fiscal year. For the first time, there will be a unit of government solely dedicated and focused on increasing opportunities for targeted businesses to supply goods and services to the city of Detroit, to participate in city-supported development projects, public private partnerships and joint ventures. The City of Detroit spends approx. $1.5 billion annually for goods and services. The Office of Targeted Business Development will be to monitor procurement practices of all departments and will assist city agencies to develop new strategies to increase targeted business utilization. Additionally, this office will develop programs to increase the participation of small businesses in development projects and work to encourage joint ventures with companies throughout the region.

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