Aug. 1 rally speakers also expose health dept. director Loretta Davis’ theft of federal funds, police push for a special public safety millage
By Diane Bukowski
August 6, 2012
(Ed. note: I apologize for accidentally citing the time for this rally as 1 p.m. in earlier VOD coverage. It began at 12 noon and was set to END at 1 pm. I will be more careful to read EVERY word of fliers in the future. I am especially thankful to Kenny Snodgrass, who got there before I did and covered a good part of the rally in his excellent video. We are trying to get the entire video from the City which includes Councilwoman JoAnn Watson’s talk.)
DETROIT – Hundreds of residents joined City Council members JoAnn Watson, Kwame Kenyatta, and Brenda Jones in a spirited rally Aug. 1 to stop the state from stealing one of the city’s most precious gems, Belle Isle, owned by Detroit since 1879. They also said they were rallying to save Detroit itself from a wholesale takeover and rape, which includes the theft of federal funds from three departments, and an additional public safety tax.
“Whose park, our park!” the crowd chanted at the urging of Council member Kwame Kenyatta during the really. “It’s the people’s park! Whose city? Our city! Keep the Vote No Takeover!”
The landscape of this battle has drastically changed since the Michigan State Supreme Court ordered Aug. 3 that Public Act 4 be placed on the November ballot.
Under PA4’s provisions, Mayor Dave Bing can get away with unilaterally leasing the island to the state, as he admits he is planning to do. That would mean the loss of jobs and free access for city residents, especially the youth, the loss of revenues from the rent of picnic shelters and other activities, and the loss of control over what will be done with Belle Isle.
Will the state take it to turn it into a resort for the rich, as Whirlpool as taken the land surrounding Benton Harbor’s beautiful Jean Klock public beach on Lake Michigan, and built luxury condominiums and a world-class golf course?
City Council already passed a NON-BINDING resolution against such a lease, but under Public Act 4, even if BING doesn’t consent, the city’s Financial Advisory Board, Program Management Director Kriss Andrews, State Treasurer Andy Dillon and Governor Rick Snyder can overrule him and take this jewel.
Detroit residents thus have another reason to mobilize to win the fight against Public Act 4, both in November and now, while it is suspended.
Rev. Charles Williams II of the National Action Network and pastor of Historic King Solomon Baptist Church called on the crowd to get ready to take direct action if necessary.
“We can come to STAY on this island,” Williams said. “We can bring our tents and refuse to leave until they back off Belle Isle.”
Ed McNeil, chief negotiator for the City of Detroit Unions, said state parks aren’t superior to the island.
“This is nothing but a power grab,” McNeil told the cheering crowd. “They’re taking over payroll department Public Lighting, D-DOT, eliminating our people’s city jobs and giving them to private concerns. Our workers, with the right equipment and training, have the competence to take care of Detroit, but they want to make sure that we stay in our place. Well, we’re going to send THEM back to their place, to Lansing where they belong, and take our city back.”
Greg Murray, Vice-President of SAAA, said, “We have a thief in the Mayor’s office—if he can’t steal it or transfer it, he doesn’t want it. Ninety-eight percent of the money for the departments of health, human services and workforce development comes from the federal government, not from your city tax dollars. Detroit is the only city in the history of the Head Start program to refuse Head Start money. At Herman Kiefer, they are siphoning federal money targeted for the City of Detroit into private bank accounts to build their privatized Institute for Public Health.”
During City Council’s regular session July 31, Detroit’s Deputy Auditor General, who is auditing the departments Bing is shutting down, disclosed that Health Department Director Loretta Davis has diverted federal funds into a separate bank account for the private Institute for Public Health, of which she is also the Executive Director.
Infuriated, Council member JoAnn Watson called for the Law Department to immediately take legal action to stop the theft. The Council passed a unanimous motion asking Corporation Counsel Krystal Crittendon to do so. The resolution also calls for legal action to stop the giveaway of federal funds for Human Services and Workforce Development to private entities.
During the Belle Isle rally, Councilman Kenyatta called on the crowd to come out to the Council’s special session Tuesday Aug. 7 at 10 a.m. It will take up not only the theft of federal funds, but a proposal pushed by Police Chief Ralph Godbee and other city administrators that the Council put a millage to fund the public safety department, which includes police, fire and EMS, on the November ballot.
“HELL NO!” many in the crowd shouted. Detroiters are already among the most heavily taxed residents in the country, with the highest poverty and unemployment rates of any major city.
In a separate interview, Monica Patrick, a staff member under Councilwoman JoAnn Watson, painted a stirring picture of what Detroit can look like under the control of its own people.
“We must begin to organize and mobilize our community, teach our children,” Patrick said. “This takeover of Belle Isle and Detroit is about disconnecting the most important people, the least of us, from access to the table. Right here, we are sitting on revenue-generating resources. We are so strategically located on this waterway. There are many things we can do with our water. We can use it to generate electricity and sell energy to the grid instead of paying DTE $150 million to buy power from them. The Public Lighting Department has the capacity. It would take us $300 million to renovate the system, and two years to go to solar power and transition the rest of the city. With that revenue, and with the $224 million plus that the state owes us, we can be debt-free.”