Pontiac mayor, council have more powers restored

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Pontiac — After years of state oversight, Pontiac took a major step Thursday in having full power restored to its elected mayor and the City Council.

The Receivership Transition Advisory Board unanimously approved changes that will return spending powers to local government.

“This is great news and a significant day for the city of Pontiac as we work our way back from a long journey of receivership,” Mayor Deirdre Waterman said after the meeting in the City Council’s Hall. “I will be appearing before the City Council tonight and passing on the news.”

Under Thursday’s action, City Administrator Joe Sobota — who some viewed as the fourth in a line of emergency managers — will step down effective immediately from the post created for him in 2013 by a former emergency manager. The City Council, which had been banned from approving any contracts or purchases exceeding $10,000, will now see that limit raised to $500,000.

The transition board will remain in force for an indefinite period, but instead of monthly meetings, is expected to narrow its focus to approval of the city’s annual budget, major contracts, some pending litigation, retiree health insurance issues and the future of the city-owned Phoenix Center and parking lot, Waterman said.

Sobota said Pontiac has “truly become a model on how government can operate efficiently.”

State Treasurer Nick Khouri signed off on the changes.

The state took over Pontiac’s finances in 2009, five years after it was determined the city’s red ink was threatening to wash it into bankruptcy.

Under three emergency city managers the city dramatically cut expenses, chopped the city’s workforce from 500 to 30, and either blended or entirely did away with some departments. It eliminated its police and fire departments, and now contracts for services from the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office and Waterford Township.

Emergency managers chipped away at $87 million in debt partially by selling off costly or underused city-owned properties, like its wastewater treatment facility, the Pontiac Silverdome, shuttered community centers and a golf course.

The measures — which angered many of the city’s 59,000 residents — helped keep the city afloat. Waterman acknowledged not everyone is happy with the results but she’s working on it.

“I can’t look forward and backward at the same time,” Waterman said. “I want to take a lesson from the past and use it to help in best practices in the city’s future.

“We don’t want to keep writing blank checks in Pontiac that will have to be paid by future generations.”

Ex-Pontiac Mayor Walter Moore said he will not be happy until the transition advisory board leaves for good. Moore stood up in a public comment section of Thursday’s meeting and didn’t mince words about the state’s takeover of the city’s finances and operations.

“All of us are not satisfied (today),” Moore told the board. “I will be glad when you get out of here and I hope we figure out some way to sue you ... what you (state) have done is absolutely criminal. This has been an abuse of power and authority and I hope you go to jail for it.”


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