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Patterson: Macomb risks being shut out of water deal

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said Tuesday his Macomb County counterpart Mark Hackel risks being shut out of a deal on a regional water authority for his continued "fighting" outside closed-door negotiations.

"Mark has sort of taken himself out of the negotiations on this, very vocally," Patterson said Tuesday morning on WJR's Frank Beckmann radio show. "If I'm setting up a party, I'm going to invite a bunch of people who want to get something done. I'm not going to invite the guy who's already said 'I'm not interested. I'm not playing.'"

Patterson added: "I don't see anything nefarious. They're not trying to hurt Macomb County or Mark Hackel for that matter."

Hackel has emerged as an outspoken critic of a regional water authority for southeast Michigan, which Detroit, county and state officials are rushing to complete before a June 14 deadline.

But the Macomb County executive has openly refused to negotiate in private mediation at the federal courthouse in downtown Detroit as part of the final stage of the city's post-bankruptcy reorganization. He wants negotiations to be aired in public at Great Lakes Water Authority board meetings.

U.S. District Court Judge Sean Cox, the bankruptcy court-appointed mediator in the water authority talks, held a closed-door meeting Monday with Patterson and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.

Hackel claims he wasn't invited.

But Patterson said Hackel's vocal opposition isn't constructive to resolving major issues surrounding a proposed lease of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department's infrastructure for $50 million annually for 40 years.

"Mark's out there making his point like he's the only one fighting for his constituents and his ratepayers and taxpayers – that's not true," Patterson told Beckmann. "Mark's fighting out in the hallway. I'm fighting inside. What's going on inside these meetings is anything but a coffee (meeting). We're slugging it out."

Under the proposed lease agreement, the Great Lakes Water Authority can lease Detroit's expansive water and sewer system without Hackel's approval if a majority of the board agrees to the terms. The six-member board includes representatives from Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties, two appointees of Duggan and one representative for water customers outside the tri-counties appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder.

Patterson said he's not yet on board with a deal.

"I certainly haven't bought into the program yet either," Patterson told Beckmann.

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans also did not attend the negotiation session, in part because he's bogged down his county's financial problems, Patterson said.

"Warren has pretty much agreed with Duggan," Patterson said.

Duggan and Patterson have both tried to shoot down the idea of dissolving the city of Highland Park as a governmental entity to spread out the city's $25.6 million in unpaid water bills to other suburban wholesale customers.

"Highland Park is a sticking point," Patterson said. "Somebody's going to have to pay, and I'll be damned if it's my citizens."

Snyder also has urged Detroit and suburban officials to reach a solution on Highland Park's debt, but did not deny that dissolution or municipal bankruptcy were options.

Before Patterson came on the radio program, Beckmann offered his take on Hackel claiming he's been shut out of negotiations on the water authority.

"He was almost like the high school girl who wasn't invited to the prom," Beckmann said of Hackel.

Beckmann and Patterson's comments caused Hackel to call into the program right after the Oakland County executive's interview ended.

"The reality is ... I didn't ask to be in the hallway," Hackel told Beckmann. "Because you're disagreeing with the process and you have very strong opinions of something, I was not asked to be a participant nor was our appointee from Macomb County."

Last Friday, Hackel called Cox's ability to be a neutral mediator "suspect."

"I still want to have a seat at the table," Hackel said. "I've never asked not to have a seat at the table. They have disallowed me to not have a seat at the table."

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