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June 25th, 2001


Thoughts on the Public Forum - Highland Park's Financial Crisis


A few day ago, I received this flyer:

Public Forum - Highland Park's Financial Crisis and the Appointment of a Financial Manager

Monday June 25, 2001 - 6:00PM
Join Sen. Scott to discuss the state of our city!
Panelists include:
Fred Headen - State Treasury Department
Anne Wagner - Executive Director of the Municipal Employees' Retirement System of Michigan
Representative from the Mayor's staff
Titus McClary - Highland Park City Council President
Janice Bibbs - Highland Park City Treasurer
Lt. Hubert Yopp - Vice president of Highland Parks Police Union

Highland Park Career Academy's Auditorium (formerly the Highland Park Community College) Located on Glendale & Second.
Join Senator Martha G. Scott to discuss the state of our city.
For questions, please call 1-800-SCOTT-78

Being concerned about the bankruptcy of the city we live in, the City of Highland Park, My wife and I  went to the public forum. Being a nice day, we decided to walk - down Glendale, past shattered and burnt out houses and apartments to the now defunct Highland Park Community College where the meeting was being held. Inside, the public forum was well under way,  following the proscribed formula that is so typical of Highland Park politics: One interest group blames another - accusations and counter-accusations, peppered with non-committal statements from the state representative.
An altogether fruitless exorcize.

The Danes have a saying, "When the trough is empty, the horses bite one another." And this is indeed the case with the representatives of Highland Park. I have listened for years to officials in various capacities grumbling that their department is hanging on by a nail, that their ineffectiveness is due to a lack of resources - and this is indeed the case. It is then natural to blame those higher up in city government positions for not supplying the necessary funds for any given department to function properly. The top brass take the heat; they agonize, look at the insufficient budget and shrug - what can they do? 
There is simply not enough money, and so the vicious cycle of accusations and counter-accusations continue ad-nausium, with no effective solution to the city's actual problems financial problems. 

So the inevitable will happen; the State appointed Financial Manager will close down the library, and severely curtail vital municipal activity, believing that the citizens of Highland Park will meekly accept that. That's what these state officials are they're paid to do, that's what they expect will happen.

But does it have to be this way? Is there no real solution to the city's financial troubles?

To answer that, we must step back and look at the problem.
If you get in a car and drive for twenty minutes in almost any direction away from highland Park, you will find yourself in a suburb. Go to the library, and compare it to your local library. Does the roof leak? 
No. 
Does the library have up to date books, periodicals and magazines? 
Yes.
Look outside. Are the roads in Good repair?
Yes.
Are there burnt out buildings?
No.
Why is this? Why does Highland Park - and Detroit -  suffer this blight, while the outer ring suburbs thrive?
What kind of society could allow such a perverse stark contrast to exist?
Where is the justice, where is the compassion?

You know the reason. It is ugly, it is rarely ever mentioned on the local news. It is not discussed much, because it is so obvious. 
It is racism. Racism in all its complexity, in its many guises.

Does this mean that the inner cities have to accept the status quo and humbly take whatever mean-spirited "hand-outs" the state so generously offers up?
If we continue on the same path, yes. There can be no way but down for our city, down into further despair and poverty. If the citizens of Highland Park cannot become pro-active, they have no choice but to accept the small change that is thrown at them, to accept their fate like grateful beggars.

People in power - on a state and federal level - are not evil. They just react according to the political forces that exist, that's just the way it is.. 
Highland Park is a nice quiet town that does not create a ripple on the political waters, and so it can be ignored - that's the political reality of the situation. 
In order to change things for the better, the citizens of Highland Park have to make the state and the federal government sit up and take note. 
How can this be achieved? 

  • Highland Park Citizens must become pro-active. Citizens must organize themselves and be prepared to commit themselves to civil disobedience, if necessary.

  • Become proficient at using the media, primarily international media. Fortunately, the magnitude of  disparity in wealth between the inner city and the suburbs is so glaring that it makes for a good storyline. If continually brought into the light of day on an international level, it would make the status quo so unacceptable that good and compassionate people would sit up and pay attention - perhaps things would start to change.

  • Municipal extremism - Does the Highland Park Water utility supply the outer suburbs? Then subject them to "rolling water thirst-outs". Inform the media that "Unfortunately, the city is impoverished and has few resources - so we have to keep what few we have to ourselves..."
     The state would be forced send in law enforcement, arresting municipal workers and local officials - very embarrassing, very messy - and very sensational.  

  • Civil disobedience - when you have nothing, you have nothing to loose. 
    In the suburbs there are 'gated communities', wealthy clusters of homes where the likes of you and I are not permitted to enter. Fortunately, that could work both ways, with spectacular results:
    First, alert the media of your intentions. Then, driving five junk cars, enter from six mile, going South on the I-75 (The north side belongs to another bankrupt city, Hamtramck - if they like, they can stop the traffic coming from the other direction).
    Get each car into a separate lane. Keeping in line, gradually slowing down, so as not to cause accidents or injury. Come to a complete stop at the Davidson Overpass. Stop the cars, take the keys from the ignition and walk away. At the top of the overpass, a group of citizens put up a large banner that says, "Highland Park - gated community - no admittance."
    A huge traffic jam would ensue and those 'responsible' are sure to be apprehended by the authorities. The citizens are prepared for this, and a large demonstration ensues outside the jail. The media - local, national and international -  would have a field day. Make sure you have well rehearsed spokespersons to answer media questions: "Why did you do this?" Answer: "We are part of your larger community, yet you pass through our city as though we were invisible. Do you not see the decay? The burnt out buildings? The poverty? Do you not ask yourself why this is? Do you have no sense of justice or compassion? Are you really that surprised by our action? If you cannot appreciate that this city that you pass through every day to work is here, and it's citizens deserve basic dignities, well - perhaps OUR community ought to be a gated community in order to stop uncaring people passing through!"

The outrageous financial disparity apparent in the larger metropolitan area of eastern Michigan, between the outer suburbs and the inner urban areas cannot continue to stand. Responsible people are already starting to realize that urban sprawl and the dereliction of duty by the State of Michigan to its inner urban areas is ultimately a self-defeating policy. Already the infrastructure of the inner ring of suburbs is starting to decay. Minorities who have moved to these inner suburbs are facing the same prejudice that we have observed towards the inner urban areas. They become victims of a city stripped of income and thus have to face degraded utilities and services - the cycle starts to repeat itself. Sooner or later, those who are more fortunate will realize that fleeing further and further out, placing greater and greater pressure on utilities already strained to breaking point is a fruitless pursuit. 
The time is ripe for change.
 Highland Park citizens have demonstrated the kind of solidarity they are capable of. Some years ago, when a company wanted to construct a hospital incinerator that would have spewed toxic waste into the air over the city, the citizens got together and said "No!"
 Once again, the City of Highland Park is on a cusp, and its fate and future will be determined by metal of its citizens. Either the city will sink further into poverty and despair, or the citizens will take action and alert the World to this obscene injustice - and in so doing, will win their city back.

SG

 


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