City government, the Emperor’s New Clothes and the people

turtleI’m not the sharpest tack in the drawer.  But I’ve been working in Detroit for almost 26 years and it seems to me that our city government is stuck.  And that we need some help getting unstuck.


And it really feels like we need to get over ourselves and start thinking more about the people.  Stephen Henderson, editorial page editor of the Detroit Free Press, said it best the other day when he wrote:

“At minimum, let’s say the people in the city shouldn’t be dying, waiting for services that never come.”

What Henderson refers to is the fact that:

“Detroit’s elected leaders have been unable, and in many cases unwilling, to confront the horrible fiscal imbalances that leave insufficient money for EMS rigs, fire trucks, police officers and public lighting.”

In other words, the present Detroit leadership – with all their hard work and policy setting – for whatever reasons – have been unable to consistently and adequately deliver the absolutely necessary for life services needed by the people of Detroit.

He goes on to say:

“Now they’ll lose power to someone who will.”

“Will what?” you ask?  Well, hopefully, the new temporary leadership will start thinking less about political power, less about who is motivated by what, less about who’s getting over on whom…and begin to think more about what really matters to us all – the people.

It’s not that I’m unsympathetic to the realities [for example] of power politics.  The “power motive” has always been there in public policy and debate and life – from the Pharaohs of North Africa to the Tudor kings and queens of England – from the Caesars of Rome to the Tsars of Russia – from the Holy Roman Emperors of the middle ages to the democrats and republicans of the modern era – there have always been issues of power and control.  And there surely are in this case as well – only God knows who in Lansing or who in Detroit city government are about keeping the power, keeping the control…instead of simply helping the Detroit citizen live his or her life.

And as for other underlying motives, what about race?  Any thinking person knows that the Civil Rights Movement couldn’t cure racism that lives in the human heart – and while Civil Rights Legislation made it illegal to do racist stuff, laws have never been able to eradicate racism from a human spirit determined to hang on to hate.  So, is there any racism, any trace of evil, diabolical, regurgitated, repeated “I’m better than you because of the color of my skin” mentality lurking in this whole emergency manager plan thing?  I suspect so.  Again, only God knows where because most leaders are too dishonest to own their latent racist, elitist spirit [if indeed it exists inside them] and too sophisticated to let their racism overtly leak in words or policy.

So, what I’m asking is this:  can we simply own that this whole thing is likely a mixed bag on many different levels but that the time has long since come and gone when drastic measures are in order to at least try to do something – even appoint an emergency manager – to help the people??

Because from what I see and hear and experience in my own life, working and serving in Detroit, and talking and living with and connecting in intimate relationship with a whole lot of Detroiters – many if not most of the people aren’t really thinking a whole lot about power or race or other motive-related mess – they just want their lights on, they simply want police presence, they need to know an EMS tech or fireman will be there in their pain, that their trash will get picked up, that the busses will run on time and that their kids will make it safe back and forth to school.

One more thing.  I’m also willing to believe that alongside any leaders who are hungry for power and control or any leaders still wrestling with a deeply embedded racist agenda or some completely other non-helpful mentality or motive – that there are some good folks, some honest folks, some hard-working, compassionate leader types in Lansing willing to come alongside our good, honest, hard-working, compassionate leaders in Detroit in order to partner with us, to help us get unstuck, to help us turn the corner, to help us…do a better job of helping the people.

Emperors-New-Clothes1Anyone remember “The Emperor’s New Clothes”?  Two scam artists come to town and convince an egotistical Emperor that they are making him a new set of Emperor clothes, some royal threads so special that only the most sophisticated and elite of the people can see them.  Of course, there are no real clothes.  It’s a scam, remember?  But on the day that the emperor parades down main street to show off his special outfit, all the grownups are so afraid of not being sophisticated and elite that they can’t bring themselves to say, “I can’t see anything on the Emperor except his boxers!!”  So they all play along with the scam until a young child – unencumbered by any need to be sophisticated and elite – shouts out:  “THE EMPEROR’S NAKED!!” at which point chaos erupts and the town goes wild…but at least the Emperor puts on a real shirt and some real pants.

As I said earlier, I’m not the sharpest tack in the drawer.  But I think Stephen Henderson is.  And I’m officially joining my child-like and possibly somewhat naive voice with his – shouting out that our beloved city is naked and it is about time we did anything…almost anything within our power and within the boundaries of decency and common sense…to help her get rightly clothed again.


5 thoughts on “City government, the Emperor’s New Clothes and the people”

  1. Kevin i don’t believe the problem is the leadership. I believe the problem is $$$. The City of Detroit is huge in area. it was designed to be a city of millions. 650,000 or so residents are not a sufficient tax base to support police, fire and lighting as a matter of fact. Unfortunately a new leader , i.e. a EFM will have the same unsolvable problem. What the City needs is money and in order to get it the State is taking a ramsom payable in control. and unfortunately Snyder’s need for control is fueled by the underlying bias that “those people” are incapable of managing “their city”. Unfortunatly I think the city has no choice but to pay the ransom because no matter how you slice and dice the services it can’t be fixed without money. So sad.. love to discuss it with you any time.

    1. I obviously see your point, Bob, about population decline, revenue, etc. But when the city council’s rhetoric is inflammatory and defensive toward all help from “the man” and when some (in my view) obviously helpful and rather simple decisions that would be immediately encouraging to the people (like receiving help for Belle Isle) are ignored…it is difficult to take the group seriously. And it seems Stephen Henderson (as well as Dave Bing) agree. As for Snyder’s motives…as I mention in the post…you may well be right. But it is time, in my view, to do whatever needs to be done to try to get services to the people. If the emergency manager can’t get it done either, so be it. But continuing down the path of the last few years seems, at this pont, like insanity.

  2. Something has to change for Detroit to get fixed. I agree with the sentiment of this posting by Kevin. Living in a city that does not have the racial issues that South Eastern Michigan has, we still have a hug problem with corruption even when those in power are of the same ethnicity.

    The real change in Detroit won’t happen until good people, and well trained people do, “the something” to make those things happen.

    Right now it seems to have not changed at all, just, “stuck.”

  3. Well written Kevin. I’m just wondering is there any way to raise the bar higher and do the same for Washington DC. The problem is most all of Washington has been scammed by their own hedonistic self-interests and they’re walking around “NAKED.” And it has been going on for years in both parties. The problem is no one in the power circles of Washington Beltway appears to have gotten the message to our politicians eyes or ears that they are indeed “NAKED”; yet the whole earth sees their arrogance and stupidity! The only group I believe that can change the destructive course in Washington is the Church. With the culture wrapped up in their own “Emperor Cloths,” it’s up to the citizens of this country to loving announce a new course like our forefathers did coming here from “the old country” and live life out in public square that God is “truly alive” and powerful enough to “make right” the course of this nation through His people. Without God this nation is sunk! Without a humbled heart and faithful action, greater misery is certain to come.

  4. I lived in downtown Detroit for approx. 18 months during the midst of the financial crisis and the events leading up to the GM bankruptcy. God seemed to give me a great burden for the city so I would spend regular times seated at my table overlooking the Merchant’s Row area praying for revival in the city. On one such occasion God gave me a vision of a lively, safe area in Merchant’s Row with families out on the sidewalks and children playing around them. The Lord seemed to say to me that it was up to the people of Detroit to catch that vision and that revival could come if people would earnestly repent and seek Him. Detroit is in trouble. I noticed while I was there that many of the men who led the major churches in the area were more interested in playing politics than preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. I suspect that repentance starts with them. I remember Kwame’s pastor being so supportive of him and open about how he thought Kwame was innocent and a good leader. I wonder what the pastor believes and says today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *