The Annie E. Casey Foundation must be a thorn in the sides of Michigan politicos. It seems that month after month the nonpartisan foundation releases research, studies and reports, based on analysis of 2010 census data, that show Michigan's elected officials in Lansing have done little to improve childhood poverty in the state. In fact in a trip over Governor Snyder's famous "dashboard" you'll see that childhood poverty in Michigan stands is at 23 percent. In other words, one out of every four children in Michigan lives in poverty. That's significantly above the national average of 11 percent.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation recently released a report on high poverty communities. Yes, Detroit tops the list. The response from Detroit City Council members? Crickets chirping.
In Michigan's largest city, 67 percent of children live in poverty. How can they not? Unemployment in Detroit is thought to be close to 50 percent by the city's mayor. The two largest employers in the city are the Detroit Public Schools and the city itself. The people who live Detroit are suffering.
Well, not all of them. There are nine people in Detroit who are living high on the hog. Marie Antoinette would look at the Detroit City Council members and be pleased with their ability to operate like 18th-century French nobility -- albeit without the noblesse oblige. When was the last time a Detroit City Council member went on the record about the childhood poverty? Who among them, other than Mayor Pro Tem Gary Brown, has shown any recognition that Council members are living off funding provided by people, a significant number of whom simply who don't have enough food for their children?
Here's what the Council members had to say at the group's December 2011 meeting in response to the governor's threats to impose an Emergency Manager:
Member Brenda Jones: "There are a lot of means that we can save money. There is a lot of money that's out there that this city has not collected."
Member Andre Spivey: "If the state wants the city to thrive, then come help us out."
Member JoAnn Watson: "Some of us saw this coming. We have a lawsuit that's filed on our behalf. We have 28 plaintiffs around the state. Many people have worked to have petitions with thousands of signatures to repeal immediately this Public Act 4."
Here are the best comments on the urgency felt by Detroit City Council members in the face of the city's financial woes: Member Saunteel Jenkins did not attend the meeting, and President Charles Pugh and Member James Tate left early.
If Council member JoAnn Watson saw Detroit's financial crisis coming, she didn't say anything in June 2010, when she voted to approve controversial contracts and pay raises for Council staffers. According to reporting from Crain's Detroit Business: "Ken Cockrel Jr.'s senior policy adviser will make $84,000, while an attorney will earn $90,000 as James Tate's legislative assistant."
Likewise, the approval of pay raises for Council staffers in the midst of a financial crisis makes Brenda Jones's subsequent December 2011 comment ("There are a lot of means that we can save money") smell like pandering.
Each Detroit City Council member has a budget of over $700,000. In fact, the Pew Charitable Trust analyzed the costs associated with City Councils in 15 of the United States' largest cities and Detroit has the costliest municipal legislative branch among the country's big cities. It takes 1.1 percent of the city's general fund spending to support nine city employees and their staffers (88 people total). It costs Detroit taxpayers $1.5 million dollars per Council seat, or $13.2 million dollars per year. In San Antonio, Texas, a similarly-sized City Council is populated by Council members who draw annual salaries of $1,400 per year as opposed to the Detroit Council members, who earn almost $81,000 per year each.
As Council Member Ken Cockrel, Jr. said at the December 2011 Council meeting: "It is not words that get things done, but actions."
Here's are Mr. Cockrel's words in action in the Motor City:
Here's a link to Mayor Bing's 2011-2012 budget book. The recommended budget for City Council is higher than it was in 2010-2011. The cost to Detroit taxpayers for City Council was upped from $13.4 million to $13.539 million dollars.