State withdraws offer after Council refuses to vote on “lease”
Mayor announces closure, cutbacks at 88 city parks, although Belle Isle costs city only $891,173 out of a total Rec. Dept. budget of $19,696,055
Despite media barrage, dozens speak against lease at hearing
By Diane Bukowski
February 3, 2013
DETROIT – Amidst a howling storm of rage from Detroit’s daily media at the City Council’s failure to vote on a state “lease” of Belle Isle Jan. 29, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has announced that he will close 50 city parks in the spring. He also plans to put 38 others on “limited-service” status, and cancel a planned increase in programming for youth and seniors at six recreation centers.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced after the Council meeting that the state is withdrawing its offer to “lease” the island.
“Because Belle Isle costs the City of Detroit $6.2 million each year to operate and maintain, the loss of the State lease therefore amounts to lost savings for the City,” a release issued by Bing’s staff says. “For instance, the 36 staff members who maintain Belle Isle could have been used to staff seven five-member mowing crews that the City’s General Services Department could have employed at other parks and outdoor facilities.”
In fact, Detroit’s budget for 2012-13 shows that only $891,173 out of a total Recreation Department allotment of $19,696,055 was set aside for Belle Isle. During 2011-12, $992,060 was spent on Belle Isle out of a total departmental appropriation of $12,268,611. (Click on http://www.detroitmi.gov/DepartmentsandAgencies/BudgetDepartment/20122013AdoptedBudget/20122013AgencyBudget.aspx
and then on Recreation Department box on this page to view actual budget for 2012-12.)
The city’s “Program Management Director” Kriss Andrews, a joint appointee of Bing and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder under the now defunct Public Act 4, sat at Bing’s side during the press conference. Insiders at city hall have noted that Bing appears to be showing signs of dementia and question who is really calling the shots.
The Detroit Free Press gleefully interviewed residents living near interior parks after Bing’s announcement. It reported that they “fear the unmaintained parks will lead to increased crime and unsightly weeds, garbage and rodents in their neighborhoods.” The paper then published scurrilous personal descriptions of some of those who opposed the “lease” during a council hearing Jan. 28, calling them “a few dozen notorious regulars, activists and eccentrics.”
At its Jan. 29 meeting, the Council refused 6-3 to put the Belle Isle “lease” on that day’s “New Business Agenda,” as the daily media breathlessly expected. The Free Press even put a link to the Council session on its website’s front page.
Councilman James Tate introduced the “lease” for a full Council vote.
The other members of the Neighborhood and Community Services Committee, which he chairs, voted Jan. 28 to keep it in committee for another two weeks.
Council members JoAnn Watson and Kwame Kenyatta said they wanted to obtain essential documentation such as the city’s deeds and titles for the island, an accurate legal description of the land in question, and written assurances regarding historic preservation and compliance with city zoning ordinances.
Only Council members Tate, Saunteel Jenkins, and Gary Brown voted to move forward with a vote. Members Watson, Kenyatta, and Brenda Jones have said they are opposed to the “lease,” period. Council members Charles Pugh and Andre Spivey were likely afraid to push the vote after Councilman Kenneth Cockrel, Jr. said the city has more important business to take care of.
“The Governor’s chief of staff (Dennis Muchmore) came to me in the spring of last year, and I told him don’t push this, now is not the time to do this,” Cockrel said. “We need a global fix for the financial problems facing city of Detroit. There are far more pressing issues. . . .This plan doesn’t fix escalating health care and pension costs or turn the street lights on. If we fix the city’s financing, Belle Isle will take care of itself. Now you’re calling for a vote. But there are some things you don’t necessarily want to gamble on, if you don’t know the outcome.”
Councilwoman JoAnn Watson said Muchmore met with her at the beginning of Snyder’s tenure, in 2010, at her request, to discuss the issue of over $224 million in revenue-sharing she contends (and State Treasurer Andy Dillon has admitted) the state owes the city. However, she said, Muchmore focused instead on the state’s desire to control Belle Isle.
“[Former Mayor] Dennis Archer called for a Master Plan to spend up to $800 million on island improvements, and [former Mayor] Kwame Kilpatrick wanted to spend $250 million with support from $80 million in revenue bonds,” Watson said. “It is clear that misrepresentations are afoot. The City Council voted to spend $600,000 on Belle Isle in this year’s budget, not including utility costs. To say that a property valued at $280 million is somehow tied to the deficit is not true.”
She continued, “The ‘lease’ is for less than fair market value, as required by state law. Zero is less than fair market value. City residents pay for the island, it is owned by the city, a great public space on the National Register of Historic Places along with New York’s Central Park and parks in Chicago and Philadelphia. . . . There has been coercion, fraud, deliberate misrepresentation, and a conspiracy not to use the budgeted amount to clean up Belle Isle.”
The previous day, Tate’s committee held what he termed a “public hearing” on the issue at 2 p.m. in Council chambers, with dozens waiting out in the hallway, who were eventually consigned to watch the hearing in the Council auditorium.
Hundreds of Detroiters have turned out over the past year to oppose the Public Act 4 consent agreement, the Miller Canfield contract, the Milestone Agreement, the Hantz Farms land grab, and now the Belle Isle “lease.”
Following are a virtuallycomplete sample of comments from those the Free Press insultingly termed “notorious regulars, activists and eccentrics,” during the Jan. 28, 2012 hearing.
To give a fair picture, unlike that posed by John Carlisle in the Free Press at http://www.freep.com/article/20130203/COL46/302030207/John-Carlisle-City-Council-s-regular-speakers-put-on-a-good-show and Motor City Muckraker reporter Steve Neavling at http://motorcitymuckraker.com/2013/01/28/racial-tensions-flare-at-meeting-over-belle-isle-lease-white-whores-cant-save-us/, VOD has used virtually every comment made.
For reasons that will become apparent, white speakers, who were in the minority, are denoted by an * before their names (the screams of rage out there in suburbia and cool white land are already being heard, so don’t bother commenting on this technique, please. It is the editorial position of this paper that racism is alive and well in “post-racial” America, and that “reverse racism” by Blacks does not exist.)
Comments below include those of the Council’s Research and Analysis Division (RAD) and City Planning Commission (CPC) staff, who are attorneys, in response to Council member Watson’s questions regarding the legality of the agreement.
*CPC: We are very concerned that no provisions agreeing to enforce local zoning ordinances and historic preservation designations are in the actual lease.
*RAD: (Regarding legality of lease while state owes Detroit money): It is our understanding that the previous Corporation Counsel’s position remained the same, but we are not sure of the current position. The previous position was that the city is prohibited from entering into such contracts. (Regarding format of the ‘lease’ as a revenue contract): This should not be a revenue contract. You can have contracts or leases without financial remuneration, but there clearly should be two sides, you should contract FOR something, definitely.”
Phyllis McMillon, Pres. AFSCME Local 542, representing Recreation Dept. and Belle Isle workers: Our workers, many with 15-25 years, are dedicated, and have worked hard to maintain Belle Isle on limited resources, getting by on duct tape while Snyder and Bing manipulated the red tape. I was a witness when the DNR took over the Nature Zoo, when the Detroit Zoo closed the Children’s Zoo, when contractors came to the Belle Isle golf course, stole its equipment and left in shambles, and when the seniors got kicked out of the casino.
Sandra Hines, Free Detroit No Consent: The Council six have a lack of respect for the people and want they want. We are paying top dollar for our taxes. I agree with Councilwoman Watson: Give us our money, thestate needs to give Detroit the money it owes. It doesn’t treat people in any other city this way.
*Stephen Boyle: There is aa petition out there to have council hold hearings in auditorium to comply with the Open Meetings Act. The lease makes improvements the state makes payable by the city as debt. it’s about keeping us in debt, not about alleviating debt.
*Cindy Darrah: There is a $447,000 contract to replace the Belle Isle Woodside Bridge on the agenda, it says 100 percent street funding. Isn’t that city money? (Tate said the contract is being held.). We are creating a police state here, eliminating places where people can hang out.
Patrice Robinson: What happens to the revenue from Grand Prix? Why isn’t that going to help the upkeep of the island now? We don’t get a dime of revenue from this, There are a lot of things that could be done—horseback riding, canoeing, stores, to generate funding. Once we turn it over to the state, it will be just like the Detroit Publix Schools takeover, Black and white, separate but unequal once again. Rise up Detroit!
*Joe Holt: (Holding up copy of lease agreement): This is from the Recreation Department to the State beginning Jan. 17, 2013. Is this a self-executing contract? It sounds a lot like suicide to me. For one dollar, I’ll rent your backyard and charge people to come use it.
*Michelle Hodges, Pres. of Belle Isle Conservancy (partnering with state in lease): We have deep roots in the community, and have put in hundreds of volunteer hours. This is an opportunity to manage through crisis. I pledge to preserve, protect and restore, and watch closely. (See sidebar with BIC members, note she is not talking about paid jobs for anyone despite high unemployment rate in Detroit, especially among the youth.)
*Christie Sager: I live in the West Village, close to Belle Isle and spend two to three days a week there. I truly believe Belle Isle would benefit from the expertise of DNR and that a large portion of funding for BI could be put into other communities.
Anthony Smith: I’ll vote you out (period).
Chris Griffith: Because the state owes the city money, the charter states that cannot go into an agreement or contract with them. If this is unlawful, why do you proceed?
Cecily McClellan, VP Assn. of Prof. and Tech. Employees (APTE): The state has a horrible reputation. It used the money the city borrowed from it to push the consent and milestone agreements. This is fraud. The city will pay the state to cut grass, shovel snow, but lay off city workers. It will continue to pay for utilities, for the state to water the grass. The state (MDOT) will take ownership of Belle Isle property and roads, which get millions in state funding. This is signing a blank check to put the city further into debt.
Jeff Lewis: You can cow down, bow down, sit down and stand down, and bend over, but we are going to protect assets of the city. Power to Detroit’s people.
Gerard Thompson: The state has the ability to help Detroit, compel its administration to force payment of the $800 million owed [by the corporations] Ask the bondholders, stop corporate welfare.
Tyrone Travis: This is totally illegal. The City Charter says under Sec. 4.112, Control of Property, “Except as otherwise provided by this Charter, the City may not sell or in any way dispose of any property without the approval by resolution of the City Council.” This is not a resolution. We need to make citizen’s arrests of the Council Six. You are armed and dangerous, we must not allow you to do any more damage.
*Minnie Pearson, BIC volunteer: (supporting lease) The volunteers that work on Belle Isle are wonderful people, 50 percent of the people volunteering are from the city. People love this land so much.
Dave Moore: I have been a citizen, taxpayer and voter in this city for 53 years. We must make council members stand up for the people.
Jocelyn Harris: I am an entrepreneur in the business of selling foods, employing three people who are returning citizens. Under the state procurement process, the likelihood of anyone in our community getting a contract is. zero. Follow the money trail. the contracts that will result, with the Governor’s pen on our jewel.
*Judy Barton: I have lived in Detroit my whole life, now live in North Rosedale Park. There are piles of trash, filthy bathroom, and other signs of neglect on Belle Isle. Detroit does not have the resources to do this.
Tim Moore: I run a business now, DetIPTV. Years ago, my brother, sister and I opened up a Dino’s pizza franchise on Lafayette and Chene. With the support of Council members Maryann Mahaffey and Kenneth Cockrel SR, we were able to get a contract to run own own pizzeria in Cobo Hall. We employed and trained hundreds of young Detroiters and became the longest continuously owned and operated black-owned pizzeria in the nation. When Cobo Hall was turned into an authority, they kicked my brother and sister out on the street, saying they could locate elsewhere. They are now out of business, and not paying taxes.
*Roberta Henrion, last President of Friends of Belle Isle before it was taken over by Belle Isle Conservancy: I am strongly against this lease. It is very one-sided. Sec. 9.4 says the city is responsible for continuing all contracts state signed, also obligates the city to repay all bonds state took out—that’s absolutely ridiculous. I’m really upset that the contract does not include historic preservation guarantees. It doesn’t state how beautiful Belle Isle is. It doesn’t stop the state from demolishing any of the historic structures on the islands, such as the bridges over canals
Mr. Henderson: I’m for the state takeover. I live 5 minutes from Belle Isle, I run there and am probably there 250 days of the years with my wife and child. The bathrooms are shut down, there is trash in the streams, the city just doesn’t have the money to maintain it.
Morris Mays: I’ve been to Riviera and the Mediterranean during my navy days, but there is nothing more beautiful than Belle Isle. The problem is there are too many people outside the city in our city business. They have stolen every damn dime, shut down the fountain, the zoo, beach facilities, put in white horses [deer imported for pen at Nature Zoo after native deer were removed). They disrespect our intelligence. But you sit there, laugh up, and kiss up. You try to go out to the suburbs and tell them you are an authority from Detroit and you want to take over all their damn property. You’llbe tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail.”
Ms. Monte—You have some very impressive staff. How can you tell me you can’t come up with a functional way to run our park on your own. What about all the money Detroiters are still paying on bond issues for Belle Isle? (see box.) And I found the deed for you (holding up copy of Voice of Detroit article showing 1879 deed of sale), so there can be a lawsuit. Apparently you can’t do any research and analysis.
*Dominic Arellano : I’ve been living in Detroit a little over 10 years, going to school here over 15 years. I support the state lease for island. I work on the island (likely referring to BIC volunteer work). I commend the BIC and the park ranger who has done a fantastic job with current resources. (Belle Isle has no park ranger.)
*Lindsay Moss: There is neglect and disrepair on the island, it saddens and me deeply. Since the State is willing to partner with city by enhancing Belle Isle I wouldn’t need to feel sad about disrepair. (Refers to 10-year lease, which Councilwoman Watson and RAD said repeatedly is a 30 year lease with two 30 year extensions.
*Diane Bukowski, VOD editor: It appears that a lot of testimony is breaking down along racial lines, making me ashamed to be white. This is a racist takeover. These takeovers never happened until the majority of Detroit became Black and the city lost revenue and income due to the banks and corporations’ actions. Has the city done the title search which RAD said it should do? What I found shows that Belle Isle was deeded to a man named George Langdon, not in his capacity as Mayor. Prior to that, grants of Belle Isle land were made by the King of England, with no legal authority today. That land was previously public commons for Native Americans and French settlers before the English invaded and took Detroit over. I say we should resurrect Chief Pontiac’s spirit and get rid of invaders into Detroit same way he did. (Chief Pontiac waged war against the English, slaughtering many soldiers in the famous Battle of Bloody Run.)
*Harriet Saperstein: I am a 50 year resident, and retired 20 year employee of the city in high level positions. The lease is necessary. It’s not a conflict between them and us, because we are part of them. With it, we can make immediate enhancements to our precious park.
Ms. Jones: I am disappointed that we were not allowed to use the auditorium. Didn’t the state legislature just bum rush legislation over the holidays, didn’t Snyder sign Right to Work legislation when he could have vetoed it? The whole state voted down the EM law, but he’s still talking about that. Let’s not forget the rape and dismantlement of the Detroit Public Schools.
Tina Person: It’s time for us to stand up for the City of Detroit. I’m 77, and I’ve going to Belle Isle since I was a year and a half old. If you don’t like the way it’s run, you all move and we’ll stay here.
*Michelle Butler: I work in the city and live down street from [Tate]. I don ’t feel there are any other viable options. I go to Milliken State Park and see how nice and beautiful it is. People are using it, and it’s clean.
Min. Malik Shabazz: If Mayor Young and Maryann Mahaffey were here, they would be shocked. When did you all become so afraid of the people who voted for you. The people may be a little loud, but they’re not going to do anything. There’s policemen here, police in the auditorium, and there’s crime all over the city. This is overkill. The people have a right to be upset.
*Mike Harris: Every state park I’ve ever walked into, I’ve noticed how well it’s kept up. We need massive cooperation on the part of the state and city.
Gabriel Kenyatta: Vote this giveaway down. You have to look at your own history. I’ve have never seen elected officials conduct themselves like this, giving away everything in your first term. You haven’t grown anything.
*Vance Patrick, Co-chair of the Belle Isle Conservancy: I spent the last 20 years years fundraising trying to convince the city that closing the aquarium was a mistake. Now it is the only all volunteer-run aquarium in the country. (Detroit’s unemployment rate is currently 45.7 percent according to the U.S. Census Bureau.) The current employees need to remain on the island, they know how to manage the island.
Jeannine Walker: Detroit is a gold mine and Belle Isle is a jewel. We Detroit are not ignorant or dumb. You are allowing blackmail, giving the Judases gold.
Bea Green: I’m a taxpayer, I don’t have to pay a fee. Belle Isle is a place of well-being where people can enjoy nature, hiking, good health activities. I want to keep it open for the public to walk, bicycle, whatever they want to do to get on the island. You are not taking into account what Belle Isle means to the people.
*Scott Allen, President Fourmidable Group, “Commodore” of Detroit Yacht Club on Belle Isle: I have a vested interest and will be glad to be there and help because more resources are needed. (The Yacht Club pays one dollar a year rent for its site on Belle Isle and previously excluded Blacks from membership.)
Ihekerema Goree—All these different leases and authorities are illegal, they don’t have right to take from us without asking us to vote on it. All these back-alley deals, they are saying we are too ignorant and incompetent to run our own land, our own city, pay our own citizens to maintain and beautify our island. It’s the same thing you did with Cobo Hall, and the first thing they did was kick the only Black business out on the street. Yes, my time is up and YOUR time is up.
Robert Bruce: Don’t you trust yourselves to be able to take care of anything you’ve been elected for? It’s like a man with a woman on the outside, and he gets $1,000 a week, then goes by the outside woman’s house, and spends $800. You can’t take care of your own, because you’re giving everything to everyone else
Abena Hogan: Massa Snyder aint’ in charge, the people are in charge, and we expect you not to give up Belle Isle to the state. It’s all by design that the island has been let go, so they can come in and say it’s not taken care of. They’re going to throw our city workers out. Charge non-residents and not poor families and other Detroiters who come down here to have a picnic lunch. We’ll be in a surplus then. (Only residents are allowed in the lakefront parks run by the Grosse Pointes and St. Clair Shores.)
Brian Gault: Belle Isle is a beautiful place. I just want to see the city taking charge, there is no need to give the place we love away. It’s second nature, to just go out there. We used to be able to spend night out there, and it was a place for homeless people to go. Why are there all these vacant houses in the city that can’t be built up? Let Belle Isle be the jewel it is. Search your soul. Let the people of the city decide.
Tom Barrow, possible mayoral candidate: It seems that our city is constantly under attack by outsiders who want to take all the value the city owns. I call on the Council to reject this outright or place it on the Aug. ballot. Nowhere else except on the on-line Voice of Detroit has it been spelled out exactly what we would be losing. Detroit is giving everything to state, which will decide whether we get to go or stay on island. They get to charge and keep the revenue, all for nothing in return. This is much too important for just this council to decide. Reject this Belle Isle lease madness, tell the state to just go eat cake.
Ms. Flowers: I remember when my father would take my family to church every Sunday and ride around Belle Isle, back when Black and whites lived together in the city. Then the whites started flying to suburbs, and took everything with them, thinking Detroit would fail. But Detroit didn’t falter until after Mayor Young died. This is very hurtful. I have one child, who had to move to Ohio to get a job, and one grandchild. But all these [white] people are coming back in the city now. What about our people working, what happened? Stand up Council people.
*Ms. Rose—There has not been not fair and ample time for public hearing. The documents are already signed, this seems like a formality. Most people don’t know what’s in lease. I’m giving you three petitions I’ve taken up against leasing Belle Isle, and articles from the Voice of Detroit website. We don’t have a voice, no say, there are so many unknowns. We all want the island to be improved, but we should collect any fee. We will lose revenue from the Grand Prix and concerts for at least 10 years.
Angelo Brown: When I listen to the brilliance of the people in this city. I am convinced to be against this lease.
Mr. Jacob: hat, sunglasses: Belle Isle is a landmark, we have landmarks that we should value and keep rather than selling out.
*Penny Bailer, on Riverfront Conservancy board (which got a $40 million state grant, no strings attached, to fix up the north side of the Detroit River): I’ve lived Detriot for 38 years. My husband was born here in 1921, and as a little boy raised money in pennies to build Scott Fountain. (In fact, according to Clarence Burton’s history of Belle Isle, Detroiters voted to outfit Belle Isle using numerous bond issues.) But I believe Belle Isle should continue to be free to Detroiters and everybody and am willing to raise money from private foundations to compensate for the fee. But Detroit has lost over 1 million people, and we don’t have the money to do what’s needed. (Councilman Kenyatta reminded Bailer that she had supported the state takeover of Detroit Public Schools, which used to have 262 schools and over one million people prior to the 1999 takeover, which has devastated the district.)