Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Free Press Editorial Misses the Mark

I can understand the urgency with which the Detroit Free Press and many Detroiters view the bankruptcy process in which the city is embroiled, but the paper’s editorial yesterday, “Detroit bankruptcy: Let’s get the deal done” seemed uncharacteristically hasty and ill-informed.

The portion of the editorial devoted to the city’s water department was particularly perplexing:

“The regional water deal is dead in the water, and Orr is soliciting requests from private
companies to operate and manage the department.”

“If Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties joined an authority — Wayne is willing, Oakland and Macomb aren’t — each would have made an annual $47-million lease payment that would have supported pension obligations for Detroit Water and Sewerage Department workers.”  [Each?  Really?]

“It’s difficult to understand by what logic Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel find private management preferable to a regional authority, which would include county-appointed members. Regional ratepayers will bear the costs of delinquent customers in Detroit and Highland Park, as well as increased rates to support investment in the system under private management just as surely as under an authority, but with no voice for residents.”

It seems to me that the logic that compels Mr. Patterson and Mr. Hackel but escapes the editorial writer is that, once committed to rebuilding the dilapidated infrastructure that would be inherited by a regional water authority (which would include Detroit), the suburbs would have abandoned all hope of building their own system, free of the burdens of supporting City of Detroit retirees and furnishing water to hundreds of thousands of city residents who can’t or won’t pay for it, not to mention the corruption and mismanagement that have plagued DWSD on and off for decades.

The editorial writer points out that Oakland and Macomb (and presumably Wayne, too) would have much desired representation on the board of a regional water authority.

Note, however, that the editorial overlooks the fact that a DWSD with a private operator would continue to be controlled by a board on which the three principal counties already have representatives, who benefit from by-laws that require supermajorities on important votes.

Perhaps a little more deliberation and review on the part of the Free Press editorial staff would be in order.

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