Evans (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
Of all the candidates who moved closer to a new elected office in Michigan Tuesday, none faces a greater task than Warren Evans, should he prevail in his bid to become Wayne County executive in November, as expected.
Evans, the former county sheriff and Detroit police chief, handily defeated Westland Mayor William Wild, current County Executive Bob Ficano and a host of other candidates in the Democratic primary balloting. Since Wayne County is so heavily Democratic, it is assumed Evans will be the next county executive in January.
If so, he will take over a county whose finances are not much better than Detroit’s were before the city tipped into emergency management and bankruptcy. The county is currently working with the state to eliminate a $175 million accumulated deficit and address $825 million in unfunded pension liabilities.
Accomplishing both goals depends heavily on bringing together all of the county’s elected officials in a common purpose. Wayne’s governing structure gives a county executive very little control over the spending of other elected officers, namely sheriff and prosecutor.
Much of the financial trouble Wayne is enduring can be traced to spending by those officials, who are not accountable for the deficit. Evans will have to forge a better working relationship with the sheriff and prosecutor, and hopefully his past experience in Wayne County will help him with that.
The first order of business for Evans is to decide what Wayne County government should be. He needs to set priorities and stick to the basic services expected by county residents. Any non-essential spending should be carefully evaluated for its worth.
Evans has a close relationship with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who endorsed him in the primary. That can be a positive if the two are able to work together to make government more efficient for both city and county taxpayers.
It also has the potential of becoming a negative, if Evans becomes simply another cog in a Duggan political machine.
As for Ficano, a 31-year career in county government is coming to an end. It is unfortunate it finishes in such a crushing defeat. It would have been better had the county executive recognized that the scandals of his past term had made him unelectable, and stepped down on his own.
But the fact remains that Ficano leaves his successor a mess to clean up, with the financial crisis being just a part of it. There’s also the matter of the unfinished new jail, which has already consumed $175 million in taxpayer resources and is nowhere near complete, nor is it likely ever to be.
Wayne County must move past the scandals and mismanagement and become a leaner, more efficient government. It must transform its culture of self-dealing and outright corruption.
We hope Evans, should he prevail, is prepared to deliver great change.