Sunday, April 16, 2006

A View Of Getting What You Pay For

A few days ago, I wrote about taxes and said there would be more later that night.

It never came to be, did it?

There was one quick but serious post about the Bush administration doing a pale imitation of "Dr. Strangelove," but it wasn't the promised post.

Let's say that you own a business or a home, and you required the information in the promised post so you could meet a client deadline or make a needed improvement to your home. Or perhaps your life hung in the balance, and you needed that information to survive.

Information that never came. What would you do?

Would you call your city government office and try to locate the information despite the possible red tape you faced?

Would you strike out on your own to try and find a solution, even if it was illegal?

Would you wait patiently for a day or two then give up, shaking your head in disgust about the lack of leadership and doing nothing else?

Would you survive?

If you live in the city of Detroit, you face this dilemma everyday in one form or another. You read about declining population and skyrocketing debt. You hear stories about failing city services due to a seemingly endless clash between the Mayor's office and City Council - a power struggle that seems to be rooted more in the desire to fight simply for the sake of tradition (the two have clashed for as long as anyone here in the area can remember) than in a true desire to improve the city and region. You see evidence of neglect in your communities - illegally dumped garbage that never gets cleaned up, calls to 911 that fail to get answered, abandoned homes that rot away like open sores in the middle of neigborhoods struggling to survive, street lights that never come on and potholes in streets caused by water mains that never seem to get fixed, an increase in violent crime that some believe is due to a decrease in police presence on the street. You feel worn down by cynicism, apathy, and the never ending cry of racism that rises whenever a problem crops up in the city - sometimes applicable, sometimes completely out of place.

What do you do?

What do you do when a child calls for help to save his mother and the help never comes? Or when it comes out that other calls for help have been ignored? I'm sure you've heard by now the tragic, embarrasing story of young Robert Taylor who lost his mother Sherrill in spite of his calls to 911 for medical assistance. The operators who took the calls dismissed the young boy as a prankster and lied about sending help. Robert faced a horror no one, much less a six year old, should ever have to endure - watching a loved one die because nobody would provide help.

The embarrasing part of this story comes not only from the fact that authority figures he was raised to trust failed to live up to their responsibilities, but from the way that our community has been strangely silent about the aftermath. We've been content with the boy's family hiring Geoffrey Fieger to sue the city, and we expressed shock over the fact that this situation has occured before. There were a few stories on the news, nationwide coverage, and the expected (though totally inappropriate) cries of racism, and then...nothing.

Where are the calls of action to help fix a system overburdened with prank calls? How can our chief of police sleep at night defending the operators who have repeately turned away calls for help without attempting to find out if the calls were truly legitimate? Why isn't there a push from our citizens to get our city workers the training and support needed to better serve the city?

Has anyone come forward to provide the counseling needed to help Robert get through this ordeal? Legal action is being provided, and reports have focused on monetary damages, but what about his emotional damages? Has anyone told Robert that he was a brave boy to keep trying to get help for his mother? That he did nothing wrong? That he should not give up on turning to trusted adults and authority figures if a situation calls for getting assistance? What about the others who have come forward with similar stories? Is anyone reaching out to Anshiree Martin, who lost her child because of neglect by 911, with emotional support? Who's assisting Lorraine Hayes, who survived because she managed to get relatives to call for help from Minnesota when she was attacked and is now a paraplegic because of local neglect?

It surely doesn't seem as though we can turn to our local government for help because they don't seem willing to provide it. During his recent budget address, Mayor Kilpatrick said that he was willing to bring back some DPW employees to help address the illegal dumping that has exploded in the city since bulk trash pick-up was discontinued in January. He also said that not only would bulk pick-up on a regular basis not return, he wanted to charge city residents a $300 a year fee for basic trash disposal - a tax increase thinly disguised as a "service fee." We were told that "low-income citizens" and seniors would receive a discount on this new tax, but we were not told what defined "low-income" in a city where more than half of its citizens currently live at or below nationally defined poverty levels. Seniors and disabled citizens were told they face an increase in bus fares, but were not told how the administration would address the poor performance of said bus system - buses that rarely run on schedule, or have wheelchair lifts that are so inefficient lawsuits have been filed charging the city with violating the Americans With Disabilities Act. City workers were told to brace themselves for contract concessions and health care cuts, but there was little discussion of any further cuts being made by the current administration.

Needless to say, City Council attacked the mayor's budget proposal - in record time this go around - but they didn't discuss specifics on ways to make the budget more reasonable. Citizens complained about yet another tax increase, but pretty much threw their hands up in the air because they felt there was not much they can do. Union officials got up in arms about the mayor trying to "balance the city's budget on their backs," but said little if anything about how they planned to negotiate to help the city try and right itself. The mayor said that his budget was feasible and that the consessions would be presented as a "last, best offer" to the city's unions, but he also refused to say where the numbers in his budget came from or why he decided to make a "last, best offer" via local media outlets without talking to union officials first - immediately destroying any hope held by the city's unions of good faith negotiations.

Everyone is complaining about what the other side is doing, but nobody seems to be talking about what they intend to do about making things better. A lot of people writing checks with their mouths that no one can cash. And, looking at where the city is, we're getting what we're paying for. Nothing.

I'm one of those persons. I chastised my mom when she called the city's lighting department daily to complain when our streetlights in our neighborhood went dark for months at a stretch instead of calling myself. I voted for my choice of City Council reps and mayor, but did (and have done) little else. I've talked when I should be taking action. I'm tired of writing bad checks. It's time for me to pay up.

Does anyone reading this blog know of a group who wants to actively work toward improving the city? Does anyone know of a viable candidate beginning to explore a run for city goverment? I'd like to put my capital toward someone or some group who cares enough to take action.

If you have any information, share it with me, and I'll share it on my blog. This means you'll be paying forward for your city and region, too.

Talk loud and say something, ya'll.

More to come later.

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