SELCAN HACAOGLU: Is privacy over? The election makes you wonder
Don’t want folks to think you’re shady? There’s a simple solution: Don’t act shady.
That starts with telling the truth — to the residents of the city you’re sworn to serve, and to the legislative body you’re obligated to work with, even if it reflects badly on you or your appointees.
Because we can’t imagine what Duggan was thinking when he and other officials decided to conceal, for two months, that because of billing improprieties, the U.S. Department of the Treasury had temporarily pulled the plug on his massive demolitions effort.
And hey, what about those improprieties — that the Detroit Land Bank Authority, as revealed in a recently released audit, had gamed federal guidelines by spreading demo costs exceeding the federal government’s $25,000 per-house cap around to multiple properties — resulting in nearly $1 million improperly billed to the state?
All of which comes atop ongoing state and federal investigations into how and why demo costs soared.
When we endorsed Duggan in Detroit’s 2013 primary, we wrote that he cut his political teeth under legendary Wayne County Executive Ed McNamara. McNamara “had a reputation for brutal effectiveness, and his tactics drew the attention of the FBI, which never quite reached the point of indicting any members of his administration. Duggan was McNamara’s top lieutenant, the appointee charged with getting things done — a job that included backdoor wrangling and deal-making. That’s always a part of politics, but we fear that Duggan’s sensibility is too deeply rooted in those days. Detroit is emerging from a painful political era racked by a lack of transparency. We can’t afford to go back.”
Part of that painful past we can’t afford to go back to is dysfunction between the mayor’s office and the Detroit City Council, the kind of high-handed mayoral overreach that considers the council nothing but a nuisance to be end-run.
It’s a lesson we feared Duggan might be slow to learn. We’re dismayed to be proved correct. Duggan owes this city — its residents and its council — full transparency and accountability. There are no grey areas, here.
That’s not true of the demolitions program itself, or of the land bank and related city agencies that administer it. There’s no question that the demo program has achieved its goals. On Duggan’s watch, more than 10,000 derelict homes have been torn down — that’s 10,000 neighborhood eyesores, targets for drug activity, arson and continued neglect, dangerous both physically and psychologically for those who must live close by. Taking down such structures is an improvement for the neighborhoods that house them.
But what is left behind?
Duggan ran for mayor in 2013 on the promise that Detroit’s worst days could be behind us. That he could bring business acumen to the financially troubled city — that he’d do better. And in some ways, he has. There’s no denying that in some parts of Detroit, development has boomed. In other parts of the city? Not so much.
And there is no question that within this city’s borders are many more homes with no hope of rehabilitation. But demolition is subtraction, and for this city to grow, subtraction isn’t enough.
The 10,000 houses the demo program has removed can’t keep pace with the tide of homes entering foreclosure each year. Or the struggles of Detroiters to find a financial path forward in a job market that holds too few prospects for too many. Duggan alone can’t solve those problems, but the demo program can’t be considered in isolation. It must be viewed in the context of the result its intended to achieve — a safer, more prosperous city.
Duggan has frequently said that population growth is the sole metric upon which he should be judged. The erosion of confidence in the city’s leadership this program has elicited surely won’t help those efforts.