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In this election, the Jewish vote doesn’t really matter

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*An edited version of this article by Daniel Cherrin first appeared in the October 17, 2013 issue of The Detroit Jewish News.

Despite Detroit’s bankruptcy, this November 538,000 registered voters in Detroit will have the opportunity to select a new mayor and nine City Council members.  Each one of these individuals will have an important role in rebuilding and rebranding Detroit while guiding the city beyond bankruptcy.

“Detroit is at a crossroads,” Benny Napoleon, Wayne County’s Sheriff who wants to become Mayor, recently told the Jewish News, “and where we go from here will determine the future of the city for generations to come.“

However, in this election, the Jewish vote won’t make a difference in electing Detroit’s next mayor.  Although more members of the Jewish Community may work in Detroit or attend services at the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue than in years past, of the 72,000 Jews living in Southeastern Michigan, according to the 2005 demographic study, there are only 1,000 Jews actually living south of Eight Mile in the city of Detroit itself – and that is a rough estimate.   With only 18 percent of the registered voters in the city of Detroit voting in the August primary, Detroit’s future rests with just a handful of voters.

Although many people in Detroit’s Jewish Community cannot vote, it does not mean the next mayor is not important to Detroit’s Jewish Community. "For the past 30 years, Detroit's leaders have largely failed their constituents," said Gabe Neistein, Alumni Relations Director for Tamarack Camps and a Detroit resident, who lives in Midtown. "Living in Detroit, I take a lot of pride in not only living in the city during a time of resurgence, but also in having a say as to which leaders will help keep us moving forward."

Moving forward and beyond an emergency manager is what each candidate wants. “I understand that we succeed and fail as a region,” said Napoleon. “Right now, Detroit is failing, which is one of the reasons our region is divided. We will work to transform Detroit so we can come to the table as equal partners with the region and seek regional solutions to our issues, together.”

Mike Duggan, former CEO of the Detroit Medical Center and former Wayne County Prosecutor who is also running for Mayor, told the Jewish News, “We all saw how our region can work together when communities in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb rallied to save the SMART bus system during the time I was General Manager of SMART in the 1990’s. As Mayor, I will work with people of good will across this region to build coalitions that support our mutual interests.”

Despite not living within Detroit’s city limits there are a variety of ways the Jewish Community can still get involved.  “The buy-in to Detroit’s future is key,” according to Napoleon. “Once we begin to market our area as a region, southeast Michigan will be well on its way. The Jewish community has both influence and resources to shape and move this type of discussion.”

According to Napoleon, “in our region, the roots of the Jewish community in Detroit run deep.”  After all, Detroit is a city that the Jewish Community helped build, starting with Chapman Abraham who landed in Detroit in 1762 as a fur trader, followed by Sarah and Isaac Couzens a century later. Fred Butzel former Detroit city councilman David W. Simons and Albert Kahn further made the city stronger. Carl Levin, Mel Ravitz, Norman Drachler, Max Fisher and others helped rebuild Detroit after a turbulent time.  Today, the Jewish Community has new urban pioneers such as former State Representative Steve Tobocman, Summer and the City Founder, Ben Falik, D-hive executive Jeff Aronoff, Vice President of Business Development at Eastern Market Corporation Randall Fogelman, Detroit Farm and Garden founder Jeff Klein, Quicken CEO Dan Gilbert, Isaac Downtown Synagogue President and attorney Leor Barak, not to mention well established community leaders such as Gene and Elaine Driker, and Kathleen Strauss and others who are equally committed to seeing Detroit thrive.

With Detroit’s Jewish Community centered in Oakland County, a majority of our community still identifies as Detroiters with the City of Detroit sitting at the core.  There is no doubt that whoever gets elected will work with regional leaders on regional problems, such as the M1-Rail, a new regional water authority, the future of the DIA, the development of a new arena for the Red Wings and a new international gateway between Canada and the United States.

While others work on protecting Detroit’s assets, some candidates, such as Adam Hollier a candidate for City Council in District 5, will seek private funding for other important initiatives such as creating safe bus shelters for children and seniors.

However, there are other issues that those who are elected in November will tackle. Issues such as public safety, neighborhood growth and jobs through economic expansion in our neighborhoods, which are the top three issues of which Napoleon is concerned. When asked about public safety and the need to feel safe in the city, Napoleon, current Sheriff for Wayne County and former Detroit Police Chief said, “Detroit’s downtown continues to be one of the safest in America, and it is obvious that our visitors know that as evidenced on any given weekend in downtown Detroit where people from all over coverage to go to dinner, sporting events, concerts and theatre events.”

“The issues that I am most interested in and am hoping the candidates address,” said Neistein, “are education and the public school system, blight removal, improved public transportation and business development. I'm also very interested in the future of Belle Isle.”

Mike Duggan agrees with Neistein and other Detroiters as to where his focus will be as Mayor.  “Detroit should be a city that is safe, is growing, and has strong and vibrant neighborhoods and commercial centers,” Duggan said.  “Our citizens should be able to call the police and know they’ll come promptly, should expect timely repairs of the streetlights, a reliable bus system, and a commitment to rebuild the neighborhoods by moving families into vacant homes as soon as they become abandoned.”

Duggan also said, “we need to get back to where we can feel safe in Detroit by returning to the strategy of cooperation that existed when I was Wayne County Prosecutor,” he said.  “We had a partnership with the U.S. Attorney, the DEA, the ATF, the Detroit Police, and the Prosecutor that resulted in 2003 in Detroit experiencing the fewest murders in 30 years.  Lately we have had 5 police chiefs in 5 years, leaving Detroit with no consistent crime fighting strategy.  With no leadership and rebuilt partnerships we can make this city safe again.”

Literacy also will be a big issue for the next mayor to consider. According to the Detroit Literacy Coalition, 47% of adult Detroiters are functional illiterate.  “Illiteracy is critical. It has become an impediment to our children’s education when parents aren’t able to provide their children with the assistance they need at home,” according to Napoleon.

The Detroit JCRC has made this one of their focal points and has three initiatives to address illiteracy in Detroit, through Detroit Jewish Coalition for Literacy (DJCL), Team Lamed and Reading Works.  Bookstock also supports efforts to reduce illiteracy and donates proceeds from the sale to support education and literacy projects in the Detroit metropolitan area.

“DJCL’s roster of volunteer tutors has increased from 300 to 800 Jewish community members serving in almost 60 schools in Detroit and Oakland County. DJCL partners with Repair the World, Beyond Basics and other pro-literacy organizations, expanding each other’s reach and effectiveness and sharing expertise,” Robert Cohen, President of the Detroit JCRC said.

Beyond the JCRC and Bookstock, there are other ways the Jewish Community can reconnect with the city.   “Truly transforming our city requires working in our neighborhoods and healing our communities,” Napoleon said. However, a lack of transportation options limits the ability for Detroiters to access needed services. “Because our regional transit system is inadequate, we need to bring services to those who need it, but volunteers and workers from JVS and other services need to feel safe in our city,” Napoleon said. “I would integrate organizations like JVS into my "One Square Mile Initiative,” where they become a neighborhood asset and work closely within that structure. My One Square Mile Initiative places a police officer in each square mile of the city to partner with residents, businesses, community groups, places of worship and others to address crime and quality of life issues in that square mile. It truly looks at our city from the micro level in transforming the neighborhoods.”

“JVS has maintained a presence in the City of Detroit since opening our doors in 1941, and we are committed to assist in its revitalization.   By developing a partnership with business, schools and job seekers, JVS is preparing the workforce to meet the needs of Detroit’s economic development.  As evidenced throughout the Metro Detroit region, transportation remains a significant challenge in matching our workforce with business, “ said Leah Rosenbaum, JVS interim president and CEO.

With regards to how the candidates can serve as a bridge between Detroit and Detroit’s Jewish Community, Napoleon said, “The African American community and the Jewish people have a unique understanding of one another and deep respect for our respective faiths. Napoleon said he would serve as a trusted link between Detroit’s grassroots community and Detroit’s Jewish community.”

However, Napoleon said that despite a shared history of oppression and discrimination, there are many children living in the city of Detroit who have never met or know any Jewish children, or, according to Napoleon, “know much about the rich traditions and deep faith of the Jewish people.” “From the lessons of oppression, discrimination and contemporary issues like self-governance and determination,” Napoleon said, “our children are the future to a more just world. I can envision working closely with The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to build bridges and relationships in our respective civil rights communities as well, perhaps, a more robust youth exchange program.”

While there are many in this community that long for the days of riding the bus or trolley to Hudson’s along Woodward, or even summer nights along the shores of Lake Francis in Palmer Park, there are still many of us who fear travelling into Detroit, albeit for a guided tour from an air conditioned bus taking us to Old Jewish Detroit or to a sporting event. Both Duggan and Napoleon want everyone in the region to not only feel safe in the city, but for others in the region to know who Detroiters are.  “Detroiters are very loving, passionate and compassionate people who have largely been ignored by previous administrations as it relates to their neighborhoods, Napoleon said. “They want the same things out of life as anyone else: safe and livable communities; quality education for their children; and economic opportunities.”

There are many examples where companies emerge from bankruptcy stronger and more efficient. While cities will not disappear despite how they are run, this is Detroit’s opportunity. With a new international airport, new life in the downtown, a world-class cultural scene and a new entrepreneurial culture now occupying Detroit – Detroit is back.  In fact, each of the candidates expressed messages of hope, optimism and the ability to seek help from those wanting to lend a hand.

Mary Sheffield, a minister and candidate for Detroit City Council in District 5, which includes the areas between Midtown and Belle Isle, wants the Jewish Community to stay committed to the rebuilding of Detroit and use its influence to convince others to do the same, whether it is through synagogues, businesses or personal relationships.  “Detroit’s Jewish Community is an integral part of the future of the city, in my opinion,” said Sheffield, “and as such, in an effort to achieve our vision it would require this community to continue to embrace Detroit and choose to live, work, own businesses and enjoy all that Detroit has to offer.

Richard Bowers, an attorney who has worked for a number of City Council members in addition to Mayor Kenneth V. Cockrel, Jr. and now a candidate for Detroit City Council in District 2, which includes Palmer Woods, Sherwood Forest and the University District, suggested ways that the organized Jewish community could stay connected. “I would like to work with ADL to make sure we have the most up to date ordinances and laws in the City of Detroit to protect citizens from bigotry,” Bowers said.  (In full disclosure, I worked with Richard when I worked for Cockrel).

According to Bowers, “The vast, vast majority of Detroiters want the same thing- clean, safe, well kept neighborhoods where everyone lives in harmony no matter what religion, race, or background and they are able to have a good paying job and top of the line retail.  In other words, the majority of Detroiters want Detroit back, and they need the help of Jewish people to share it with them.”

There was a time in Detroit’s history when the Jewish vote did mater, but that was when Albert Cobo, Louis Miriani and Jerome Cavanaugh were mayor.  Over the past few years, Detroit’s Jewish Community has not been as politically engaged as previous generations.  Although many of us cannot vote this November and help elect a new generation of leadership to help move Detroit forward, we have the opportunity to develop new relationships, build coalitions and create a bridge between our community and our city.

“Jewish people have always had a sense of social action and philanthropy,” Gabe Leland, a candidate for Detroit City Council in District 7 that includes Dexter/Davison and Russell Woods, and the only Jewish candidate in the race said. “It’s apparent with the many contributions to our education and civic institutions that we are small in numbers yet strong in philanthropy. Its hidden in the remembrance of where we came from and what this city meant to our families.  It’s apparent that keeping this connection to our roots is so important to the Jewish community, no matter the state of the city.”

Although the Jewish Community cannot vote for the next mayor of Detroit or for City Council, it is never too late to become involved and continue to have influence on rebuilding and rebranding Detroit.

Daniel Cherrin is the founder of North Coast Strategies, a public relations + affairs firm in Royal Oak. He is the former Communications Director for the City of Detroit and Press Secretary to Detroit Mayor Ken Cockrel, Jr. 

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Lessons San Diego can learn from Detroit

While Detroit may have its' list of issues, the one thing San Diego can learn from Detroit is what to do when a mayor mirrored in controversy refuses to step down and allow the city they are supposed to serve wallow in his controversy. To help the city move forward the Mayor needs to resign and leaders in the community, including business leaders, the faith-based community and others must increase their calls for action.  Government leaders must do the same. This is not politics and should not be a partisan issue.  More specifically, members of the San Diego City Council should take collective action to remove the Mayor.

The President of the San Diego City Council, or whoever is next in-line to become Mayor, must also begin immediate steps in creating a transition plan, ensuring the public that they are on the job and taking back control.  Over the next 90 days the new Mayor needs to create a strategy where they remain very visible in the community and in the media.  Every day the new Mayor should be talking to people in the community, showing up at places throughout the city, in local restaurants at lunch and away from the city center and in the neighborhoods.  This includes meeting with key leaders, including business, faith-based, labor and regional leaders to talk about solutions for moving the city forward.  At that time, the new Mayor can start communicating their vision for the city and help shift the focus back to the important issues the city faces.

The new mayor should also meet with the media on a regular basis. Host briefings in their office and otherwise make their schedule public.  This also includes the national media as the rest of the country is watching. With each interview, the new mayor must reinforce that they are on the job, have taken control and putting this controversy behind to reinforce what makes San Diego a great city, focus on the vital issues that need attention and offer their vision for moving forward.

But before you have a new mayor, current Mayor Bob Filner has to step aside for the sake of the city's future. It is time to let go of an ego that got the former Mayor of Detroit in jail, not once, not twice but several times.  The mayor needs to stop avoiding the media and start talking.  Either set the record straight or face up to the mistakes you made. We all have issues, some worse than others and some more public than others. There will be some people that will be forgiving and others will not. However, elected officials have a responsibility to be accountable to the people who elected them and seeking therapy is not the answer.

Rather than seek shelter in therapy, get in front of the issue. The more you let it linger the more you let others talk about you and your city and the more difficult it will be to rebuild your reputation or the city's.  Finally, apologize and work hard on finding positive solutions that will help everyone heal and move on to more important issues.

Former South Carolina Governor tried to do it and now he is serving in Congress.  Former New York Governor Elliott Spitzer is trying to do it as is former Congressman Anthony Weiner. My mayor, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick did not do it and now sits in prison. However, former Portland Mayor Sam Adams served out his term despite admitting to inappropriate relationships. You can look to other countries as well, including Toronto, Montreal, Italy, Mexico and the Czech Republic for other examples or Mayors and other elected officials go wild.

Unfortunately, in politics and in government, scandals happen. People love power and sometimes the perks of elected offices gets to them. It is no excuse and  unfortunately, it is not uncommon, but as Mayor, Bob can take the steps to help everyone move forward and Detroit offers the perfect guide to stepping in that direction.

Daniel Cherrin is the founder of North Coast Strategies and served as the Communications Director for the City of Detroit and Press Secretary to former Detroit Mayor Kenneth V. Cockrel, Jr., following one of the most tumultuous times in Detroit's history, following the resignation of Kwame Kilpatrick.

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Detroit, Sex Scandals and How to Save Your Reputation

Former New York Governor Elliott Spitzer did it, Former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner is trying to do it, Former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford almost did it and former Portland Mayor Sam Adams served out his term despite admitting to a relationship with a teenage boy. So what should Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh do to save a reputation he has worked so hard to build, first as a journalist, then as a rising leader in Detroit?  He should:

  1. Stop avoiding the media and start talking.  Either set the record straight or face up to the mistakes made.  We all have issues, some worse than others and some more public. Some people will be forgiving. Others will not. However, elected officials have a responsibility to be accountable to the people who elected them. So seek us out, rather than hide.
  2. Get in front of the issue. The more you let it linger and the more you let others talk for you, the harder it will be to recover your reputation.
  3. Apologize. Admit what you did or did not do and set the record straight.
  4. Create political goodwill.  After you apologize work hard on finding positive solutions that will help you move forward and the rest of the city to move on to other more important issues.
  5. Stay visible and take positive steps to gaining your reputation back. Admit what you did (if you did it) and take positive steps to rehabilitate yourself and move on.

Unfortunately, in politics and in government, scandals happen.  People love power and sometimes the perks of elected office gets the most of us. It is no excuse, and unfortuantely it is not uncommon. In fact, earlier this month, the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic was forced to resign over a spying issue. The Mayor of Toronto was recently pegged for a drug addiction he did or did not have and the Mayor of Montreal resigned over a bribery scandal, the Mayor of a Montreal suburb resigned over issues with a prostitute. A government minister in Italy resigned over tax issues, while a Governor of a Mexican state was just arrested for embezzlement  -- And all of this in just one month.

So what is another scandal involving the President of the Detroit City Council. There is no doubt, this city has seen its fair share of drama, that we have been the front and center of national talk shows for it, but we are not alone. And those involved, should take steps to face the music, stand before the public, admit what did or did not happen and help us all move on.

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Branding a street to change a neighborhood.

After driving around Los Angeles for a week, I had a creative moment to find a way to rebrand Detroit’s neighborhoods. There are many of us who are familiar with Midtown, Downtown, Eastern Market, even parts of Detroit such as Corktown, Sugar Hill, Morning Side and Rosedale Park. While each neighborhood its’ uniqueness, its’ streets carry their history. So why not create a brand for a neighborhood around its street name.

In Los Angeles, you know where you are when you drive along Rodeo, Melrose or Hollywood Boulevard. We should start rebranding our city and our region around our streets. These streets are our conduits to regional unity.

  • Woodward is not just a Boulevard, it is something that we can all identify with;
  • Michigan is so much more than just an Avenue it is a street that built relationships; and,
  • Davison is not just a Freeway, it is a place where music was made.

Community begins with an identity. Detroit’s Boulevards, Avenues and Freeways are so much more than miles of concrete. They and the neighborhoods that have popped up around them represent each and every one of us that calls Detroit Home.

While we celebrate the 313, the D and Detroit Rock City, let's work to carry the banner for Woodward, Michigan, Davison, Gratiot, Jefferson, Evergreen, Livernois and others. 

08_Detroit-312

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A New Way Forward & A Consensus Approach to Public Policy

The honeymoon is over. The dust has already settled on the President’s Inaugural Address and the State of the State for many Governors. The Mayors have returned from their winter conference and special interests already staked out their positions on legislative agenda’s across America. Over the next legislative cycle, what issues will be tackled, which ones will be resolved and which issues will our government leaders punt to the next session will depend in large part to how well our legislators can get along.

We elected our leaders to represent a common mission not a party platform. Yet in legislating, most often it is politics that trump sound public policy.

It is time to shift how government decisions are made and for our elected leaders to find:

a new way forward while seeking consensus instead of controversy.

It is time our leaders lead us forward, not back. This starts by reframing the problems plaguing our state or nation in a way that each side could identify with. Once we find a connection to an issue, we are most likely to work hard at finding a resolution. In doing so it is hard to look beyond the politics, but as long as we can agree to concepts and work to make small steps towards building or rebuilding trust in finding a common agenda, our lawmakers can eventually find common ground and those difficult issues, the ones that kept getting put off or “re-authorized,” will move off the agenda so we can focus on the next great challenge.

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The issues Detroit faces as a city must be addressed with systemic solutions

In resolving problems plauging cities such as Baltimore, St. Louis, Detroit, Chicago or Cleveland, city, business, religious and community leaders must look at the 'big picture." Rather then look at issues such as crime, unemployment or vacant property individually, we need to look at the whole package if we are to truly tackle these issues and move forward.  

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City's Learn to Peel Away Assets

Over dinner this past week, my 8-year old daughter asked me “Why going to public school is free?”  I told my observant daughter that public school is not necessarily free and that we pay taxes to send children to school.  (In full disclosure, we send our children to a private school despite living in a great school district and close to a fantastic neighborhood school).   I told my daughter, that it also is the job of government, in part, to provide our children with a solid education.  I told her that taxes are used for a variety of other resources, such as police and fire, trash pick-up, snow removal on city streets, funding for the library and also to pay the lifeguards among other things. I know not all cities enjoy the same services, but I was trying to give her things that she could identify with. That same evening, I picked up a recent issue of Governing magazine only to find that the City of Dearborn, Mich., a community just west of Detroit, home to Ford Motor Company and a town recently made famous by TLC’s “All-American Muslim,” bought and built a building, appropriately called “The Dearborn,” in 1960 in Clearwater, Fla.  The building, located near Clearwater Beach, one of the best beaches in America, was an added perk for Dearborn retirees to use throughout the year.

To be able to use the city’s apartment, with its own pool, private fishing dock and marina, you have to be at least 62 .  However, due to the wait list you can apply as early as 50.

Since the turn of this century, it turns out that most Dearborn residents either did not know about this perk or just lost interest. Or perhaps they preferred South Beach and Miami, than Clearwater and Tampa.

In 2007, Dearborn residents voted to see the building and in 2010 the city put its’ Florida property up for sale. The sale is expected to be completed sometime this year. According to Governing, the Towers were listed for $7.5 million in 2010. The City says it found a buyer but will not disclose who the buyer is or the sale amount.

The City has said that it has not been a drain on the city’s finances and even account for it and its sale in their 2012 budget.  Well I am not sure what they paid for it in 1960, but it seems like a great city service whose time has passed…unless the City bought an airplane. Nonetheless, if any city is interested in America’s North Coast, I can find some great buildings in the Detroit area, maybe even Dearborn for you. So call me, okay!

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Detroiters are ignorant towards our Canadian neighbors - to a fault

Victoria Day. Victoria Day coincides also with Canada's official birthday and, like Memorial Day in America, officially marks the beginning of the summer season. But how many American's know that, let alone folks from Michigan and specifically Detroit.

Detroit is located just .65 miles (1.05 KM) north of Windsor. In fact, siting in my office overlooking Windsor, I often get text messages from Verizon saying I am now in Canada and roaming charges will apply when I have not moved from my desk in America.

As I walked to work this morning, I noticed the unusual traffic at The Detroit Windsor Tunnel, of Canadian's coming into Detroit, Mich.  Where would their final destination be? The Somerset Collection? The Motor City Casino, MGM or Greektown Casino? A metropark? Or the Detroit Zoo?

Regardless of their financial destination, were we in Detroit marketing to them? For the past few weeks, I have been learning about a variety of Memorial Day sales or things to do on Memorial Day weekend, but what have we been doing to promote our products, our shops, restaurants and destinations to our Canadian neighbors?

According to a SEMCOG study, 455,000 Canadian's visited the Detroit area in 2008, spending on average $69 per day. Drive the parking decks at The Somerset Collection or the parking lots at Target and Costco in Madison Heights, and you will be surprised to see the number of Ontario plates.

Why is it, that our neighbors know so much more about us, then we do about them. Is it because we are the larger metropolitan area and that they consider us a part of their region, and yet we do not consider them a part of ours?

As Detroit continues to find its niche, to re-establish itself in the global marketplace and to move forward, we must embrace our Canadian friends and neighbors. Let us begin to collaborate, to integrate and to incubate new opportunities together. But first, we must get to know our Canadian neighbors, to understand their culture, be respectful of their countries traditions and to explore opportunities for stronger engagement.

To our Canadian friends, we wish you a Happy Victoria Day and a great summer ahead of each of us.

Cheers!

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Is Portland's transit system starting to look like Detroit’s?

Portland, Oregon has long been held as the example by which other American cities hope to achieve when it comes regional transportation and transportation oriented developments.  However just recently, Lake Oswego, a Portland suburb 7 miles south of downtown Portland, withdrew its support for a proposed new transit line, questioning costs to build and sustain it and putting Portland's efforts to expand its transit system to a screeching halt. According to a recent article in Governing, the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District, Portland’s Regional Transit Agency faces a budget shortfall of $17 million in the next fiscal year.  In fact transit systems nationally are facing similar budget short falls.

For ten years, business and political leaders have failed to reach a consensus on regional transit. In fact, according to MIRS, there have been 23 attempts in the last 35 years to create a regional transit authority. (In full disclosure, on behalf of the Detroit Regional Chamber, I helped lead efforts to secure federal funding for DARTA). This changed a few years ago when a group of business leaders stepped up and in to offer private funding.

However, the future of a regional transportation system still remains in doubt. There are currently three regional transit bills before the Senate Transportation Committee. However, committee action on the bills ended before the bills could move forward with no word from the committee when it will be back on the agenda, as the region still lacks consensus as to what a regional transportation authority will look like.

As one of the final remaining cities in America without a coordinated transit system, now seems like a great opportunity to focus on sound public policy, rather than politics. Today, public policy disputes, similar to the one over regional transit, have the potential of polarizing communities with the affect of delaying important decisions on vital issues of public policy, often resulting in diluted policies or no action at all.  Facilitation or mediation helps in resolving some of the high-profile policy disputes and find resolution through controversy and clarity amidst chaos. To assist governments in resolving disputes by and between each other, the disputants need a trusted third party neutral, who is knowledgeable about the issues and the process, while being sensitive to the politics of the day. Perhaps the President of a university, former Speaker of the state house, or others could be asked to step in and help resolve the issue.

Decisions that are reached collaboratively can result in high-quality outcomes that are easier to implement, receive fewer legal challenges, make better use of available resources, and better serve the public. After 35 years, it is time to bring the issue of regional transportation to a close. It is time, we bring in a neutral to help resolve this public policy dispute and help find consensus through controversy.

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Hey Detroit, It’s Time to Think Differently

Steve Jobs is known for many things…Creating Apple, perfecting Pixar and reinventing Apple. Reinventing Apple was based on Steve Jobs new philosophy based on an ad campaign created by Chait/Day in 1997 -- ”Think Different.” Well, the business and social climate already is going through a transformation, now  it is time for the city, both the mayor and city council to, stop “Believe in Detroit,” and start to, “Think Different.”

While Detroit is not alone in its problems, it is working alone at trying to find solutions. Cities every year have high unemployment, rising pension costs and high health care costs, falling property values and cut backs in funding from the state and federal governments.

Cities now lack the capacity to provide the basic services, its residents rely on.  Today, cities are in a desperate search for capital. In the end, a consent agreement or emergency financial manager is about becoming fiscally sound by either limiting expenses, finding capital or both.

Through the U.S. Conference of Mayor’s Business Council, Mayors are turning to the private sector for support. For example, Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker recently turned to Class Green Capital, who used creative transactions with real estate owned by the city to help identify funding for both long and short-term needs. Providence, Rhode Island also turned to Class Green Capital.  Companies like GE, Best Buy, Wal Mart, Target and others have corporate foundations set up to fund specific projects.

In January, a group of technology executives launched the “San Francisco Citizens Initiative for Technology & Innovation,” an effort to help make San Francisco the “innovation capital of the world.” While in Detroit, organizations such as TechTown, NextEnergy, Detroit Venture Partners, Compuware Ventures, DTE Energy Ventures, Invest Detroit and others are proving to be a great success, we need to coordinate our efforts and think more strategic.

In addition to making a financial contribution or finding the support necessary to keep certain city services from going away, there are other ways companies can get involved and are. The private sector, as well as labor can lend their muscle and equipment in cleaning Detroit’s parks, abandoned streets and neighborhoods. It is time that we all work together to re-make, re-build and re-invent Detroit, it is about time that we all do it and work at it together.

 

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Who can help Detroit and Michigan Find Resolution Throughout all the Chaos

I am extremely frustrated by how partisan politics has become. In talking with lobbyists and lawmakers about the good old days of lawmaking, in both Washington and Lansing, it used to be that during the day, legislators would fight like crazy for their issues, they would debate and argue for what they thought was right and in the best interest of the ‘people.” And after a hard days work, they would shake hands and grab a drink or have dinner. Not today. In the Michigan Legislature you are lucky if they know each other’s name. In Washington, Members of Congress take their cues from their party leadership and everyone points fingers at the other person to say why they are not making progress. And that is in a non-election year.

So in Washington, you have a highway transportation bill that expired a few years ago that still has not been authorized. The education bill also expired and has not been authorized, leaving a generation behind instead of “no child,” punctuated by an election year that brings little hope of progress to a bitter end, at least and until sometime next year.

The only progress in Washington, D.C. are the Cherry Blossoms, and in Michigan, the only progress is Michigan State University moving into the next bracket.

In Lansing and Detroit we are still discussing bridges and transit. In fact, in 1976, President Gerald Ford offered funds to build a rail transit system in southeast Michigan. Instead, we just got the People Mover and today, we are still talking about the need for regional transportation.

Today, there is a lack of progress in moving forward on the difficult decisions that affect our nation and impact our state. Some would call it an impasse while others just chalk it up to politics. However, these are issues that can be resolved and resolved in a way that preserves the relationships, maintains the political differences and helps move the agenda forward collectively.

The use of ADR processes by the courts and federal government has been widely celebrated as a more efficient and cost effective method of conflict resolution. Mediation is a voluntary, confidential process in which a trained, impartial mediator helps people examine their mutual problems, identify and consider options and carefully consider possible resolutions. A mediator has the experience to bring disputing parties together and help them draw out a successful resolution while preventing an impasse during the negotiations, or otherwise prevent the discussions from breaking down. Unlike a judge or arbitrator, a mediator does not make the decisions nor do they offer solutions. They help separate the politics from the process, help the parties find a common ground, build trust and identify potential solutions to agree on.

Public policy dispute resolution focuses on the resolution of issues affecting the public, such as: Transportation; land use, special education, election districts and healthcare.  With public policy disputes, the issues tend to be a bit more polarizing, emotional and there are often a number of stakeholders from the community, including non-profits and business groups, and governments at a local, state and federal level.

Whether it is a public policy dispute or a dispute between neighbors, the goal of public any dispute resolution is to save money, preserve relationships and take control over the decisions. When it involves a public policy dispute, it is helpful and most effective if it creates the opportunity for all voices to be heard. It is a process being used in the planning process of multiple projects, including economic development projects in Austin, Texas and Salt Lake City Utah.

In any mediation, the first step in the mediation process is to get both parties to agree to use a mediator. That is actually the first agreement both parties make together and we are on the way to developing trust and building a relationship.

While many states have dispute resolution clauses in key legislation or dispute resolution centers at universities, the State of Michigan does not. The ADR Section to the State Bar of Michigan, continues to talk with universities about creating a "Center for Public Policy Dispute Resolution Services," and continues to talk with legislators.  However, since no university has yet to step forward in creating such a center, in part due to funding, The ADR Section is trying to show by example, the benefits of ADR.

The National Policy Consensus Center has found that legislators are becoming problem solvers, facilitators and conveners of issues vital to their state. Yet in Detroit and throughout the State of Michigan, we still cannot accomplish enough to move the state forward.  It is time to rebuild and repair relationships in the City of Detroit and throughout the State of Michigan. It is time the people we elected to lead our government and help move it forward. It is time that they ask for someone, or a team of neutrals to step in and help find resolution throughout all the chaos.

Policymakers can avoid making difficult decisions on controversial issues by creating a process by which public policy disputes can be resolved.  Through a facilitated consensual process, issues such as consent agreements, transit, new infrastructure projects, transit and councils-by-district can be avoided and we can all move on to other issues to help our city, state and nation move forward.

If we just talked earlier and learned about the real issues underlying the bigger ones, than perhaps today, we would be talking more about basketball instead about a bridge, debt ceilings, transit or a consent agreement. It is time we brought in neutrals to help resolve the bigger issues plaguing our nation.

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Action Through Collaboration

A region just north of Detroit saw a problem and created a collaborative effort to create, adopt and implement a five-year regional economic roadmap.  During the process of creating the strategic plan, more than 400 stakeholders were asked to identify their top two priorities for the local economic development corporation to tackle.  Earlier this month, the Windsor-Essex (Ontario, Canada) Economic Development Corporation announced their five-year plan at a Windsor-Essex Chamber luncheon. The communities, including government, labor, business and acadamia, collaborated and everyone made a commitment to change.

Since the Windsor Essex collaboration began in 2010, 1,862 new jobs were created, $73 million in investments were made, 6,069 jobs were saved and 28,092 small business inquiries were made.  To find those numbers in Southeastern Michigan, one would have to contact Automation Alley, the DEGC, the Detroit Regional Chamber, Ann Arbor Spark, TechTown, Velocity, and others.  Unlike our Canadian neighbors, our region continues to be fragmented and polarizing.

As a result of their efforts, Windsor has gained international attention for its efforts, seeing such headlines as:

  • “Top 7 intelligent community of the year”(Intelligent Community Forum)
  • Windsor-Essex to lead nation’s economy Growth (Conference Board of Canada)
  • Top 5 Best Places to Invest (site Selection)
  • Canada’s auto capital named city of the future (CBC news)
  • Mini Motown Finds there is life after autos (Calgary Bean, 3.20.11)

Last week, the Business Leaders for Michigan announced their turnaround plan for the State of Michigan. A great plan that any lawmaker could pick up and start using. While it is a great plan, we need the input of all the interested parties, labor, university and others, if we are to truly implement an agenda that we can all agree on and start moving forward with.

In addition, Detroit's business leaders, if not those throughout the state of Michigan, need to reach out to Windsor’s business leaders. We need to collaborate across borders and work collectively for the good of our region, as a region.

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When emergencies turn into opportunities

The City of Detroit and State of Michigan are at a precarious position as the state looks into the city's finances and talk continues about the potential of having an emergency financial manager appointed. As the talk continues, the mood in Detroit has taken a sudden turn back to the "us vs. them" mentality that "only Detroiters can solve Detroit's problems".  To avoid creating an environment that will get in the way of progress and to help build political capital for the Mayor and the Governor, a strategic communications and public affairs plan must accompany any effort to appoint a financial review team or even an emergency financial manager. In addition, just as the Governor is doing now, there must be a plan for engaging the community, but one that must begin very early in in the process. That way, everyone is on board as to what needs to happen and everyone who wants could have input into that process.

A community engagement process, allows the state to explain why it "may" jump in to help the city with its financial situation and what the steps are in the interim. This is to set the tone and set the record straight as to why we have this process, the steps we have taken thus far (including regular meetings with the Mayor) and what the next steps will be. It also will help maintain relationships and create open channels of discussion and dialogue.

The Governor should also find third party supporters, such as members of the clergy and business leaders, to validate the process to Detroiters so that they know that this is the right choice both the City and the State are making well before a financial review team is appointed.

Then should the Governor appoint an EFM or even keep the financial review team in place, along with that appointment, a person that is familiar with the media and political landscape should also be appointed to help the EFM navigate the local political environment and serve as the liaison to the community, as well as be the one to respond to the media and help represent the EFM at various community events.

Community engagement should be a part of the EFM process under the Act. Then having someone outside the Treasury Department respond to the media also can go along way in maintaining relationships in the city's EFMs operate.

Finally, having an EFM come into a community should be seen as an opportunity for a city to experience a fresh start and a new beginning.  As a result, while the EFM works to make a public entity financially stable and secure, the communities chamber of commerce, DDA or other community groups should create a strategy to enhance  the city's image. That way, when an EFM's work is completed and the Mayor or Superintendent is given the responsibility once again to manage the public entity,  their image will not just be maintained, it will be enhanced due to a strategic communications plan.

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Detroit really does matter….Really!

Cities throughout the United States, indeed the world, face economic uncertainty. Money cities once relied upon from the federal government no longer exists, while money that was once funneled down from the federal government to the states and passed onto cities have similarly dried up. That money many mayors once thought would come back may never come back if Congress and the President do not agree on the debt limit. For example, according to The Congressional Quarterly, this past Spring, Congress completed the 2011 appropriation bills (PL 112-10), but in doing so, eliminated “almost $40 billion in discretionary spending from the previous year’s levels, and then trimmed an additional $7 billion by the time it finished fiscal 2012” last month. (PL 112-74). Yet Detroit is special. The January 3, 2012 issue of The Wall Street Journal lists Detroit twice in its “U.S. Datebook,” list of important dates in the United States in this New Year. No other city is mentioned yet it lists that January 27 is the deadline for the state review of Detroit’s finances and on April 30, the City of Detroit is projected to run out of cash.

Mayors in cities across America are faced with making extremely difficult decisions to cut the very services their citizens rely upon from a city. For example, according to CQ, the mayor of Fresno, Calif. will probably cut meals to the elderly and cut back on efforts to clean up gang graffiti. The mayor of Mesa Ariz. will most likely close a youth center and others will reduce their police force and fire department ranks. As Congress looks at cutting discretionary spending, now the services many relied upon from the federal government will likewise by cut or eliminated.

So why all the interest in Detroit? Detroit remains relevant and of interest because Detroit for decades lead the world in technological innovations such as the locomotive, elevator and automobile. We were leaders in the pharmaceutical industry and even agriculture. Our folks, embraced creative designs that led to works of art that we can both drive in, work in and reside, and our creative sounds allowed people across the world to “Dance in the Street.”

Detroit and Detroiters, changed the way people live, work and enjoy their lives. Detroit then and Detroit today, stands as an emblem of America’s spirit. After all, it was Detroit that created the middle class and built America.  People care about us, because what happens to Detroit’s economy, will eventually affect economies throughout the world.

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What is our vision for Detroit? And who will take charge in implementing it?

When Kenneth V. Cockrel Jr. was Mayor of the City of Detroit he was often criticized for not having a vision for the City of Detroit. As Mayor for just eight months, running in two elections and trying to restore confidence, faith and trust back into the city of Detroit and office of Mayor following a tumultuous time in Detroit’s history, Cockrel’s vision was short term – Get the city’s finances back in order and help the city of Detroit move forward without looking back at what thrusted him into office as Mayor. At the time, Cockrel became Mayor, not only was our city in political turmoil, but the economic floor fell out from under the nation. The auto industry, Detroit’s main industry was crumbling, jobs were diminishing and the city was still recovering from the scandal that rocked our world.

As Mayor of the Motor City, Cockrel’s priority also was to help our leading industry survive and get off life support, while preventing the City of Detroit from suffering a similar fate.

Just as Mayor Dave Bing is doing now, Ken Cockrel did then, in asking the unions to work with him in collaboration to help weather the economic storm. At the time, Cockrel’s Administration put forth a budget deficit plan that would restore the city’s finances to a level where we would avoid a hint of bringing on an emergency financial manager and also published the city’s finances on line for people to see, view and comment on.

In 2009, Cockrel, in his State of the City address said, the “Key to managing our financial resources is making smart choices.   This includes choices about who we do business with and how we do business with them.”  In Cockrel’s brief tenure as Mayor, his administration reviewed a number of contracts and discovered many areas of mismanagement. In fact, the review of several contracts with banks and other financial services institutions revealed that we were spending over $2 million for services we did not need and immediately terminated those contracts.

In the brief months Cockrel was Mayor he also set in motion the opportunity and ability to create an authority to oversee the expansion of the Cobo Convention Center, paved way for light rail along Woodward Ave., began discussions of merging the two regional bus systems worked to bring green jobs to the city and found ways to put the police back in the neighborhoods.

Just two years after Cockrel served as Mayor, while the auto industry is recovering, Detroit’s financial situation continues to diminish, as do jobs.  Just as people asked for Cockrel’s vision, we need a plan for the City of Detroit. This plan is not just for current Mayor Dave Bing to develop. We need the cooperation of the entire region, including: business, labor, faith based groups and others to come to the table and offer their vision and solutions to help guide the city forward.

It takes leadership, cooperation and collaboration to set us back on the path to prosperity and growth. It is time our business leaders, labor leaders and others to stop being territorial in what they are working on and in the Spirit of Detroit work together to solve regional problems. I understand business groups are talking to each other, but we have been talking for years. It is time to stop the talk and for someone to come forward and take charge of creating and implementing the plan to bring Detroit back.

*This post originally appeared in The Huffington Post in early December, 2011

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Public Engagement and Media Relations When City's Are At Risk

The City of Detroit and State of Michigan are at a precarious position as the state looks into the city's finances and talkcontinues about the potential of having an emergency financial manager appointed.

As the talk continues the mood in Detroit has taken a sudden turn back to the "us vs. them" mentality that "only Detroiters can solve Detroit's problems".  To avoid creating an environment that will get in the way of progress and to help build political capital for the Mayor and the Governor, I strongly suggest that as part of the process for triggering a state review of a government's finances, a strategic communications plan and community engagement process should begin simultaneously to create a positive environment to make the necessary changes.  I recently wrote an article on how companies can preserve their reputation in a wake of bankruptcy.  The same strategy applies for a public entity.

For example, before an EFM is appointed or even before the triggers are pulled to start the process, the Governor and his team should be mobilized to the City of Detroit to meet with key stakeholders, such as:

  • Business organizations;
  • Community development organizations;
  • The faith-based community;
  • Detroit-based CEOs; and,
  • Urban media

To explain why the state "may" jump in to help the city with its financial situation. This is to set the tone and set the record straight as to why we have this process, the steps we have taken thus far (including regular meetings with the Mayor) and what the next steps will be. It also will help maintain relationships and create open channels of discussion and dialogue.

The Governor should also find third party supporters, such as members of the clergy and business leaders, to validate the process to Detroiters so that they know that this is the right choice both the City and the State are making.

Then should the Governor appoint an EFM, along with that appointment, a person that is familiar with the media and political landscape should also be appointed to help the EFM navigate the local political environment and serve as the liaison to the community, as well as be the one to respond to the media and help represent the EFM at various community events.

Community engagement should be a part of the EFM process under the Act. Then having someone outside the Treasury Department respond to the media also can go along way in maintaining relationships in the city's EFMs operate.

Finally, having an EFM come into a community should be seen as an opportunity for a city to experience a fresh start and a new beginning.  As a result, while the EFM works to make a public entity financially stable and secure, the communities chamber of commerce, DDA or other community groups should create a strategy to enhance  the city's image. That way,  when an EFM's work is completed and the Mayor or Superintendent are given the responsibility once again to manage the public entity,  their image will not just be maintained, it will be enhanced due to a strategic communications plan.

Daniel Cherrin is an attorney specializing in protecting and enhancing the reputation of people and organizations and practices in the areas of public affairs, strategic communications, public policy dispute resolution and crisis management, with Fraser Trebilcock. He is the former Communications Director for the City of Detroit and Press Secretary to Mayor Kenneth V. Cockrel, Jr.  Daniel also serves as the spokesperson for Mackinac Island and The Ann Arbor Art Fairs.

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If it ain't broke don't fix it -- Well, it is time to fix Detroit

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, indicted that he is ready to entertain creative solutions to fix Detroit's ailing problems. Let me first state, as the Former Communications Director for the City of Detroit, and former Press Secretary to the Mayor of Detroit, I am extremely familiar with the problems plaguing our city -- But they are not unique to just Detroit. Cities throughout the nation, indeed, the world are experiencing the very same problems we are. Our difference, will be in how we address the inherent problems before us. For example, tonight, the Mayor called on allowing a professional firm to come in and run Detroit's Public Lighting Department. Detroit Edison would be a natural partner, but for some reason, has either not stepped up an in to help or looked into the city's lighting problems and decided it was not a battle they want to fight. So who else. There are a number of other qualified companies, such as Indiana Michigan Power (AEP), Duke Energy and Corix.

Vancouver-based Corix is working on a great project in Portland.  They are looking into creating energy districts within the city of Portland, to maximize resources, save money and create a sustainable model to carry the city into the future.  WOW -- Energy Districts! Given Detroit's Dellimma, of open areas, pockets of populations and very little resources.

Just as the City of Detroit will draw new city council districts, city planners should look at the city and draw up city service districts and determine what services are need most and then allocate resources accordingly.

The City's bleak fiscal situation is not just old news, it is news other cities across this country are facing. However, it now takes leadership and creativity to step up and turn the city around.

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