By Carol Cain
Senior Producer and Host
WWJ-TV CBS Detroit’s “Michigan Matters”
It was guarded optimism about adding jobs and uncertainty about an Emergency Manager for Detroit with a recall petition looming over the public act that allows for it on the minds of the Big Four political leaders during a Detroit Economic Club appearance.
With so many issues simmering, the DEC-Detroit Auto Dealers Association luncheon at Cobo Center was standing room only as over 500 movers and shakers gathered to hear what Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel had to say.
It was the fourth time for the annual joint luncheon which I moderated and the WWJ-TV CBS Detroit team captured for “Michigan Matters” viewers. (video linked below)
“It’s really coming back,” said Ficano, who runs the state’s largest county and said Ford was its largest employer.
Though autos remains the backbone of his county as it does the state, Patterson has worked to diversify into areas like medical and defense. “Job losses and foreclosures taught me a lesson about putting all of your eggs in one basket,” Patterson said. Patterson, who launched Automation Alley in 1997 to go after high tech jobs after seeing auto jobs shrinking, has watched it grow into a regional powerhouse with eight counties.
Hackel, who is a year into his job as the county’s first executive, talked of the $2.6 billion of new investment gained in 2011 thanks to autos and defense industries.
Bing made his pitch to the crowd saying he didn’t think he would see any new plants built but had wonderful plants available for anyone interested in rehabbing or refurbishing them.
The 900-pound Elephant In The Room
“How’s your 2012 shaping up so far?” I asked Ficano to which Patterson jumped in, “Next question, please!” I was referring to the crisis Ficano is facing as his county reels from a federal grand jury, and whistleblower lawsuit from his former deputy stemming from a severance pay scandal and other things. Ficano has maintained his innocence. “My attitude has always been, No. 1, I have not done anything wrong,” Ficano said. “Anybody that’s done anything wrong, hold them accountable. Go in and go after them.” He added his focus is on promoting county business on things like Aerotropolis.
Patterson, who is running for his sixth term as Oakland County executive, was asked if he was concerned about Kevin Howley, a Democrat who just filed to run against him in his sixth term. “I’m very concerned,” he said. “While we’re sitting here, my secretary’s putting bumper stickers on all of your cars.”
Hot Talk On Emergency Managers
Kelly Rossman-McKinney, CEO of Truscott Rossman, a PR firm, was in the audience and asked if Gov. Rick Snyder does appoint an Emergency Manager in Detroit what impact it would have. “There is no municipality in the country the size of Detroit that has (had) an emergency manager, financial manager, or gone through bankruptcy,” said Bing. He continued to say he favored a consent agreement where he and city council would be in charge of deciding which drastic actions would be needed.
Snyder has said he does not want to appoint an EM for Detroit if it can be avoided. “But when you talk about the different things the state has done, or is doing or will do to help us, that’s the big question mark for me right now,” Bing said. “I get lip service, but I don’t get any specifics. There are some things I think the state can do to be supportive of Detroit.”
Patterson said an Emergency Manager is a more attractive option than bankruptcy. “We’re all rooting for Dave,” Patterson added.
Public Act 4, passed by Michigan’s Republican-controlled legislature and signed by Snyder, allows him to appoint an Emergency Manager to run financially struggling cities and school districts. Emergency managers have nearly absolute decision-making authority. Stand Up For Democracy is trying to overturn the act and has been gathering signatures to put the issue before voters this fall. They need 161,305 signatures. If sufficient signatures are collected, the law would be suspended until its fate is decided by voters.
Tom Watkins, former Michigan state school superintendent and CEO of a global business/education firm with a history of being a forward thinker on reform, asked if Detroit and Wayne County should considering merging amid economic times and downsizing both need to make. It brought a hush over the room. Bing said it would be difficult to sell to Detroiters because of home rule; Ficano agreed. Meanwhile, Ficano said he and the governor have a good working relationship. “We went on an Asian trade mission together – China, Japan and South Korea,” Ficano said.
When asked for an assessment of Snyder, Hackel, a Democrat, gave the first term Republican governor an “A.” “He has been supportive of Macomb County and worked with us.” Hackel, Ficano, Bing and others are working with Snyder on the long talked about regional transit plan which could have traction with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray La Hood in the Motor City last week talking about prospect of federal dollars to help support it.
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Carol Cain is the Emmy winning Senior Producer and Host of WWJ-TV CBS Detroit’s “Michigan Matters.” She writes a column in Sunday’s Detroit Free Press on business and politics. You can reach her at 248-355-7126 or firstname.lastname@example.org.