Monday, June 22, 2009

A Vision for Detroit: Improving Public Service by Akindele Akinyemi


For much too long, the City of Detroit was (and still is in many cases) considered a center of consumption and corruption, rather than a center of innovation, partnerships and service delivery. Indeed, amongst many in Detroit and the rest of Michigan, such perceptions continue. However, with the race for Detroit City Council and Charter Commission I can clearly see that the tide is beginning to turn and other Detroiters as well as individual public servants are beginning to demonstrate that they are very capable of leading Detroit into a new era of innovation, economic and service delivery.

For much too long, our intellectual reflections have been intertwined with simplistic theories on the public service reform experience, with our analysis also embedding itself in populist rhetoric on the failures of Neo-liberalism. Very seldom do we experience a willingness to move beyond ideology to focus on what is actually unfolding and the potential development across the City of Detroit.

For those who are running for public office both this year and next year in the City of Detroit we must move beyond the surface and engage with actual practices to understand what lies beneath in order to be in a better position to guide future policy. If we remain in the realms of philosophical rhetoric only, we tend to lose sight of the bigger picture and the imperatives of responding to the day to day demands of our people. We must avoid such a situation, if we are to make the partnership between practitioners and academics a real and productive one.

As we move forward in this globalizing world and with Detroit's agenda of integration, it becomes necessary for us to begin to reflect on commonalities as much as we recognize our diversity. The realities of what we are experiencing across the world do indeed push us in this direction. Integration and diversity of ideas is a reality and the commitment expressed by our future leaders in this direction, needs to also reflect itself in the policies and practices established by our both government and public service sector. It is in the realm of public service that commitments are implemented and demonstrable to all our people. Whereas political commitment is absolutely necessary for service delivery, this should not detract us from recognizing that such commitment becomes meaningless without an effective, efficient, innovative and responsive public service.

While we focus our attention on all that is good in our public services and we ultimately find ways of encouraging further excellence, let us not do this at the expense of recognizing that our city government and public service organizations are faced with some immense global and local challenges. The pressures on city government and the public service have multiplied as a result of a series of crises, including the financial and economic crisis, major shifts in energy prices, climate change and food supplies. The combined effect threatens economic and social breakdown as our people suffer unemployment with the resultant effect of entrenched poverty. Whatever the role of the public sector has been in contributing to the crisis, few would doubt its role in shaping our responses. Detroit city government must be compelled to intervene in an unprecedented way in private markets to stem the current tide of collapse.

Now, more than ever, the our leadership must discharge its functions efficiently and effectively. This must also be done in a context where very few have established a track record or reputation for excellence. On the face of the realities that stand before us, the approach to reform and change cannot and should not be about skimming the surface of what needs to be done. Our efforts need to be broader, deeper and faster. The crises provide both the chance and necessity for change on a larger scale, with the attendant need for an immediate and decisive intervention. Thus, to postpone reforms until a crisis is resolved may not be the best approach, as we know too well that a crisis period is usually the best time for us to engage in change.

If we recognize that reform is a necessity and not a choice, it would become more and more imperative that local government and non-profit organizations look towards partnerships to respond efficiently and effectively to such crises. In this respect, we must, as a matter of urgency move beyond the rhetoric of private versus public modes of delivery. Circumstances warrant that the shape of delivery and the institutions involved will vary from one circumstance to another. However, in all delivery efforts, partnerships would be fundamental to having the best and most appropriate delivery framework.

The idea of partnerships and collaboration for sustainable delivery of services embodies within it a commitment towards civic engagement as a critical norm and value for reform efforts, an emphasis that we must place at the center of the draft of the Detroit City Charter. It is evident that when we reflect on partnerships and collaboration, we must pay attention to the gap that often exists between the rhetorical commitment of government and the actual participation that leads to concrete results, benefiting the poor in home-rule cities such as Detroit. Such a focus would require that we engage with the practicalities of participation in public sector activities such as policy development, budgeting, service delivery and public accountability.

This is why I urge all Detroit city council candidates to adopt the Covenant for Detroit platform.

The Covenant for Detroit
are based on nine steps to improve city government.

1. Fiscal Responsibility: A balanced budget/tax limitation proposal and a legislative line-item veto to restore fiscal responsibility to an out- of-control Mayor/City Council, requiring them to live under the same budget constraints as families and businesses.

2. Reclaiming Our Streets: A REAL anti-crime package including stronger truth-in- sentencing, good faith exclusionary rule exemptions, and cuts in wasteful spending to fund prison construction and additional law enforcement to keep people secure in their neighborhoods and kids safe in their schools.

3. Encourage Personal Responsibility: Work with state lawmakers to discourage illegitimacy and teen pregnancy by prohibiting welfare to minor mothers and denying increased benefits for additional children while on welfare, cut spending for welfare programs to promote individual responsibility.

4. Real Family Preservation: Child support enforcement, tax incentives for adoption, strengthening rights of parents in their children's education, stronger child pornography laws, and an elderly dependent care tax credit to reinforce the central role of families in the City of Detroit, shared equal parenting rights which equals to children needing both parents.

5. Educational Reform: Repeal the tax credit in the Michigan Constitution to allow Universal Tax Credits for parents and children in Detroit, expansion of theme based charter schools, private scholarships for children in failing public schools, prayer in schools, replace multiculturalism with patriotic education, encourage private sector participation in math and science education, fighting adult illiteracy with private based programs that will create job readiness.

6. Detroit Restoration : A S500 per child tax credit and creation of Detroit Dream Savings Accounts to provide middle class tax relief.

7. Job Creation: Small business incentives, capital gains cut and indexation, neutral cost recovery, risk assessment/cost-benefit analysis and unfunded mandate reform to create jobs and raise worker wages.

8. Citizen Legislature: A first-ever vote on term limits to replace career politicians with citizen legislators in Detroit. Also, vote City Council by districts and place term limits on each council member. Mayor of Detroit should have term limits.

9. Senior Citizens: Provide tax incentives for private long-term care insurance to let the elderly in Detroit keep more of what they have earned over the years.

Most of these people who are running Detroit (both local government and public service organizations) represent the old guard of leadership (civil rights) and not the new age of leadership (silver rights). Our city needs both a philosophical and intellectual change if we are going to transform Detroit from an automotive market into a financial market.

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