It’s Not a Drainage Charge. It’s a Paved Property Tax.

Lots of things in Detroit are changing.  Case in point: the drainage charges that residents are going to start seeing this coming fall from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD).  The reasoning for it goes something like this: residents have things like roofs and driveways that don’t absorb stormwater that runs off into DWSD infrastructure, and they clean it up, and discharge it back into I’m assuming the Detroit River or Lake Huron.  Someone needs to pay for it, and since the 1970s, DWSD has had the legal authority to charge for this, but just opted not to, because, well, life is hard.

So now that we have a more functional water department, we have to cover more of our operating costs, we’ll begin seeing drainage fees on our bills.  And there’s a few problems with how it’s being rolled out.  The first is what DWSD thinks I’m using.  The picture below is from DWSD’s parcel viewer, which is actually really neat.  You can go there and see how much of your lot DWSD thinks is impervious, meaning, stormwater won’t just go into either dirt or plants and percolate back through the aquifer.


This is my house.  In this, they count pretty much all of my roof (they missed some in the back, but made up for it by extending the front a bit) on both my house and my garage.  The problem with this is that any surface that’s pitched towards my back yard doesn’t drain into DWSD infrastructure.  The downspouts were disconnected from the below ground lines years ago, as I’ve seen throughout most of Detroit.  The backside of the garage roof, that drains entirely into the street.  The other side of the garage drains into the yard.  The backside of the roof on the house, also drains into the yard, and the front side of the house, only half drains onto the sidewalk that then washes down the sidewalk, and then into the berm.  So, actually very little of the impervious surface actually drains into DWSD infrastructure.  At best, probably only about 25% of it does.

But let’s leave that alone for a minute.  Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that all of it does, and we’ll pursue this to its bizarre, yet logical conclusion, and say all of my impervious surfaces are generating lots of stormwater runoff for DWSD, and that it’s going right into their infrastructure.  I took the picture below right in front of my house last week.


The storm drains don’t, well, drain.  And they haven’t for some decades.  I’ve logged every single faulty storm drain in Indian Village many, many times, both on paper and on the City’s app, Improve Detroit, and the process goes something like this: a crew comes out from DWSD in a Vactor truck (one of those giant sucker trucks), and a crew goes through the motions of performing maintenance, and it drains a bit better for a while.  But whatever the underlying issue is reasserts itself, and it begins backing up.  I know that the City also just bought a fleet of street sweepers, and that will also help with maintenance.  But the thing is, in this instance, is that I don’t think that this is a maintenance issue.  Below is another picture of the same drain from the 1970s, found in a desk drawer of my house with the previous owners pretending that they were at the Model Boat Basin on Belle Isle.


This would be quaint for the fact that it’s a City street, and not a park.

I don’t mind paying for what I use in terms of stormwater runoff, but the fact of the matter is this: until DWSD fixes both how they bill residents for what they’re using, and the infrastructure that they’re relying on, this isn’t a drainage charge, it’s a paved property tax.  Because I’m actually not paying for drainage, on the basis of a formula that DWSD came up with solely to cover their own financial needs, I’m paying per square foot of how much impervious surface regardless of if it drains into their drainage system.  It’s not a fee, it’s a tax.

I’ll close with this: if I have this wrong, please educate me.  I’m willing to post any follow up on this that illuminates the situation.  But between my own experiences and what I’m looking at on the parcel viewer, the situation isn’t right, and DWSD need to recalibrate their billing and fix their infrastructure.  Until then, I’m of the opinion that it’s a paved property tax.


Belle Isle: Do the Right Thing

When I first moved to Indian Village in the spring of 2015, one of the bonuses was that I was right by Belle Isle.  However, to my disappointment, I found that the southern third of the island was closed off due to the ‘Load in Period’ for the Belle Isle Grand Prix for months at a time.  The race organizers, affiliates of the Penske Organization, reserve the right to close off as much of the island as they need for seven weeks before the race (which takes place in early June), and four weeks after the race (the ‘Load Out Period’).

I was, to say the least, surprised.  The Penske Organizations would need a total of eleven weeks, nearly a quarter of the year, to set up and break down a racing event on Belle Isle?  There are three main elements that shock me about this.

The first is that the Penske Organizations knows racing.  They’re not new to it.  The Penske name is one of the most storied in racing.  They should be well acquainted with the the details and organization of how one goes about setting up a race track.  These folks, after all, have been around it for years, and, by all accounts, they seem to be good at it.

The second is that the Penske Organization knows logistics.  Case in point: Penske Logistics.  Taken directly from the front page of their website: ‘Whatever your business, whatever you’re building, packing and sending – Penske has you covered with state-of-the-art transportation and distribution solutions.’  If they can provide that for their clients, why not the same level of service to Detroiters so we can can bet back at our park?

And here’s the third: well before my time, the Grand Prix took place downtown.  While I have no relevant memory of this, I can’t imagine that the race organizers at the time were given nearly three months to set it up and break it down.

So, in a nutshell, you have an organization that knows racing, owns a logistics business and we have historical precedent that the race can be set up and taken down in a time frame that is substantially shorter than eleven weeks.

The reason that I bring this up is that the Belle Isle Grand Prix organizers, the Penske folks, are going to be entering contract renewals with the Department of Natural Resources.  The piece of the contract that needs changing is the load in period and the load out period.  We can talk about how we need an environmental impact study, or how we should stop building more and more race infrastructure on the island, but this piece, this is a no brainer.

So, to the Belle Isle Park Advisory Commission, Ron Olson at the DNR, Bud Denker at the Penske Organization, do the right thing: compress the load in and load out periods to one week from eleven.  We know you can do it because you’re good at racing, you guys own a logistics business and it’s been done before.

If you’d like to come to the meeting to voice your support for this position, join us on September 20th at 6:00 p.m. at the Nature Center on Belle Isle (176 Lakeside Drive, Detroit MI 48207), for a meeting wherein lease renewal discussions are going to be held.  The more folks that we mobilize to support this position, the more likely it is that we’re going to see real, positive change.

And if you’d like to see a copy of the lease from 2006 and its extension, email me at, and I’ll get a copy over to you.

Hiatus over

It’s been some time since I’ve posted on here.  My work in government is long since over, and so I’m free to get back on top of that soap box on which I belong.  Any rate, I’m going to be writing some over the course of the coming weeks about issues near and dear to my heart, and I hope sincerely that some of what I publish here makes a real and tangible difference in the lives of Detroiters.


Hey everyone, I’d like to thank everyone for reading.  Plausible Deniability has taught me a lot about many things, mostly about politics and writing, namely, what works, and what doesn’t.  From time to time, the distinction between the two is very fine, and sometimes very difficult to locate.  To that end, nearly two and a half years and nearly 800 posts, I’m hanging up my spurs likely for the next year or so.  Instead of writing about politics, I’m going to just jump right in and get into it.  I’ve started volunteering with the Duggan for Detroit campaign in order to make Mike Duggan the next mayor of Detroit.  So, instead of getting up on my own soapbox, I’ll be shilling for the campaign, and to avoid any potential conflicts, I’m taking a break from posting here.  If you’re interested in helping out on the campaign, please feel to contact me at  Many, many thanks to those of you for having read for these past few years, and I’m sure that our paths will cross again soon.

Detroit: Before and After

Tuesday former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was convicted of 24 felonies that will keep him in prison for decades.  Today the state of Michigan will likely deny an appeal from members of the city council of Detroit to hold off on appointing an emergency manager to overhaul the finances of Michigan’s largest city.  In and of themselves, neither of these events will change anything on the streets of the city.  Garbage isn’t going to be collected any more efficiently.  Crime won’t go down, and property values certainly won’t change because of this.  But these two events, both symbolically and practically, portend the end of one era, and the beginning of another.  This week, more so than any other in Detroit, with the possible exception of another week in 1967, delineates one epoch from another.

Kilpatrick, to the end, was delusional.  His response to the verdict: ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’  Kilpatrick excelled at this sort of colossal lie, not just to the people of Detroit, but to himself.  This is a man who, to this day, still does not appreciate the fact that he committed dozens of felonies.  I think there’s a sort of cognitive dissonance that Kilpatrick personifies that is manifested in the politics of Detroit.  Even though the handwriting is on the wall, the people who run this city largely feel allowed, but compelled to ignore it.

But no longer.  The man who presided over the old Detroit has been summarily dispatched, and the remnants of the political system that attempted to fill Kilpatrick’s shoes are likely to be dismissed today.  The emergency manager will be appointed, and city council will be given a chance to play ball.  Mayor Dave Bing has resigned himself to the fact that an emergency manager will be easier to work with than the assembly of characters that fill the ranks of the city council.  Council will pretend to play along initially, but eventually they’ll be circumvented with the power of the new emergency manager law that takes effect on March 28th and will lose any remaining authority.

This week closed the books on a very dark, very sad period of the history of Detroit.  It lasted 45 years.  What comes next for government and politics in Detroit is anyone’s guess.  There’s no guarantee that it’s going to be successful, but it sure as hell won’t be boring.

Hello, Pot? Kettle Here.

I accept that in politics people are just fundamentally going to see some things differently.  The difference could stem from philosophy, experience, interests or a number of other factors.  But, when that blindness is willful, and includes significant revisions to the past, that’s when accepting those differences just turns into bullshit.

For example, the whole hullabaloo about ‘right to work’ legislation that passed through a lame duck session of the Michigan legislature this past winter is a prime example.  The whole reason that it was taken up in the session was that the GOP majority was about to become smaller and that outgoing members would never again be subject to the wrath of the voters at the ballot box.  It was, at its best and worst, a hard-nosed calculus of what they could get away with.  It enraged much of the state, but it worked.  At the time, Michigan Republicans were called anti-democratic (note the lower case D), and that they were trying to subvert the will of the electorate, a charge that was later borne out in a spate of polls.

Now that we find public institutions adapting to the new reality of the law, it’s the turn of Republicans to be outraged.  Why?  Because state universities such as Wayne State and Ferris are attempting an end run around the legislation, which has not yet taken effect.  Those two schools have negotiated new long-term contracts that would take effect before the RTW legislation takes effect.  It is, in effect, an end-run around the law, a perfectly legal tactic, and clearly an effort to subvert the intent of the law.  In short, it’s just politics.

The Republicans are blinded by their own rage that their will is not being adhered to.  According to this report, a faction of legislators made the trek up to Big Rapids to convey the message that should they lock in new contracts (before RTW takes effect) against the will of the GOP, they would lose a portion of their funding.  And Ferris folded, fearful that the educational-industrial complex they’ve constructed for themselves would lose one of their biggest revenue streams with which they use to compensate themselves quite richly.  I doubt that should the same delegation come to visit Detroit, they will probably be chased out with torches and pitchforks, such is the outlook of Wayne State.

Republicans opened up Pandora’s box when they rammed this through in a lame duck session of the legislature.  They have no right to attempt retaliation at institutions who respond to in a completely legal fashion.  What these people are doing is nothing more than outright bullying.


Another more troubling trend that is beginning to use our universities as political props.  From the fracas at Michigan State last year that mandated students have insurance because aggrieved Michigan Republicans thought it smacked a bit much of Obamacare, to meddling in internal policies when it comes to same-sex partner benefits, the state government is continuing a policy that as amoral as it is stupid.  This applies to both Democrats and Republicans.