The FBI raided the main branch of the Detroit Public Library this morning, in what appears to be a part of an investigation into corruption in the library system. DPL, like many other city organizations, has had a hard decade, enduring declining funding, cutbacks, and, ostensibly, a shrinking readership. In addition to the problems they face, DPL leadership has demonstrated a penchant for bone-headed moves, at one point buying 20 lounge chairs at $1,100 a piece while it was in the process of laying off workers, along with some similarly fancy garbage bins.
When FBI raids come to mind in connection with crooked politics, it’s usually contractors, mayors and congressmen that get taken out in cuffs, with boxes of evidence following. In Detroit, we’ve had our fair share of that recently. It’s just odd to think that the political culture in Detroit is so corrupt that it extends even to the public library system.
While we still don’t know what’s going on with the investigation, it’s not a good sign. Libraries are not routinely raided by the Feds. And this is just one of a long laundry list of problems that the city government faces that they’re simply not acknowledging or handling properly, if at all. Today, a vote will be coming up that will either reject or authorize John Hantz to purchase a substantial chunk of land on the city’s east side for the purposes of urban farming. By all accounts, City Council is poised to reject the measure, one that would redevelop parts of the city, clear blight and create jobs. The City Council has also been stalling a vote to move control of Animal Control department from under the auspices of the Health Department to the Police Department (both organizations having proven records of massive dysfunction), a move that the city has held up for months now over questions involving contracts, money and control. And finally, the city is set to run out of cash a month from now, a problem the City Council has long been aware, and long ignored.
Next year, we have elections in the city to elect a new City Council (by district for the first time) and a new Mayor (assuming Mayor Bing does not stand for reelection). A lot of time will pass between then and now, and much could change, but, likely not for the better. Set all of that against the backdrop of either a state takeover of the city because of its inability to pay its bills or a municipal bankruptcy, and the situation becomes just that much more acrimonious, painful and difficult to resolve. However, with everything happening before us, the political status quo is on its last legs. They’re either going to have to start acting like responsible governments do, by actually moving an agenda that focusses on restructuring and growth, or they’re going to be rendered obsolete, stripped of their power either by the governor or a judge, by which point new candidates will have replaced them solely by virtue of their own incompetence.