In December 2012, the mayor of Highland Park, Mich., DeAndre Windom, made the decision to close the water plant in his own city and contract with the Detroit Water and Sewage Department. He was praised a public policy genius.
Although the water was safe to drink, the plant was teetering on being declared unsafe by the State of Michigan. With high delinquency rates, a stalled economy and a cash strapped city government, the plant was being closed temporally in order - as the Mayor so eloquently stated - to find financial resources to upgrade and enhance the water department.
What a brilliant political chess move, or so we thought.
Between January and June 2015, citizens in Highland Park were horrified as they discovered that the city owed the Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD) $20 million. They reeled after receiving estimated bills that ranged from $1,000 to $10,000. The bills are estimated because most of the water meters in Highland Park are broken and there are no meter readers. They became angry after learning that failure to pay these bills may ultimately mean a tax lien is put on their homes and they could lose their homes. They were dumbfounded when they discovered that at the mayor's direct orders no one had been consistently billed in the city of Highland Park since 2012.
It turns out that the State of Michigan reviewed the financial picture of the city of Highland Park in 2012 and 2013. In addition to the key problem of pension and postempolyment benefits, the water and sewer fund had shown operating losses from 2008 to 2012. In 2012, the fund had a debt of more 5 million dollars and was being offset with money from the general fund. By 2013, that debt would climb to $17.7 million. It seemed closing the plant and contracting with DWSD just made the financial crisis worse - It seems. However, everything is never what it seems.
While some blame residents and others pray for good will from the DWSD, the truth is that Mayor DeAndre Windom is the main person to blame. The state found that the Mayor was unable to issue timely and accurate water bills. It turns out bills were delinquent because they had not been issued and when issued were issued incorrectly. Actually, the Mayor is solely responsible for customers not receiving bills.
How does a city generate revenue, if the mayor stops water bills from being issued, meters from being read? Great question, it doesn't!
For many Kwame Kilpatrick is the symbol of bad government in Michigan. I think it is time to find a new mascot for the team of horrible government. A mayor who contracts for service and stops sending and collecting on bills that will pay for that service has to be worse for citizens than a guy who sent sex text and perjured himself. We don't know what Highland Park's fate will be, but if being incompetent was a crime - Mayor Windom's suits would be orange, not black.