Belle Isle Park (Photo courtesy of Patricia Drury under CC license)


It’s entirely too easy to play the blame game in Detroit. There’s the mayor, nearing the end of his first (and possibly only) term, who promised progress but has been slow to deliver. He has good intentions and what he believes to be the second hardest job in America, but things just aren’t happening as quickly as we thought they would.

Then there’s the Detroit City Council, a body so against change that I’ve often wondered what the point is. They butt heads with everyone, from the mayor to the governor, on almost every issue that comes before them. They are completely out of touch with the day-to-day life of most Detroit residents (most of the council members live in Midtown or Northwest Detroit, in far better neighborhoods than the people they claim to represent). In 2014, Detroit City Council will begin to adopt a district system, in which members are elected by the neighbors, hopefully increasing accountability.

But for now, they remain stubborn as ever. It seems every decision they make goes against the general opinion of Detroit residents. Take the Belle Isle lease, for example. It was delayed again and again, despite showing support from many who regularly visit the island. But is it really all the council’s fault?

Any time the council holds a town hall meeting for residents, it turns into a screaming match. You have people throwing around racially-charged language (one attendee at last week’s Belle Isle meeting referred to the governor as “Massah Snyder), claiming the council does not work for residents, that accepting the lease terms would be giving away our land, and other vulgar comments that have lead to people being escorted out.

Think about it: if your job is to represent the citizens, and you have a town hall, and the only kind of people who show up are mad as hell about anything to do with the state intervening in the city, what is the council supposed to think?

When you look at it that way, no, I do not think the council should be shouldering all the blame here. There’s only so much they can take. After sitting through enough of these angry residents shouting at them, it’s understandable why they didn’t vote. It’s easier to do nothing and get the quiet, mild-mannered citizens who don’t come to meetings upset than to upset an angry mob sitting within feet of you.

Unfortunately, this line of thinking leads to bad decisions that hurt everyone who lives in Detroit. After the council dropped the ball on the Belle Isle lease, Mayor Bing announced that many parks will be forced to close, with others (including Belle Isle!) receiving minimal services. Sure, we kept our pride, but we lost a great deal to take care of something we can no longer handle.

2014 is a long time away for anyone hoping to see the council make some smart decisions. It is too long to wait and hope the council gains some sense of accountability. And if I have to hear one more comment about how “they” are taking Detroit away from “us,” I’ll scream.

That isn’t to say that I agree with the council’s actions. What I am saying is that based on the reactions they see at town halls, I can understand their line of thinking. You can’t blame them for trying to make the people they’re supposed to be serving, happy.

Obviously, something needs to change here. In a piece last week, Nancy Kaffer of the Detroit Free Press wrote that it’s time for the “new Detroiters” to start making an appearance at these meetings, and I agree. It’s time for the students, the newly relocated executives, and anyone with a vested interest to show the council that there are rational citizens out there. It’s time to put some serious positive pressure on them.

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