Just a thought....

My wife put an interesting question to me the other day, and I thought I would share it.

“Bill Gates draws your name out of a hat, and gives you 1 million dollars with which to help the City of Ypsilanti out in any way you saw fit. How would you spend the money for long-term gain?”

I thought about this for a while, and after the visions of the wildest street party you ever saw and other frivolous adventures dissipated, I then figured that a million really isn’t enough to do anything meaningful…. Then I thought about it some more.

The only thing I could come up with that would actually help the city in the long-term (that a million dollars could help with) is if Lansing produced some legislation that allows built-out cities to collect fair taxes.

To have any clout at all, such an initiative needs to have the backing of many municipalities, and there must be thousands of businesses state-wide that are hurting because their downtowns are deteriorating.

A million would go a long way to drafting a piece of legislation that businesses and municipalities could get behind, and that Lansing could benefit from as well, and hopefully the businesses would be able to add a little to the pot to put greater pressure on Lansing to act. A couple of studies that make the point, a protest rally or two, you get the idea…

So there it is. Organize a state-wide campaign to MAKE Lansing listen. It wouldn’t solve all of Ypsilanti’s problems, but it would sure up one part of its funding.

So… what would you do?

Take Care



Income Tax: The Real Mayoral Issue

To tax or not to tax, that is indeed the question.

I attended the CBC Candidates Forum the other night and had the pleasure of submitting a question to the candidates. I asked, quite plainly, (and somewhat aggressively, sorry folks, it slipped out that way!!) are you going to implement the tax, and secondly, how are you going to secure funding from Lansing in the future?.

Schreiber opened the discussion by saying that he reluctantly supports the tax, that the problems the city is facing are state-wide, and that no immediate help is coming from Lansing. Schreiber made the assessment that the tax removes the city from the edge of financial insolvency, while placing Ypsilanti in the middle of the state-wide tax bracket. [Having read his figures some time back, I know that he has standardised his findings across income and property value averages- the claim is otherwise clearly fallacious]

Richardson made the point that she had suggested the tax before anyone else had come up with it, and her hope that the property tax rollback could be sufficient to offset the impact of the tax. Richardson mentioned the need for greater regional co-operation and intergovernmental agreements at very level.

Pierce is opposed to the tax, period. He believes the tax will create a barrier to business and place a greater, unnecessary burden on the community. He explained the rollback couldn’t be made large enough to offset the impact of the tax, and that over half of Ypsilanti’s residents are renters, and therefore get no benefit from a rollback at all. Pierce believes that the City needs to rethink the way it does everything from the payroll upward. Pierce’s approach to Lansing was the same, he says he will go to Lansing, not to demand a better deal, but to find out “what we can do better.” Pierce made the point that the income tax would place Ypsilanti as the highest taxed municipality in the state.

While the candidates each have different styles, it is on the issue of the Income Tax that their paths truly diverge. I believe that the Democratic Primary on August 8 will be a referendum on the tax, between Schreiber and Pierce. Those who vote for Richardson will most likely be doing so for reasons other than her stand on the income tax.

When the tax was discussed at length last year, I took a long look at who was supporting it, and who was against it, and I figured it was going to be inevitable eventually. The people who really mattered as far as setting policy and direction were resigned to it as a necessary evil.

State Legislation restricts the tax to a maximum of 1 percent and a maximum property tax rollback of 2 mils. There is also a $600 minimum exemption written into the legislation. These restrictions do not allow the tax to raise sufficient revenue to offset the problems faced by the city in the long term. The tax is at best a “band-aid” that will buy some time.

Even as a band-aid it is weak, and long-term fiscal sustainability is thoroughly dependant on better balancing of the budget.

Schreiber wants the tax in order to keep the city afloat a little longer and buy some time in the hope of a miracle from Lansing and from the greater community.

Pierce is banking on being able to make huge savings fairly quickly from negotiations that have not begun yet.

Neither solution is without risk. The Income Tax poses the single biggest threat to residential and business growth in our community for as long as it is in place. People have other attractive options for both residence and business in the area. Higher taxes are not going to make Ypsilanti any more attractive. While the level of impact on population and trade is not known, the tax is bound to have significant negative impact on both residential and business growth.

The income tax cannot be implemented responsibly without a long-term strategy for growth in the community. To date, no such strategy is forthcoming. The community needs to know how and where the City will make the necessary changes to its current practices and structure to justify the cost to the community that the tax will impose.

Such a plan has not, to my knowledge, been put forward by City officials.

For Pierce, the risk is being able to turn Ypsilanti around before it runs out of funds completely. The situation is likely to look fiscally scary in the meantime. There is not much more to say about that risk. Its going to be hard to balance the budget for a few years. We are going to have to make some cuts, and do a lot of things differently, but we are not saddling ourselves with the baggage of an income tax to inhibit growth.

My own opinon is of little condsequence. It is for the community to decide which level of trouble it wants to buy, because there are no easy solutions.

A vote for Pierce is a vote against the Income Tax. A Vote for Schreiber or Richardson is a vote to put the tax on the ballot.

Lansing could, with the stroke of a pen, make things a lot easier for built-out communities, and it would not cost them a red cent.

It is time someone started pushing that barrow, because tax or no tax, we must come up with better solutions than we currently have.

Take Care



Pierce Scuttlebutt

So to the Pierce scuttlebutt.

Nobody who is criticizing Pierce wants to be quoted. I have always honoured that request when it is made of me (that’s how I get to know things, and eventually turn up something that can be quoted as authoritative).

So far, the most damning thing I have heard about Steve is that working with him leaves ”a bad taste in the mouth”. It is true that several of the people who have worked with him on various boards have openly supported Schreiber. Behind this “bad taste” lie accusations of double-talk and self-serving ends. There are folks who say he can’t get things done, and others who accuse him of being a snake.

Several people have quoted the Blue Ribbon Committee on City Finances and the infamous “not at the same meeting” comment from Paul Tait, who chaired the BRCCF. Paul’s comment was in response to a loud and lengthy objection from Steve when Mayor Farmer misconstrued the BRCCF final recommendation.

As it happens, I attended the deliberations of the BRCCF because I saw its recommendations as the most important discussion affecting the future of the City at the time.

I like Paul Tait, I think he did a great job with the BRCCF and I believe every member of that committee should be commended for the effort they put in to sorting through the city’s issues. It was a difficult job, and sitting in on those deliberations provided a great perspective on the problems the city faces.

As the committee was winding up and putting together a recommendation, it was clear in the minds of all present that an income tax, though entirely undesirable, represented a plausible band-aid respite that could buy the city enough time to get Lansing to pay attention and fund its commitments.

Paul Tait put together a resolution that basically recommended that the city put the tax to the vote. Steve Pierce objected to that recommendation, saying that the BRCCF was both ill equipped and unqualified to address the political questions about whether or not the tax should be put to the vote. Steve worked long and hard, against considerable resistance, to get the word “consider” put into the recommendation. He was successful. Ingrid Kock worked long and hard to get an alternative plan for the tax’s implementation to be appended to the final recommendation. She was also successful.

When Mayor Farmer came out with a blanket statement to the effect that the BRCCF had recommended that the city put the income tax to the vote, Steve hit the roof.

I probably still have a copy of the e-mail exchange that ensued over the next couple of days, it was long and loud and impassioned. Steve wanted to make it clear that he did not support the tax. Farmer said, “what am I missing here?” Paul Tait was saying that the committee had decided it was the only feasible solution. Pierce went on to elaborate other alternatives, making it clear that he did not support the tax. Tait was eventually quoted as saying, “we were not at the same meeting” by way of saying that Pierce had reconstructed the deliberations to suit his own ends.

At the time, of course, I was working as a journalist and had to stay out of the fight completely. Pierce did not want to be on the record as supporting the tax. Tait could not see a viable alternative to the tax. Farmer had wanted the tax as a means to maintain solvency.

Tait, while listening to the deliberations of Pierce and Koch and others, was looking to find the language of consensus, and perhaps paying less attention than might be expected to the substance of those deliberations. Paul had a tough job, and he did it very well. Tait was, from a point earlier than my attendance at meetings, largely resigned to implementation of the tax as a solution.

Pierce wanted to distance himself from any recommendation to implement the tax. Anyone who was at those meetings should know that much, unless they ignored him completely.

Farmer was looking for BRCCF’s authority to justify pursuing the tax.

Was Pierce’s reaction over the top? Maybe. But his point was nevertheless valid. Farmer had no business generalizing the committee’s recommendation in the manner that she did. (I recall hearing it at the time and thought… oh dear; this is not going to sit well) That’s what he was initially reacting to. Pierce had fought to have the word “consider” included, and both Farmer and Tait were ignoring it.

I can see why committee heads and others would find this tendency of Pierce’s to make sure he is not ignored irritating. If that’s what leaves “a bad taste in the mouth”, then this is a matter of personal style rather than of substance.

Oh, and I did personally laugh aloud when Steve nominated as a Democrat. You need to keep in mind that, where I come from, the Left is a long way further left of centre than it is here. True to form, however, he now has the support of several key Labour unions which places him a lot further Left than I would have given him credit for. A property owner and businessman who can successfully get the support of Labour must have a pretty convincing argument.

We are blessed with 3 candidates, none of which can be faulted for anything more than infractions of personal style and attention to detail (or the lack thereof).

We have the “Staus Quo” player, who is Schreiber. I have yet to see anything from him that suggests we will get too many surprises out of his tenure, should he win. In fact the
proven leadership in tough times” slogan suggests that nothing much will change.

We have the “Voice for Change” player who is Pierce. The conversation about the future of Ypsilanti is likely to take a sharp turn if Steve is elected. This may or may not be a good thing, but the conversation will be interesting, Steve will be ignored less often if he is Mayor

We have the “Voice of the Oppressed” candidate who is Richardson. Anyone who has lived in or around the city for a while knows that there are plenty of oppressed folks live in Ypsilanti. Lois’ grassroots support should not be underestimated, even if it is invisible online.

The vote for the Democratic primary, at this point, is a vote for style rather than for substance. I find this a bit disappointing. Hopefully the contenders can come up with a platform or two we can sink our teeth into.

Take Care



Back to Business

I made the comment below in response to John Gawlas, and I figured I should elevate the question to a post of its own.

This city, ... should be tired by now of pitched battles between factional groups.

I have yet to see a definitive written action plan from any candidate on

1. Water Street
2. the city income tax
3. the future for economic development.
4. securing adequate funding from Lansing

So, a note to all 3 candidates, lets cut with the crap and get down to business shall we? Who has a better plan?

Take Care


FOR THIS POST ONLY, I will ONLY ACCEPT comments that speak to these issues. (others will be deleted, and I am the only and final arbiter of that decision.) There are plenty of other posts on this blog where those who want to indulge in a Mayoral skirnmish can post. I want to hear about these issues here


3 Hyenas...

Well, that tears it…

Here I was figuring I could be sanctimonious and impartial about the Mayoral election, but there’s something about smear campaigns that sticks in my craw.

Our mayoral candidate Schreiber has a smear campaign on his hands. Front and centre on his website is the “endorsement” from a group which was dissolved a good while back and no longer exists in any shape or form beyond the memories of those involved.

This non-existent group handed over its still existent mailing list and letterhead to the Schreiber campaign and used his campaign funds to deceive the community into a) believing that the group still exists, and b) believing that Steve Pierce blocked the YCFE campaign at a 2002 DDA meeting when he was DDA president.

The text of this quasi-endorsement reads in part

“Steve Pierce is the third 2006 mayoral candidate. As president of Yp s i l a n t i ’s DDAin 2002, he refused to endorse us. We believe that if either Richardson or Pierce becomes mayor of Ypsilanti, our cause will no longer enjoy strong political support in this community. “

Please don’t get me wrong, I like what the YCFE stood for, I just don’t like deceit.

If you go over to Ypsidixit http://www.ypsidixit.com/blog/ for a look-see, you can read 40-comment brawl over this paragraph. Trusty Getto http://www.trustygetto.com/ also has a bit to say.

Cameron Getto did the legwork and got the minutes of the DDA meeting in 2002 when the YCFE asked for the DDA’s endorsement. Then president of the DDA and now mayoral candidate Steve “Devil is in the Details” Pierce did refrain from endorsing YCFE campaign because he saw it as out side the charter of the group. And so it is outside the charter of the City (and by extension, its commissions and authorities) to endorse a political campaign. Pierce knew that. Some other heads of various council commissions did not.

Steve was faced with a simple question. Should he use his influence to direct the DDA beyond its charter in the interest of a political campaign, or should he keep the DDA focussed on its job?

When put as simply as that, it’s a no-brainer. Of course he should keep the DDA doing what it does best, and lend his personal support to the YCFE, as he did, in other ways.
Were I in his position, I’d have done the same thing.

As it stands at the moment, Paul “Details? What Details?” Schreiber has two strikes against him in my view. There is the open meetings act, and now the smear campaign. Its a pity, because I like Paul and I think his intentions are pretty good, but jeez I wish he’d pay attention to what’s going on, and I’d be happier to see him conducting more of his YHC meetings in the open. My opening question about Schreiber still stands “does he have the time for the job?” If attention to detail is any measure, apparently not.

There is a third strike against Schreiber, and that is the “turncoat” mentality Just over a year ago, it was the Mayor and City council who hamstrung the YHC in their plans to develop Parkview. Paul was leading the YHC at the time, and the City’s stand made it very clear that they did not believe that the YHC (and Paul) could administer the project. So strong was the City’s conviction, that its interference overturned a “done deal” between HUD and the YHC for the development of Parkview.

This same city turned about face and now Paul enjoys their support. It seems that Paul can’t manage his YHC sufficient to the City’s standard, but he’ll make a good Mayor. Had someone insulted my talent to that degree, I’d have a hard time accepting his or her endorsement.

Politics is a dirty and duplicitous game. It is with good reason that I ignored it for a long time.

Pierce hasn’t done anything to upset me yet, and the more I see of him the more I like what he has to say. I’m not certain that he enjoys enough grass-roots support to win the Democratic nomination.

Richardson hasn’t done anything yet. She did approach me about putting a web-site up for her, but her chances are better without a site than with one I would make. Words, yes, websites, not really. It might have been a good way to find out what she stands for, but I’d feel guilty taking her money for something I do that poorly.

So, we have Steve “Devil in the Details” Pierce, Paul “Details? What Details?” Shreiber and Lois “If only I had Details” Richardson.

My money goes with someone who knows what’s going on.

You can be sure that if there are 3 hyenas and one piece of meat, some unseemly fighting will ensue. Forasmuch as we have striven for better in 5 millennia of civilization, we haven’t advanced all that much.

Take Care



Dear Mr Schreiber

Dear Mr Schreiber,

It has come to my attention that, apart from our wee skirmish over open meetings, some friends of yours have endorsed your candidacy, and directly slammed your opponents using the letterhead of a defunct Human Rights organization, in a campaign funded by your organization.

Now, we know that this is legally murky ground, in fact, its simply illegal.

So, where do you stand on mistakes, good man?

How will you handle them? You are going to make some mistakes as Mayor, as will Pierce or Richardson if either of them win.

You have lost some credibility, sir, and you need to regain it if you want to capture the swinging vote.

It is easy to “show leadership” when times are good, and on tough issues, however when the excreta hits the propeller, that’s when the true calibre of a leader can be measured. Will you tough it out or will you stand corrected? I know which course of action would win my vote if it mattered.

I watched our current Mayor preside over some monumental blunders and then defend those blunders as the right course of action. Some people find that admirable. I find it devastating, because the people of this city are paying for it every day. Don’t get me wrong, the city is a far better place to live in for the contribution that Mayor Farmer has made, but that doesn’t mean every decision she made was good, or that every course of action she defended was right.

You may feel sufficiently confident in your support base that you don’t need to answer this note. So be it. But whether you grace my corner of the net with your comments or not, the good folk of Ypsilanti should see the sort of stuff of which you are made,

Take Care