Mayor Mike Duggan has asked Detroit residents to give him six months before they evaluate his progress in such areas as blight removal. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)
Detroit— Mayor Mike Duggan has gained majority control of two authorities overseeing anti-blight and lighting initiatives, helping him fulfill a promise to better fight blight and improve public lighting in Detroit.
Duggan, who last week asked Detroiters to give him six months before assessing his performance in improving neighborhoods, got his appointments to the Public Lighting and Detroit Land Bank authorities approved Friday by the City Council after negotiating changes with Gov. Rick Snyder.
Convincing Snyder to cede one of his two appointments to the Land Bank Authority, which was awarded $52.3 million in redirected mortgage aid to eliminate blight, and shift two city appointments from council and the economic growth agency to the mayor is Duggan’s biggest coup so far. Friday’s vote culminated an agreement that let Detroit’s mayor to pick four members, while the governor made one.
Political analyst Eric Foster called the move critical to ensure Duggan’s blight plan is executed. “It is very significant because the ability to move the vacant land in a tangible way for housing, industrial or commercial is critical,” Foster said.
Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr has given Duggan control of most day-day city operations, including blight removal and lighting.
“Blight is sucking the lifeblood out of the neighborhoods ...,” Duggan said last week. “We know what needs to be done, but we need a central authority to do it.”
Duggan is letting a federally appointed three-person task force initially take the lead on anti-blight efforts by conducting a comprehensive survey of rundown and abandoned homes and buildings around the city. The mayor then wants the city to use the survey data to create an elimination plan.
His blight-fighting ideas include suing homeowners of abandoned houses and then systematically tearing down homes that aren’t habitable or selling ones that can be rehabilitated. The full plan will be unveiled throughout Detroit at community forums.
Helping on the blight issue will be Detroit Land Bank Authority appointees Erica Ward Gerson, a board member of the DMC’s Children’s Hospital of Michigan; Pat Pernell-Shelton, a real estate agent who led Duggan’s campaign volunteer efforts; and Richard Hosey, owner of Hosey Development and board member of the Michigan Historic Preservation Network. Duggan gave an appointee choice to the council, which appointed former city Planning Commission Director Marsha Bruhn.
Donnie Whitley, 39, who lives on the city's east side, said improving quality of life goes hand-in-hand with growing the city.
“When city services get better, then people start putting trust in city government and they don’t mind paying taxes (because) I’m getting the services I need,” said Whitley, president of the Osborn Alliance community group, an area that has the highest crime rate in Detroit. “Those two issues (blight and crime) are related to the crime in the area.”
Duggan calls blight elimination a central issue in turning around neighborhoods.
“By the next few months, you will see a clear plan that everybody can understand,” Duggan said in an interview last week.
Duggan has his priorities straight, said Kirk Mayes, executive director of the Brightmoor Alliance that’s involved with blight removal. “To have this mayor come in and right now looking at this as his priority, the timing could not be better,” Mayes said.
Mayes said the next move will be figuring out long-term plan.
“The thing we need to be paying attention to along with blight removal is, what’s going to happen after the blight is gone?” he said. “How do we make sure it stays remediated (and) it doesn’t come back once it’s addressed the first time around? That comes with a much bigger conversation around community building and engagement.”
Duggan is taking over responsibility of the Public Lighting Authority board formerly appointed by outgoing Mayor Dave Bing and the City Council. On Friday, the council approved lighting authority board nominees Lorna Thomas, a dermatologist and mother of former state Sen. Samuel “Buzz” Thomas; Eva Garza Dewalsh, president and CEO at SER Metro-Detroit, a skills training firm; attorney David Jones; Nicole Spieles, an engineer; and certified public accountant Mark Smith.
Duggan said Orr was not pleased with the direction of the lighting board and was considering replacing the panel. Instead, Duggan said he convinced the emergency manager to allow him to make the appointments since their terms expired Dec. 31.
The authority got off to a slow start after snags over funding. Late last year, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes approved the sale of the first $60 million in a financing deal to overhaul city lighting — the initial step in the plan to sell more than $150 million in bonds.
“We will come up with a plan that comes up with a better use of LED lights, that has a realistic timeline that doesn't take three years to get the lights on across the city and (Orr’s) giving us the opportunity to do that,” Duggan said. “I am hopeful ... at the end of January you will have a real plan that you can see and measure us on.”