A Tale of Two Cities - The Rip-off Goes Down - Part 2

by David Rambeau

We voters have a Democratic presidential candidate known as "Dollar Bill" Bradley. With the $70 million tax concession and the gift recently of two entire downtown city blocks by the Detroit City Council to his company, Compuwarel, we'll also have a new dollar celebrity, "Dollar Pete" Karmanos.

Of course, the deal was closed before it got to city council. Everybody attending the council sessions knew that. One brother commented to me that the fundamental task for the council was to cut the people's financial throats without letting them know they did it. I'm simply here to tell you that for sure we got our throats cut and you might as well know it. I think you may already know why.

During the sessions Kay Everett huffed and puffed about "council review" for the development. Phyllis James, head of the Detroit Law Department, and presenter of the legal document to Council, had to remind council members at least three times that council has no "review" powers concerning private development. In sum, she tried to teach Council what they should already know.

As Councilman Ken Cockrell Jr. indicated this is not the first time the council has been bum-rushed into making decisions about matters they don't understand nor have control over. It happened with the casinos, with the stadia, and will again with every big development that's going to come before them. Get used to it.

Let me try again, since I don't think they, at least most of them, got it. When you turn over land to a private owner, in this case Compuware, and their project or building meets the city's zoning and building statutes, Council has no meaningful involvement or power with respect to the project whether the owner is building a doghouse or a skyscraper. And no developer is going to put anything in writing to alter that relationship. Period. That's the way capitalism in this country and this city works. And after all the huffing and puffing, all the grand-standing for the government cable channel recording the show, that's the way it went down.

Now Council could have staked out a role, but when James signaled this to them, none, and I do mean none, of them heard or understood what was said. James indicated that the deal asked that the land be transferred to a private agency, KWA, a financial front for Compuware, and that KWA would transfer the downtown city blocks to CW. Then she said that of course Council wouldn't want the city to continue to own and be the landlord for the property. Bingo. If the Council wanted power it would have to have the city retain ownership rather than transferring the property to CW.

It's really quite simple. There are four economic ingredients of power: land, labor, capital and enterprise. Coming to the table, CW controlled the labor (their employees), the capital (from the banks) and the enterprise (the business itself). All it came to Council for was the land (the two city blocks for $1 each and any they'd purchase) and some spare capital (a $70 million tax gift). They had already said (they lied) that the spare capital didn't matter, but if your mayor was going to stuff it in their pocket why fight it.

In return they'd generate over the course of the fifteen year tax break, 250 million in tax revenues for the city plus the development of the three city blocks. Council, of course, never questioned the CW figures, nor did they have any of their own since they'd only been given the mountain of documents a week before they had to make their decision. And perhaps I should add why not, since most of the council members don't read what they're given anyway and if they had read the documents they probably wouldn't have understood their implications.

It should also be clear that accepting CW's figures was like being in the position of the colored share-cropper who brought his cotton crop to the plantation owner for weighing and payment. Boss had control of the process and the books, and Share-cropper got cheated every year. That's about what happened at City Council recently; CW had control over the process and the books and the people will be cheated every year. Share-cropper didn't have a choice, but the City Council did. But the fact of the matter is they know less about how the system operates than the uneducated share-cropper did one hundred years ago. And they're supposed to be protecting the people's interests.

Councilwoman Alberta Tinsley-Talabi expressed concern about the use of Detroit-based businesses, women and minority-owned businesses. CW's reps said they'd make "best efforts" to use thirty percent (30%) from these three categories. This 30% figure seems to be the benchmark for developers in Detroit to make "best efforts" to achieve.

American history tells us that for the Missouri Compromise, black folk in slave states were counted as 3/5's a person. Now, about one hundred fifty years later, black folks (along with women and other Detroit-based businesses) economically speaking are being counted as less than 3/10's of a person. We got the vote; we elected this City Council and in addition to the outright giveaways, they sold us (our financial interests) out for less than 30 cents on a dollar.

At the end of the sellout, Councilwoman Brenda Scott asked the CW people to prepare a list of the public interest projects they're currently operating in Detroit so she could use the list to trick the people (not exactly her comments) into believing that CW is a good corporate citizen and is not just here to take and not give anything back. I'm sure she'll be touting this short list soon and especially during the next City Council election.

Councilman Cleveland slept through the process; Councilman Hill was his usual cool, nonplussed self. They both have seen it all before, so why work up a lather over nothing.

Maybe you shouldn't either. You know the lyrics to the song, "I got plenty of nothin' and nothin's plenty for me." This week you can thank your mayor and your city council for that.

A Tale of Two Cities - The Rip-off Goes Down - Part 2 by David Rambeau

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