Their honor, your dime

How in hell could anyone, anyone, look at the current condition of Detroit City Council and not agree that something drastic must be done with that hideously malformed body?

You need no more evidence than our Lisa Collins’ report on the council in last weeks’ News Hits. Teamed with her well-reported cover story in the same issue on the disastrous state of Detroit’s finances, the council’s actions/inactions in the face of economic ruin shifts the whole pathetic mess into the realm of farce.

Collins’ cover story portrayed a city that can no longer whistle past the fiscal graveyard and ignore the reality that layoffs — at this point, massive layoffs — must happen and soon if Detroit is to avoid ruin. That could take any of several forms, none of which bolster the “world-class” image that starry-eyed boosters and the city’s leadership struggle to sell, not only to the rest of the country, but to Detroit’s own overtaxed, underserved, ill-treated citizens.

But there sits City Council, its balance of misused power thrown into further disarray by the death of Kay Everett, and the undead now scrambling to protect their own agendas and position themselves favorably with whatever new mayor they hope to install.

So how does the council respond to the city’s financial nightmare? By asking for more money to fatten their staffs and, for all we know, themselves. Nobody has to approve expenditures from each councilmember’s budget. Council President Maryann Mahaffey says they operate on “the honor system.” Whooooo-eeeeee! That’s the single most tragicomic statement I’ve heard in years.

Anyone who would trust a spectacularly irresponsible hump like Alonzo Bates to act honorably with public funds must have huffed a little too long at the paint thinner can. Good old Junket Lonnie now has the feds snapping on the rubber gloves for a proctological exam after reports that he was keeping some young thing on his staff payroll while she attended school in New York.

Councilmember Barbara-Rose Collins’ political life is a sideshow of profligate spending, in large part to pamper herself and to live as the adored public-service giant she imagines herself to be. Just one of many examples: She “forgot” to pay her income taxes for three years. Do your really want to have somebody like that spending your hard-earned, unhappily paid city tax dollars on the “honor” system?

And when Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick cut his own budget earlier this year as one step in addressing the city’s persistent deficit, City Council members responded to his request to do the same by increasing their own budgets. The total now stands at $16.9 million a year, including a cool million for Mahaffey and $731,000 for each councilmember to spend at will, without oversight.

The city has set itself up as the employer-of-last-resort, increasing the number of public employees even as the number of taxpayers they’re supposed to serve has shrunken dramatically.

Yet Mahaffey has overseen the fattening of City Council budgets while blithely continuing to talk in the same breath about both avoiding layoffs and fiscal responsibility.

The City Council is about nothing more than preserving in-house alliances (see over the coming months if Mahaffey disagrees even once with council ally Sharon McPhail, who’s running for mayor, or her pal Collins — Babs, not Lisa), and serving special interests in a never-ending quest for re-election at any cost.

It’s not their money, so what the hell?

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