June 27, 2014 at 1:00 am

OUR EDITORIAL

Endorsement: For Wayne County exec: Bill Wild

Westland mayor has proved he can manage a difficult fiscal challenge and run government for the benefit of taxpayers

Wild (Dale G. Young / The Detroit News)

Wayne County residents need more than just new leadership; they need a leader who will bury the scandals and mismanagement of the past several years and set the county on a new course centered on both growth and good government. Westland Mayor Bill Wild offers the best hope for a new beginning in Wayne County.

Wild, a scrap yard owner who has led Westland for seven years, not only moved his city from a budget deficit to a $5 million surplus, he’s also balanced the budget two years into the future.

When he took office, Westland was in much the same shape as Wayne County today. The suburb had lost 40 percent of its property tax base and had to rapidly figure out how to match spending to the diminished revenue.

The mayor trimmed the workforce, starting with his own appointees, reducing their number to 12 from 18 for a savings of $1 million a year. In all, Wild eliminated 125 positions.

It was a tough choice, and risked so damaging services that it would affect the quality of life of residents. But through creative consolidation and outsourcing, Wild managed the cutback with a minimum impact on service delivery.

Wild also brought employee benefits into an affordable range, placing new hires on a 401(k) plan that will eventually get Westland out of the pension business.

That’s the kind of aggressive, taxpayer-first problem-solving Wayne County needs.

Under the leadership of County Executive Bob Ficano, Wayne County government has served the interests of its politicians and employees, rather than of taxpaying citizens.

Political appointees have walked away from the county with outrageously lavish pension deals. Lax management and inadequate oversight have cost taxpayers millions of dollars for questionable projects, including the $160 million squandered on construction of a new jail that will likely never be completed.

And while Ficano claims to have been victimized by key aides he trusted and says the scandals are in the past, the gross negligence they represent is the greatest argument for a change in leadership.

Ficano’s weakness has encouraged a crowded field of 12 candidates to the Democratic primary, which, given the county’s political make-up, should decide the race. Most notable among the contenders, along with Wild, are Warren Evans, the former Wayne County sheriff and Detroit police chief, former State Rep. Phil Cavanagh and county Commissioner Kevin McNamara.

The sheer number of well-known candidates could give Ficano an edge, based solely on name recognition and the incumbency, if they divide the vote.

That’s why it is important that voters coalesce around a single candidate who not only can win, but also effectively lead.

Wild can do both. He has a plan for bringing ethical government to Wayne County, placing strict limits on the self-dealing that has enriched so many during Ficano’s tenure.

He also promises to move to a two-year budgeting plan, similar to Oakland County’s, and attack the deficit with spending restraint and more efficient operations.

Wild wants to make county government the catalyst for local communities to share and consolidate services, similar to what he’s done as mayor in guiding the merger of the Westland and Wayne fire departments.

He will focus on core services, and make sure taxpayer money is used wisely.

Wild is one of the few candidates in the race without a history in Wayne County government. Given the checkered nature of the county’s history, a fresh name is attractive.

Bill Wild should be elected as the Democratic nominee for Wayne County Executive on Aug. 5.