Tuesday, January 20, 2009

BAMN nominated for annual Basket Crab Award

The Detroit-based community activist group known as By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) has since last fall accused the Ferndale School District of Segregation.

No, you didn't misread that.

BAMN is alleging Ferndale Schools is segregating students.
To be honest, I had to look-up the definition of segregation just to be sure I wasn't misreading the newspaper articles. And to make sure we're all on the same webpage together, here's my working definition of segregation for this conversation:
Laws and policies designed to separate black students from white students.
BAMN throws the term Jim Crow around a lot as well. Jim Crow is the common name for laws designed to keep blacks out of white schools, restaurants, neighborhoods, and in the back seats of buses.

One last example for those of you born after 1965: if I were to write, "This is a whites-only article. I've written a separate but equally compelling and inflammatory article for colored people at the bottom of this page," I could be accused of segregation.

Admittedly, it wouldn't work well here because you can choose to read it or not (choice is important later in the article). I would never write such a thing anyway because I haven't time to write separate articles for black and white readers. I do write some for liberals and recent college graduates. Those posts use small words, shorter sentences and simple imagery so they may keep up with the rest of us.

The good news is, BAMN knows our school board is neither discriminating against nor segregating black students.
Their own website article betrays this as its Jim Crow arguments are the weakest and least compelling of all the points they make.

The bad news is BAMN also knows racially divisive politics are good for business. It provides a steady stream of press clippings and donations to an organization desperately seeking relevancy. That's partially why I've nominated them for the annual Basket Crab award.

a Washington Post article, writer Clarence Page describes the award just as I would have (if he hadn't published it first):
"The prize, which I just made up, is awarded to the public figure who best exemplifies the often retold legend of the basket crabs: Every time one of them tries to get out of the basket, the others pull it back in."
The problem with segregation and Jim Crow is it requires people not be given a choice. With Jim Crow, black people couldn't choose to sit in the same restaurant, attend the same theater, or drink from the same water fountains as white people without breaking the law.

In the case of University High School, a magnet school jointly operated by
Lawrence Technological University and the Ferndale School District, enrollment is a choice. The 400+ students that attend there do so because their parents choose to send them there. Their parents choose that school because they deemed it a better alternative to their neighborhood public school.

To be more specific, their parents discriminated against their local schools and in favor of University High because that's what good parents do--make decisions for their children between available alternatives. Whether it's the school they attend, the music they listen to, the movies they watch, or the friends they hang out with, it's what parents and other responsible adults do for their charges.

It's called parenting.

If BAMN got its way and University High closed, those parents would no longer have that choice. BAMN would be responsible for removing those parents' ability to choose a better education for their children.

From that perspective, who's segregating now? Now you know why they may win the Basket Crab of the Year award. Whenever a crab tries to escape the Detroit Public Schools' basket, BAMN reaches out and pulls them back in.

BAMN's real issue isn't with Ferndale Schools or University High. And it certainly isn't with Ferndale businesses like Como's, Western Market, or The Record Collector. Their issue is with the Detroit Public School system.

Ferndale resident and possible council candidate, Greg Pawlica, described it this way: "If you want a Whopper you should go to Burger King, not picket Taco Bell because their Spicy Chicken Crunchwrap Supreme isn't a Whopper."

BAMN is tilting at windmills because they lack the credibility, clout , or perhaps the critical evaluation to hold Detroit's own school board accountable. As the dentist Doug Madsen (Tim Allen) said in the movie Wild Hogs while recovering from a stress attack, "I'm in a hospital. It's a lot easier for me right now to blame other people for my problems."

In other news, both good and bad, even BAMN picketers know what the boundaries of Ferndale's DDA should be. They haven't wasted any time visiting business more than a block-or-so from Nine Mile because even BAMN knows where the foot traffic is. Coincidentally, representatives from the DDA are rarely seen that far from Nine Mile as well.

To read more about this specific issue, the Ferndale School District has created this web page with links to BAMN's articles, newspaper articles, and the school district's own responses.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Council tables vote to award $280,000 no-bid contract

At last night's council meeting, Councilperson Gumbleton motioned the agenda item that would award a $280,000 contract to Plante Moran CRESA without bidding be tabled until the next regularly scheduled council meeting.

I agree that some must-bid requirements are ridiculous. The costs for creating, publishing, and reviewing bids can often exceed either the amount of the service or item being bid-for or the potential savings between the high and low bidders.

But in this case, $280,000 (the projected upper limit) is a lot of money and there is little risk a proper request for proposal (RFP) would exceed either the potential savings or the value of the service.

There are many things we may share with Detroit, Eight Mile among them. But awarding no-bid contracts without considering alternatives or entertaining competitive bid process risks Ferndale sharing more with Detroit--like its council's ineptitude and corruption--than we'd like.

Imagine our own Kwame Galloway or Jakie do-you-know-who-I-am? Baker turning a reputable firm like Plante Moran CRESA into a Bobby-Ferguson-like subsidiary. Or relying on wink-and-grin agreements and ignoring the appearance of impropriety. It is also worth mentioning that Detroit's city council suffers little inconvenience to responsibly guard and spend its citizens' money--hiring unqualified relatives and granting undeserved raises to favorites at taxpayer expense and deteriorating service to residents and businesses.

To Plante Moran's misfortune, the city manager's premature solicitation of the management contract means all competitive bidders know the scope and cost of Plante's bid and are certain to under-bid it or provide more services and improved terms. Regardless, Plante Moran isn't new to municipal contracts, bidding, politics, and the risk that no-bid contracts may raise citizen ire.

The subject should appear on council's January 26th agenda. I encourage everyone concerned with responsible government and opposed to our council following Detroit's example attend the meeting. All council meetings start at 7:30 at City Hall.