Detroit City Council Candidate Questionnaire: Jai-Lee Dearing

About 50 percent of the $1.8 billion general fund budget is spent on salaries and benefits.  Is there a way to address an accumulated deficit of at least $300 million and avoid the risk of insolvency without significantly reducing those worker costs?  If not, by what percentage overall do you think they should be cut?

First and foremost, we are obligated by duty and conscience to honor the commitments we have made to existing city workers.  However, we must look at new hires and their benefit packages carefully, to assure the city can manage new salary and benefit packages.  Ultimately, we will not be able cut our way out of this deficit if we expect to maintain even the most basic services offered by the City of Detroit.  As a candidate for city council, and as a businessman, I understand that the only way to solve our city's financial crisis is to grow our way out.  We must find new and creative ways to generate new revenue from existing city assets and attract new investment and business into the city.  By building an economic environment that fosters entrepreneurship, new investment and job growth we can expand our tax base and climb out of this deficit.


Do you have any other ideas as to how the city can either significantly cut costs or raise revenue?

You can view all of my proposals to raise new revenue and expand the city's tax base in my platform on, but here are three examples of how I believe the city can garner new revenue and cut costs almost immediately:

40 percent of our city land is vacant, after having conversations with the owners of Detroit Memorial – Michigan's oldest African-American owned business – I believe we should bundle vacant land and lease it to the cemetery company.  The land would not only continue to generate money off the lease, but would be remediated, greened and won't require additional police to patrol the area.  It is a win-win scenario for our city and one of our oldest homegrown businesses.

Right now our EMS division has the capability to be a revenue generating department for Detroit.  I believe the city should offer the same services private ambulance companies offer – trips to dialysis appointments and medical transport.  By offering these services we can create new jobs, generate revenue for city coffers and provide a valuable and affordable service to our citizenry.  In addition, competition will increase the quality of service and reduce the cost to the consumer.  Another win-win scenario for the city and our people in the most need.

I would immediately eliminate the 311 department and the Department of Administrative Hearings, creating a $4 million annual savings.  While the initial savings is small, the money should be used to increase security around our schools and support more after school programs for our youth.   


Would you support changing Detroit's city charter to allow district elections for some or all council members?

I support council by district because I believe a more representative government would be more equipped to better serve Detroit as a whole and our individual communities.


The Detroit International Bridge Co. is attempting to purchase a section of Riverside Park so that is can build a new span adjacent to the Ambassador Bridge.  At the same time, a publicly owned bridge is being planned for the Delray area.  Explain your support for or objection to each plan.

I support the Detroit International Bridge Co. plan to build a new bridge alongside the Ambassador for maintenance purposes.  However, I believe that the city can work with Detroit International Bridge Co., community residents and the Mayor to ensure that the section of Riverside Park is replaced, or the park improved as a benefit of allowing the bridge to be built.  Furthermore, after meeting with Detroit International Bridge Co. leadership, I believe Detroit's status as the most important international border economically is not being utilized to its full potential.  There is mutual benefit to be had in working with the Detroit International Bridge Co. to help improve commerce in Detroit and the communities the company effects.


The City Council has twice voted to send the city's trash to landfills instead of the incinerator, and is exploring its legal options in an attempt to make that happen.  The administration, meanwhile, is considering purchasing at least a share of the facility, and possibility all of it.  As a council member, would you support or oppose continued use of the incinerator.

As a business owner in close proximity to the incinerator I understand clearly the impact it has on the community that surrounds it.  I believe we can find new ways to both create electricity and dispose of our trash. I do not support continued use of the incinerator.  


Given the city's fiscal crisis, what, if anything, would you do as a council member to help support the arts and culture in the city.

In tough economic times art and music are always the first things to go and I believe that is always a mistake. The great thing about arts and culture is that it does not require significant sums of money to support.  As a business owner I have opened up our family's jazz club to young musicians across the city, giving them a place to develop their skills and display their talent.  As a member of city council I will continue to support the arts by finding new partnerships between the city, private entities and our schools to give kids a chance learn more about art and culture.  Furthermore, I would like to see a city wide initiative that gives local artists the chance to help beautify our city with their art – creating more instillations like the Heidelberg Project. 


What have you done personally or professionally to help advance civil rights, regional cooperation, race relations, poverty reduction, pro-environmental efforts, or any other similarly significant cause?

Through my business I have always made a point to give back to my community.  Through my businesses I have been able to support city wide efforts like Angels' Night by donating food to volunteers.  In addition I have helped send a number of young people to college with our small but impactful scholarship program for our young workers.  Also, Eastern Market is one of the great places in Detroit where people of all races and cultures meet in Detroit.  I am proud to say that my barbeque during the summer months is one of the key attractions that bring people from the suburbs and the city together to enjoy one of Detroit's finest traditions and one of America's oldest open marketplaces.


As a council member, what could you do to help Detroit capitalize on the burgeoning green economy?

Detroit's natural industrial infrastructure should be a perfect host for the manufactures of green technology in the 21st century.  Our access to the transportation routes, ready workforce and undeveloped property are perfect for new green technology companies.  However, to garner these new industry leaders we must create an economic environment in Detroit that says simply "We are Open for Business."  To create this environment we must pass tax abatements, streamline zoning processes and give incentives to prospective manufactures looking for a home for their facility.  Furthermore, as car companies develop greener cars, new batteries and car components will have to be build to accommodate the vehicles of the future.  We must continue our relationship with these companies, so they too can help attract green businesses to Detroit.  Finally, our city has the opportunity to be the first truly 21st century American city.  We must market ourselves as such and advertise our city as a blank canvass that can be rebuilt as a model for 21st century cities.


What innovative ideas do you have in regard to dealing with the massive amounts of vacant and abandoned property in Detroit?

I mentioned one of my plan's earlier in this questionnaire, but this proposal will not only help redevelop a lot of our abandoned properties, create jobs and create opportunities for Detroit students.  I propose that instead of using the $15,000 it costs to demolish a home, to use that money to hire contractors to do the work.  In addition to hiring individuals to redevelop the property, an apprenticeship program will be instituted to have a built in job training program that will teach many our young men and women valuable skills they can use to have a successful life.  Furthermore, I propose selling or donating property, owned by the city, for well below market value to neighborhood associations and community development groups.  These groups will then receive assistance from the city for re-zoning, licenses and other bureaucratic hurdles to develop these properties as rental units or new businesses.  We must empower our neighborhoods to rebuild themselves, and can do so by making property and other incentives available to members of our community with a solid redevelopment plan.  


Name one of your favorite movies about politics?  What is it about this movie that made an impression?

"The Wire", not a movie but an incredible HBO original series, is by far my favorite "movie" about politics.  I really enjoy it for its realism and honesty.  Sometimes politics get in the way of doing the right thing and I am running for council with that in mind, I am running for council to make sure we do the right thing to get Detroit back on track.


What book dealing with politics or government – either fiction or non-fiction – would you recommend others to read? Why?

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are my favorite book(s) about politics.  Perhaps an obvious choice, but when I lose faith in the system and how it can treat and cheat people sometimes, I flip through those pages and read the words of the men who put forth the ideas that built this nation.  It reminds me what we are fighting for not only as a country, but as a community right here in Detroit.


What piece of music (other than Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" has affected you in a political, moral or social sense? Why? 

"It's a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong is one of my all time favorite songs.  It reminds me that despite the challenges we face in this life, despite the bad things that may happen to us, that existing in this world is a great thing and there is always something, usually very simple, to smile about.


What question should have been included in this, but wasn't and what is your answer to that question?

The question:  Our problems in Detroit, the big ones: budget deficit, joblessness, city services etc…, will take a long time to solve.  If elected to city council how will you begin helping improve the lives of Detroiters on day one?

I have proposed a program I am calling WRAP Detroit.  WRAP Detroit will be instituted and run by my council office out of the existing office budget.  WRAP Detroit is a state of the art website and database that will identify businesses, individuals, non-profits and other organizations who demonstrate the ability to deliver services or aid to Detroiters in need.  On the other side of the website, a database of individual Detroiters, who are in need of assistance, will be able to sign up and list their problem and the website will automatically pair them with the appropriate business, individual or organization. Detroiters who do not have internet access will be able to call my office and my staff will enter their information for them and walk them through the process.  It's time that the Detroiters with means WRAP their arms around our city and begin helping folks the best they can. We have already begun to collect the information of willing businesses and organizations and the data collection is going well.  This is what a city council member's office should look like; it should be a clearing house for delivering services and solving problems.  With this initiative in place you won't hear the excuse that these problems are the mayor's problems.  I want Detroiters to know that if they have a problem they can come to me, and I will do everything I can to solve their issue.

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