Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Our glass houses

Note: Of the many things that annoy me about The Detroit News and Free Press the most frequent aggravation is their refusal to keep articles online for reference. For that reason, I've copied Google's cache one Free Press article for the link below.

Also, this article's sporting metaphor (near the end) was inspired by watching Flash Point two weekends ago when representatives of Granholm's and DeVos' campaigns attended to discuss the Leadership Conference on Mackinac, and both representatives wore their school colors. The only thing missing was The Beach Boys.
From the suburbs, the City of Detroit has become a mere spectator sport -- reportedly
the poorest big city in the US. In 2000, Detroit's median family income was almost $30,000 and its average home value $63,000. Year after year Detroit voters (dead and alive) elect the most curious species of personalities to city-held offices. They flaunt the law, enrich their friends and family, and dance with unions while the city budget blooms deeper reds every year. Detroit was a city once swelled to capacity with factories and factory-workers' families, but as Detroit's auto giants' fortunes turned for the worse the city's population was the first hit as workers were laid off, factories closed, and the entire economy that surrounded it and pumped-up Detroit's tax revenues left the city with the faintest of hissing sounds. It became a city without "a good side of the tracks."

Across the road (literally), tuning in every night to watch the 11PM death spectacle are residents of Oakland County: home to automotive headquarters, Automation Alley, good schools, and a 2000 median income of over $61,000. Nearly half of Oakland County's residents could buy an entire average Detroit home with a single year's paycheck.

Detroit may be a glimpse into Oakland County's future. Oakland's population of salaried employees are equally dependent on automotive industries and those seem only to get smaller. Plant workers may get laid-off by the tens-of-thousands, but those numbers are distributed across wider geographies at plants scattered throughout the North America. White collar employees are more concentrated, and that concentration is centered in Oakland County.

Oakland County voters have to ask themselves if they're electing the kinds of politicians that can steer the county to a future less dependent on automotive executives, engineers, designers, accountants, clerks, advertisers, marketers, and the economic impact their loss will have on Oakland's retail and residential economies. I don't know how many convicted felons are on our cities' and county's boards, nor do I know what kind of leadership, innovation, or power they have to get new and powerful policies in place.

How long have we waited for mass transit? How long have we driven on poorly engineered, built, and maintained roads? How long will school districts continue shrinking before they're consolidated? How many small cities will be allowed to cut back on city services before they're consolidated to leverage infrastructure and personnel and provide full services to their (remaining) residents? How much longer will sprawl continue unabated stretching our county's finite manpower and budget resources to support them?

In short, where are the politicians and leaders with visions of what Oakland County and the entire South East Michigan region should look like in 10 years? If we haven't them already in office, what are we prepared to do to attract those people to risk candidacy and are we willing to follow and support them?

This year's election is focused on the governor's race, and it is important. Both Governor Jennifer Granholm and republican challenger Dick DeVos seem sympathetic to Michigan's predicament and are touting their support for the usual suspects, education and diversifying the state's economy, but these slogans have been repeated for over 20 years and Michigan is little changed for all the campaign rhetoric, and in fact can be said to have fallen further behind 47 out of 50 states. I wouldn't be surprised if some US Territories have higher employment than Michigan.

Instead of voting for cheerleaders, we need to vote for coaches and quarterbacks. Instead of somersaults, back flips, and human pyramids we need visions, strategy, and execution.

We should remember that as Oakland County, and perhaps the rest of Michigan find entertainment value in Detroit's flailing, the rest of the country is looking at Michigan and wondering what we're doing about it.


  1. I think you bring up a great point, our political system is not filled with true leaders and visionaries.

    The people I see getting into politics are not those who actually have the good of the people in mind, instead they have their own good in mind.

    Political office needs to be restored to the "Public Service" post that it once was. It SHOULD NOT be a career for anyone. One should get in, serve the public and leave.

    I keep harping on it, but the first thing we need to do is remove the $ from the system, until then all you will get is money hungry folks who are not the visionaries we truly need.

    Another issue is the lack of true debate about real issues during campaigns. How is the public supposed to know if a candidate is a visionary if every debate is "set up", questions known ahead of time etc...

    Our political system sucks.

    Sorry for the long post

  2. This is where I depart from Thomas Sowell's advice about term limits. I don't believe there should be any.

    This spring I considered running for public office (county commissioner) but what was is supposed to be a part-time responsibility is many things, but part-time is not one of them. The $32k would be nice, but my absence from work as often as is required for the part-time responsibilities aren't worth $32k.

    I can't find the reference now, but not long ago there was an editorial (actually multiple but I can't find the right google terms) advocating we need to increase pay for our legislators. I tend to agree only because leaving my career for a lower-paying job and ultimately being term-limited out of work despite my performance would be detrimental to my family, regardless my intentions as a public servant. The ability to return to the private sector after leaving the public sector is unlikely to be smooth, and returning to a career 4, 6, or 12 years after leaving it involves substantial risk of not being able to pick-up where you left off. This is not unlike the problems women have returning to the workforce after raising their families.

    Raising pay and removing term limits might attract more people to public service, and in the increased competition for those jobs encourage healthier debate between candidates. Of course that's speculative, but it might be an outcome. Or might not.

    When I am ready, I'd be willing to debate anybody, anywhere, in nearly any format, just as it used to be before political consultants, handlers, and parties took control of the process.

    I promise, if you vote for me I'll suck less than the other guy.

  3. Raising politicians pay...

    -- I would say nah, they shouldn't be doing it for the paycheck. The paycheck should be comprabable to the marketplace average, but not higher.

    Term limits, we need them. We need them to get a good churn, new ideas, a fresh perspective and to stop lifers from getting too comfortable and forgetting who they are serving and why they are there.

    It's understandable that we need to make some chnages because these folks have "real" job's and families to feed. So maybe we need to restore the "Public Service" aspect/respect back to political office and make businesses, maybe just large ones, keep the persons position open to them once thier term is over, if the politican wants it or something like that.

    Public office should not be a career, it should be to do your duty and serve the public for a short time and then return to the masses.

    Less control over the public and more service to the public. Concentrated power in a small number of hands is not good.

  4. A penetrating look ahead, with possible ominous outcomes. You have a way of slicing through the clutter. But I'm optimistic that leaders will emerge with the brains to learnfrom the past, and the will to act responsibly for the future.