Mayor Dave Bing at podium, (l to r) Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner John McCulloch; McCullocH initiated motion that U.S. District Judge Sean Cox has now ruled on


 By Diane Bukowski


DETROIT – Many Detroiters are mobilizing to stop what they say is a suburban takeover of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD). U.S. District Judge Sean Cox issued an order Feb. 11 giving Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties veto power over DWSD contracts and rates, and the right to appoint their own members of the Board of Water Commissioners without mayoral approval.


His order flouts provisions of the City Charter and the state constitution dealing with governance of the water department and utilities in general. 


U.S. District Judge Sean Cox

Joyce Moore says Cox's order violates City Charter

 Cox took action after secret daily meetings in his chambers with the parties for over a week. He also toured the Wastewater Treatment Plant and met with DWSD officials. In addition to Cox, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner John McCulloch, Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco, and Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano signed the order. (Read order at DWSD DOJ order 2 11 11.)


“The people are going to have to get together; we are going to almost have to do what Egypt is doing, to get a voice in what is going on about our water rights,” former Charter Commissioner Joyce Moore said.


She said the City Charter requires the people of Detroit to vote on changes affecting their ownership of the Water Department. She noted that last year’s transfer of the 21-mile Oakland-Macomb Interceptor to those two counties, without the city electorate’s vote, was a flagrant violation of the Charter.


But Ficano and Bing lauded the move.


Despite the secret process through which the pact was reached, Ficano said, “This means that there is now going to be transparency and accountability–whatever the rates are, they will be out in open, here’s the formula.”  


Bing added, “[Operational improvement] will happen over time, with the collaboration all of us will bring to table. As we look at representatives that will be on the Board of Water Commissioners from the suburbs, they will be people they have confidence in, that have professionalism. There is a lot of work that needs to be done, changes that need to be made, there are investments that must be made, there is the whole maintenance issue that we have to look at. I am appreciative that today all of us came together, joining our forces and expertise to fix the city.”


Bing, who is from Franklin, appeared to imply that Detroiters lack “professionalism,” while stressing the importance of work to be done by contractors who will now be selected with greater input from non-Detroiters.  


Cecily McClellan

“It’s all about the money,” said Cecily McClellan, Vice-President of the Association of Professional and Technical Employees (APTE), during an emergency gathering at the Spirit of Detroit statue Feb. 16. “It’s about who gets the contracts, about the control of blue gold, the privatization of water which is happening all over the country. Detroit is one of the last bastions of public power, and we sit in the midst of the largest bodies of water, the Great Lakes.” 


Tom Barrow

At that gathering, former mayoral candidate Tom Barrow said his challenge to Bing’s election is still active before the State Supreme Court and expressed strong opposition to Cox’s order.



“Bing’s position is absurd,” Barrow said. “He is not one of us. The City Council can place a question on the ballot regarding whether the people want the Mayor to have the sole authority to regionalize or change the governance of the water department. The people will reject it overwhelmingly. This is an assault on the people of Detroit. Bing and others  just ignore the law.”


Cox’s order gives the counties of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb the absolute right to choose their own representatives on the Detroit Board of Water Commissioners, without the approval of Detroit’s mayor as specified in the Charter. It grants them veto power over Detroit’s four commissioners, by requiring a supermajority of five of seven members to approve five-year capital improvement plans and rates.


It requires that only two current Commissioners remain, with Mayor Dave Bing appointing a new board representing specified fields of expertise, by April 1. It emphasizes that it is the Board which chooses DWSD’s director, a position that is currently vacant. Since the Mayor has absolute authority over the board in City Charter provisions, he should actually be the person who hires the director.



It's about the money

Bing and Ficano excused the charter violations, claiming that Detroit’s City Council will still have the final say-so on contracts and rates as currently provided by the charter.


However, Bing said during the press conference that negotiations are still ongoing on the matter of mayoral approval of commissioner appointments. That leaves the field open for Cox to alter other provisions, including those dealing with the City Council’s power. 


A complicating factor is House Bill 4214, which is currently being hotly debated (see VOD story below). It would greatly broaden the state’s ability to appoint emergency financial managers and expand their powers. Those powers would include the ability to dissolve governing bodies and sell off assets of local governments and school districts.  


Greg Murray, from Detiptv video

“I think that what happened today is actually a travesty, a direct violation of the City Charter,” Greg Murray, a leader of the Coalition of Organized Labor (COOL), which includes many city unions, told Detiptv’s Tim Moore after Bing’s press conference


“It usurps the authority of the city via the Mayor to name members of the Water Board,” Murray explained. “I am hoping it will be challenged in court. It does not reflect or guarantee that there will be any increased operational efficiency in the running of the department. It is part of a long-term plan to take over the assets of the city of Detroit. The press conference represented a surrender on the part of the Mayor and the administration to the wishes of the suburban water officials.”


Murray called on Detroiters to protest at Bing’s State of the City address at Orchestra Hall Tues. Feb. 22, and then join City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson in a march on Lansing Feb. 23 (see below). That march will also target HB 4112, a water takeover bill pending in the state legislature, sponsored by State Senator Kurt Heise (R-Plymouth).


Watson has expressed her opposition to Cox’s order while others on the Council have said they are satisfied with it. The Council was scheduled to meet in closed session Feb. 17 with their attorneys to discuss the order’s legality.


Tim Moore concluded the Detiptv broadcast, saying, “There is one question still not answered: given the national and world water shortage, why would Mayor voluntarily give our suburban customers veto powers over any decision made by the board.”






Notice is hereby given that the Board of Water Commissioners will hold a Public Hearing on Water and Sewerage rates proposed by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department  for Fiscal Year 2011-12.

DATE: February 23, 2011

TIME: 11:00 a.m.

PLACE: Water Board Building, 5th Floor Board Room

735 Randolph

Detroit, Michigan 48226

The proposed rates are scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2011.




Notice is hereby given that the Detroit City Council will hold a Public Hearing on Water and Sewerage rates proposed by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department for Fiscal Year 2011-12.

DATE: March 10, 2011

TIME: 5:00 p.m.

PLACE: 13th Floor Auditorium

Coleman A. Young Municipal Center

Detroit, Michigan 48226

The proposed rates are scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2011.

During the Public Hearing, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department will comment on the budget, estimated sales volume, Capital Improvement Program and other factors upon which the proposed rates are based. Thereafter, the Detroit City Council will receive public comments and questions on any matters pertaining to the proposed rates. Individuals or groups wishing to make oral presentations or submit prepared statements pertaining to the proposed rates may do so at the Public Hearing. Individuals or groups giving oral presentations are encouraged to have their presentations in writing, with a copy to be submitted for the record to the City Clerk and Board of Water Commissioners. Oral presentations should be brief to allow all parties the opportunity to participate. A time limit may be imposed based upon registration at the hearing. Interested parties who are unable to attend the Public Hearing may submit their comments in writing to:

The Detroit City Council – 13th Floor, Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, 2 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, Michigan 48226


Darryl A. Latimer, Deputy Director, Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, 735 Randolph St. Detroit, Michigan 48226.

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