Money in, money out — money gone

Dec 22, 2004 at 12:00 am

Considering Detroit’s looming layoffs in 2005 and considerable financial crisis (see “Detroit faces massive layoffs in 2005,” p. 13), it strikes News Hits as pretty disturbing that the City Council gave itself a raise this year. While most departments, including the mayor’s office, cut spending in the continual deficit situation, council boosted its budget to $16.9 million, including $731,000 for each council member to spend at will.

The money includes the council members’ salaries and benefits, but can be spent at their individual pleasure.

“We use the honor system,” in spending the public money, says Council President Maryann Mahaffey, using a phrase that strikes terror in News Hits’ heart when applied to politicians. Because she’s president, Mahaffey’s yearly budget is $1 million. She says she has no oversight on how the members spend their budgets.

The cash accounts were instituted in the Coleman Young days, Mahaffey says. Council members couldn’t find out important information about city operations, so the elected board members felt they needed their own staffs to track down the facts and figures necessary for informed decisions. City Council votes on the city’s budget and on every city contract, so it’s imperative the council understands exactly what’s going on, Mahaffey says.

“We can’t get any information, so we have to get it ourselves,” she says.

Some council members are rumored to have staffs as large as 30 people.

Mahaffey says the money appropriated to council is money well spent, and that critics should look at the mayor’s spending on family members in city government and hiring of private contractors to do work in the city.

But city Finance Director Sean Werdlow says last year the city reduced spending on private contractors by more than $7 million. Also, the mayor reduced his budget to 2000-2001 levels.

Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick asked the council to reduce its budget to $14 million this year, but they refused. In fact, Councilwoman Barbara-Rose Collins suggested the body should take $2 million from the mayor’s budget and add it to their own, but the matter was dropped.

The issue of council budgets has been in the news lately after Fox 2 News reporter Scott Lewis discovered that council member Lonnie Bates was paying a woman to work from New York City. After the story broke, rumors flew that other mismanagement was taking place. It turns out that Alberta Tinsley-Tilabi had been employing her sister until her sister was elected to the state Legislature.

Meanwhile, a rumor about a woman working for Councilwoman Sheila Cockrel stoked a brewing war between Cockrel and Mahaffey. Seems Mahaffey turned over payroll information from Cockrel’s staff to Lewis. It showed that Cockrel had done nothing wrong, but Cockrel was inflamed that Mahaffey released the information without notifying her.

Mahaffey says she did nothing wrong in releasing public information.

We suggest the council take some of its cash and invest heavily in conflict resolution counseling, because things over there are getting even uglier than usual.

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