Friday, July 10, 2009

The incinerator, Dave Bing and red flags

Posted By on Fri, Jul 10, 2009 at 6:25 PM

Even if you don’t give what my grandmother used to call a tinker’s damn about the fate of Detroit’s municipal waste incinerator, if you do care about the city and what kind of leader its residents have put into its top office, then you should pay attention to the veto Mayor Dave Bing signed Wednesday in an attempt to keep the burner fired up.

Why care? Because Bing’s veto statement reveals either clear incompetence or deliberate mendacity on the part of an administration that was supposed to be charting a new course for Detroit after all the massive trauma caused by Kwame Kilpatrick during his tenure in the mayor’s office. If this is the way Bing is going to be handling things, then voters — and the media — should start paying serious attention to the candidates hoping to challenge Bing during November’s general election. Because we endured almost seven years of a mayor whose word could not be trusted, and who would take any action – including those that were clearly illegitimate — in order to have his way. And the last thing this beleaguered city needs is more of the same. But in the case of the incinerator, we’re getting a whiff of the same sort of thing.

On June 30, the City Council, on a 6-2 vote, passed a resolution authorizing its Research & Analysis Division (RAD) to obtain an outside legal expert to advise on the feasibility of seeking a court injunction that would stop delivery of trash to the incinerator. Two days ago, Bing issued a veto in an attempt to block that effort. Today, RAD — which was created by the council so that it could get independent legal analysis — informed council that Bing’s veto isn’t legitimate. “As a matter of public policy, to contend that the [Detroit City] Charter intends to allow the Mayor to veto a Council resolution that derives from a conflict between the two branches of City government is inherently unreasonable,” reads the analysis by RAD Director David Whitaker.

The mayor’s office, in an e-mailed response, disputes that, saying that it stands by the veto. But the legitimacy of the veto isn’t the only issue. There’s also some claims made in a statement from Bing that accompanied it that are simply false.

“The GDRRA [Greater Detroit Recovery Authority] facility produces steam that provides power for Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, all of the buildings in the downtown loop, and 198 schools — of which 90 schools are open for summer school. If granted, this injunction would leave all of these facilities without power.”

However, as we reported in our News Hits column this week, GDRRA stopped sending steam to Detroit Thermal — the private company that maintains the downtown steam loop — on July 1, when the previous contract expired. While a new agreement is being negotiated, Detroit Thermal is continuing to produce steam by burning natural gas. Even without GDRRA steam, service has not been interrupted. Clearly, the administration’s implication that the effect would be immediate is not true. When pressed, the mayor’s office says that relying on natural gas is not viable in the long term. That’s debatable. Victor Koppang, president of Detroit Thermal, told us that the price of natural gas is expected to stay low for the foreseeable future — making that a viable option.

Either way, the fact is that a number of schools are in summer session now— and without steam from the incinerator. For Bing to suggest that the incinerator is an issue of immediate concern to the schools, as his veto statement does, is clearly an unwarranted scare tactic.

I also think it might be a good idea for Bing and crew to take a remedial math class, because they are clearly having problems when it comes to counting. According to the Detroit Thermal website, the company provides steam to a grand total of 146 buildings. Obviously, the administration’s claim that 198 schools rely on DT steam can’t be true. It is, after all, called the "downtown steam loop," and only extends to the New Center area. I’m told reliably that it’s actually four schools on the loop.

So, are Bing and company making claims without bothering to make sure of their veracity, or are they simply making things up in a desperate attempt to sway public opinion regarding the incinerator? I can’t yet answer that question with certainty. Either way, though, this is a sign early in Bing’s tenure that there’s real cause to be concerned about the credibility of his administration. And an administration that can’t be believed is the last thing Detroit needs at this point.

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