- Detroiters rally on island to save largest public river park in country
- Union president says city workers re-assigned without lease approval
- Councilman Kwame Kenyatta calls for public to weigh in at committee meeting Thurs. Oct. 4, 1 p.m.
By Diane Bukowski
September 24, 2012
(Note: story upcoming on Detroit City Council hearing on Belle Isle takeover Sept. 25, 2012, with analysis. Meanwhile, Councilman Kwame Kenyatta has set public discussion on the Belle Isle takeover for his committee meeting October 4, 2012.)
DETROIT – Grass roots Detroiters, many from community groups, turned out Sept. 21 to save their beloved Belle Isle from a state takeover Sept. 21, rallying in front of a bright yellow banner declaring “Hands Off Belle, No More Takeovers, Occupy Detroit,” affixed to Picnic Shelter #2.
They were also mobilizing to defeat Public Act 4, popularly known as “The Dictator Act” in the coming November elections, vowing to go door-to-door in the community to educate people about the dangers of PA 4. It led to the April 4 “Fiscal Stability [consent] Agreement” which has stripped Detroit’s elected officials of most of their final powers. Even if Detroit’s City Council votes down a proposed state lease of Belle Isle, their decision can be overridden under that agreement, contrary to City Charter provisions.
“This is family here, real Detroiters,” declared Debra Taylor, who chaired the rally. “We purposely pulled together just grass roots folk who love our city and Belle Isle.”
They swelled the ranks to at least 100 on a rainy day. Among them was “Puncho,” who roared in on his brilliant white and chrome bike, representing the Black Motorcycle Riders Association. Although state proposals for an annual Belle Isle entry fee say that pedestrians, bicyclists and boaters can enter the island free, all vehicles including motorcycles would have to have a $10 annual state “Recreation Pass” to get on the island.
There are further fears that a proposed “public safety” force on the island, comprised primarily of state troopers including park rangers and conservation officers not familiar with Detroit, may hinder residents like Puncho and young Detroiters with their skillfully renovated classic cars from the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s, from enjoying the publicly-owned mecca on balmy summer week-ends.
(Great video of youth with classic cars on Belle Isle, motorcycles, and Nation of Islam brothers selling “The Final Call” and fruit, set to music; click on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FbsooO0IFI&list=LPGU2BYYLCpqA&index=9&feature=plcp.)
“We must draw a line in the sand,” Monica Patrick Detroit No Consent told the crowd. “This is a family meeting. We will not tolerate tyranny in our own city.”
Cecily McClellan of Free Detroit No Consent compared the Belle Isle proposal to what has happened in Benton Harbor, where corporations including Whirlpool took over land adjacent to the publicly-owned Jean Klock Park, which has a gorgeous beach with a spectacular view of Lake Michigan.
“Benton Harbor residents have been impoverished, unemployed, and foreclosed on since the takeovers there,” McClellan, who has spoken at rallies in the small majority-Black city on Michigan’s west coast, said.
“They didn’t get bailed out like the banks did,” she said. “Here in Detroit, we have lost Cobo Hall and the water and sewerage department is facing an 81 percent cut in jobs. People are being laid off, shrinking our tax base. The same thing has happened with the Public Lighting Department, lights are out in most of our neighborhoods while we pay DTE to power them. It’s being done on purpose to set us up to fail. They’re doing the same thing on Belle Isle, laying off the staff who maintain it. Detroiters have voted millions in bonds for Belle Isle, but for some reason we can’t find it. Who wants to own Belle Isle, if you have no control or gain no benefit from the island?”
Phyllis McMillan, president of Recreation Department Local 542 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees , gave an eye-opening report on the reality of what has been happening to the island.
“This is no new thing,” McMillan said. “I’m here at 6 a.m. every morning, but we have no equipment to clean the island. We do the best we can anyway, even bending and stooping to pick up trash. Bing told a lie when he said we have 36 workers here. There are only four permanent workers, the rest are seasonal from April to September. The seasonals are being laid off Sept. 23, and the four permanent workers have been re-assigned even though the lease deal is not approved.”
She said Detroit City Councilman Andre Spivey was on the island earlier in the week to take a tour before dealing with the state proposal.
“He crouched down when he saw me because he didn’t want to hear the truth,” McMillan said. “The state’s lying in their proposal. They’re not going to put any more money into an island we own. None of that money is coming to the city, just like happened at the DIA, the Science Center, the Historical Museum, and Cobo Hall. They want Compuware to take over our payroll system.”
McMillan said Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Paula Manderfield invalidated two sections of the Detroit consent agreement in her ruling on a lawsuit by AFSCME Sept. 12, Sections 4.1 and 4.3, restoring collective bargaining rights that would force the city to negotiate terms of any changes to the Belle Isle workforce.
Although she said she would issue a written stay of her order while the City appealed, according to state records, she has not done so yet. But Mayor Dave Bing and Michigan Governor Snyder are proceeding as if she never ruled.
As wind gusts and rain brought an end to the rally Attorney Jerry Goldberg of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition wrapped up it, pinpointing the devil behind the scenes.
“Driving to Belle Isle today, I thought of the recent report by the Pew Center which shows that 57 percent of Detroit’s children are living in poverty,” he said. “Detroit families need every single penny to survive and must not be charged to enter their own island. The banks have destroyed our neighborhoods with illegal mortgages and are holding the city hostage with billions in debt. Detroit paid $597 million to them just this past year. Public Act 4 is a bankers’ bill—it busts union contracts, but the banks get guaranteed payment of their debts. The fight against Public Act 4 is one step in the struggle, but we must go beyond that to take back our city, and force the state and the banks to pay reparations to Detroit.”
The rally was sponsored by Free Detroit-No Consent, Hood Research, and We the People of Detroit.