Piety Hill Musings

The ramblings of the 51 year old Rector of St. John's Episcopal Church of Detroit. Piety Hill refers to the old name for our neighborhood. The neighborhood has changed a great deal in the over 150 years we have been on this corner (but not our traditional biblical theology) and it is now known for the neighboring theatres, the professional baseball and football stadiums and new hockey/basketball arena.

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Location: Detroit, Michigan, United States

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Super Bowl Euphoria bubble officially bursts.....

Much well-deserved praise was heaped on the Metro Detroit Region for its hosting of Super Bowl XL. Real cooperation between the city and suburbs helped in coordinating the big event and the other smaller events leading up to it, as well as the sprucing up of the area. Many people hoped that this was a beginning of a new way of doing politics and business between the city and suburbs. Unfortunately, racial tensions have once again reared their ugly head over the issue of Detroit City Council's and mayor's office ability to govern effectively. Anyone who questions this, based on facts or track record are accused of racism by some in city government. For those who do not know, Detroit is an overwhelmingly African-American city, with the majority of city council and the mayor and most city government being African American as well. The suburbs are a majority white.

The blue cloud euphoria concerning regional cooperation died this weekend over discussions about, of all things, the Detroit Zoo. The City of Detroit owns it, which means it falls under the control of City Council and the Mayor's Office. His office negotiated a deal to have the 78 year old Zoological Society run the zoo, with specially authorized state appropriations for the transition, which would take a major chunk of deficit speading away from the City's growing-deficit budget. The city would continue to own the zoo (which is located Royal Oak, a different city and county).

After the vote of 7-2 to prevent the turn over of operations, effectively slating the zoo for closure (but we are told now there is hope something can still be worked out), The Detroit News reported this statement by City Councilwoman Barbara Rose-Collins, also captured by television cameras.
Collins said the state deadline amounted to unfair pressure by small-town legislators on the city to relinquish control of the zoo. She and other council members were angered by numerous calls and e-mails made to their offices by suburbanites critical of the council's vote. Some of the council members took the e-mails as veiled racism.
"This is not a plantation," Collins said. "We are not owned by everyone else. Black folks are not owned by white folks anymore. I made the point Saturday that the state Legislature was pimping the City of Detroit, and that we should not play the role of prostitute. That upset a lot of people, but I stand by my words. The symbolism is that Detroit is a black city, and we're not able to govern ourselves. It's a racist attitude and I resent it."


Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, executive of the very affluent neighboring county has become a political punching bag, usually during election cycles, as the race card is played by city politicians. But he has been know to be inflamitory and insensitive in his off the cuff remarks in response to such situations. Concerning the zoo vote he said on Paul W. Smith's show on WJR that "...it may come as a surprise to her, but no one wants to own Barbara Rose Collins" (refering to her planation remark) and as I heard him on the Frank Beckmann show on WJR, Patterson refused to apologize for his comparing city council members as people who should be in the zoo, not running it. Some Detroiters have taken that as a racial remark.

Pray for the city of Detroit. The continuing deficit means the state could put the city into receivership, effectively taking over the running of the city (as was done recently in Pontiac and Hamtramck, as well as with the Detroit School Board). That will be sure to bring further cat-calls of racism as the mostly white state legislature would effectively take away the democratically elected (even if inefficient) city representives and replace them with appointed financial managers.

My solution (in addition to prayer)? Re-tool City Council to be represented by neighborhoods (right now it is an at-large ballot with incumbents almost assured of re-election, all of whom live in one of two or three neighborhoods), giving all the people a real voice on council. That would be a start. If the state has to come in for receivership, find a way to work it in cooperation with the Mayor's office and council if at all possible, rather than just running roughshod over it.

The City has made great strides in improvements in the 5 years I have been back in Detroit. It could be better. Pray it is not all derailed by power-grabs or power-preserving from any side. Instead may we work for the common good of the citizens of the city and the region.