The Detroit Department of Human Services faces an uncertain future as Mayor Dave Bing's administration and state and federal authorities plan to dissolve it entirely, but City Council and concerned citizens put up a fight to keep the department intact.
The department has seen sweeping changes and numerous firings following a rash of corruption and mismanagement charges, resulting in in one arrest to date.
DDHS will not reapply for the $55 million in federal funding it currently receives to administer the early education program Head Start. At the insistence of Bing and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD will consider proposals for a new body to manage the education program.
DDHS is also currently responsible for administering Community Service Block Grant funding from the federal government, which comes to the city by way of the state's Department of Human Services. But MDHS wants to de-certify the Detroit department and transfer the CSBG program to a non-profit entity, citing the recent corruption in DDHS.
Bing has agreed to MDHS's proposal. That plan would have a existing agency, most likely Wayne Metro Community Action Agency in Wyandotte, distribute the CSBG funding intended for to the city's neediest residents in the short term, while the state finds a new agency for Detroit.
But to strip DDHS of CSBG funding -- and thereby eliminate the department altogether -- Detroit City Council would need to sign off on MDHS's proposal. While the body hasn't yet held a vote, most Council members have expressed extreme concern over handing over control of the department's funds to an agency outside the city.
On Tuesday afternoon, Council members peppered Ursula Hollins, interim director of DDHS, with questions about the position of the department. Hollins said several times she agreed with the Bing administration's decision to remove all funding from her department's control, though she admitted she had not recommended to the mayor that the department be shut down.
"I think the services should be provided by persons who care about the services being rendered, who have the skill sets and expertise," Hollins said. "I believe we owe that to the citizens of the city of Detroit."
Hollins said the city department faces some disadvantages in administering CSBG funds. As a government body rather than a non-profit, it has more hoops to jump through and can't turn contracts around as quickly.
Several council members, including Pro Tem Gary Brown, said they would prefer to go through a full decertification process for DDHS, even though the public hearings and other red tape involved could drag on for months. If forced to go through the decertification, MDHS has threatened to air all of DDHS's dirty laundry.
Some made the point that the department had already taken care of its management problems, and insisted past corruption shouldn't factor in to the decision on DDHS's fate. And Hollins said her time at the department had been spent making extensive changes, conducting investigations and discharging offending employees.
Council Member JoAnn Watson was most vocal about wanting to keep DDHS intact.
"We should fight to maintain human services and programs," Watson said. "Keep the money [in the city] and serve the people."