Councilman Kenyatta's Statement regarding the
Reconfiguration of the Detroit Board of Water Commissioners
On February 11, 2011, Mayor Dave Bing, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco, and Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner John McCulloch announced that they had agreed to a stipulation order, which was subsequently issued by the Honorable U.S. District Judge Sean Cox. The parties agreed to reconstitute the Board of Water Commissioners (BWC) with a number of new provisions to oversee the City of Detroit’s Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.
The reconfigured seven-member board will be apportioned to allow one nominated representative each from Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties and four representatives from Detroit. The Mayor of Detroit will appoint all representatives.
Judge Cox will be the final arbiter of the method by which commissioners may be removed i.e. at the pleasure of the mayor as currently mandated by the Detroit City Charter or for cause.
A super-majority or five votes out of seven will be required to make decisions relative to water rates, the hiring of three staff members for the BWC, and the five-year capital improvement plan.
This would effectively prevent Detroit from making any decisions on the aforementioned matters without the suburbs’ affirmation and likewise for the suburbs. However, matters involving day-to-day operations, contracts, etc., will still be under the majority oversight of the City of Detroit. Furthermore, the City of Detroit retains complete ownership of the Detroit Water and Sewage Department.
The final approval of water rates, contracts, collective bargaining agreements, etc., will continue to require the approval of Detroit City Council.
According to the stipulated order, “All seven members of the Board of Water Commissioners (BWC) must have at least seven years of experience in a regulated industry, a utility, engineering, finance or law.” All members must be newly appointed with the exception of no more than two (2) of the current BWC members.
The order further stipulates that, “Members of the BWC will be compensated at a rate of $10,000.00 per year and $250 per meeting, not to exceed $20,000.00 per year in total. This compensation may, in the future, be adjusted by the Board, with the consent of the Mayor and Wayne County Executive, the Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner and the Macomb County Public Works Commissioner.”
”The Mayor shall appoint a Board of Water Commissioners as described above before April 1, 2011.”
“Oakland County’s Motion for Appointment of Interim Regional Management Committee shall be withdrawn without prejudice.”
Finally, the order allows that, “ Within six months of the date of this Order, any party may file a motion with the Court to demonstrate that the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department is in substantial compliance with its NPDES Permit and the consent judgments of this Court. If the Court is satisfied that substantial compliance has been achieved, it shall dismiss this lawsuit (federal consent judgment of 1975).”
I view the Judge’s stipulated order as moving in the right direction. Firstly, the Judge has made it clear that he does not want to be the “sludge judge.” To this end, several instances in the order illustrate the promise of a positive course of action for DWSD beginning with the impending dissolution of the more than thirty-year-old federal consent decree.
Importantly, the agreement by Detroit, Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties is reinforced by the judge’s dismissal of the Oakland County motion to create an interim regional management committee that would run the day-to-day operations of a system that is owned by the City of Detroit.
It is also my understanding that the Governor is supportive of this agreement and with its execution would oppose the current proposed legislation that would take over DWSD.
From a financial perspective, the City has spent millions of dollars for attorneys, special monitors, private contract oversight, etc., due to the federal consent decree. Therefore, this order will allow the City to save millions of dollars at a time when the City needs to be mindful of its budget deficit. Savings are already being realized as evidenced by the recent termination of F. Thomas Lewand as “Special Master,” and the dissolution of the Southeast Michigan Consortium for Water Quality, both of which were funded by DWSD and the City of Detroit.
However, though I support the overarching objectives of the order I disagree with several of the stipulations within it, which I contend are missteps, including:
· Mandating a super-majority vote on a number of key issues
· Mandating compensation for the BWC without final approval by the Detroit City Council
· Mandating that the judge be the final authority on whether members of the BWC serve at the pleasure of the mayor or may only be removed for cause
The ultimate question is do the positives within the order outweigh the negatives? I believe they do. However, I also believe that we must challenge several negative steps within the order, primarily, the previously stated super-majority vote, compensation issues and mayoral removal procedures of BWC members.
The ultimate question is do the positives within the order outweigh the negatives? I believe they do. However after receiving advice from legal counsel, I still believe that the aforementioned concerns may pose troubles down the line, though there appears to be little that Council can do to challenge the stipulated order.
UPDATED: FEBRUARY 18, 2011
The Detroit City Council Opposes House Bill (HB) 4112
On January 20, 2011 Michigan State Representatives Kurt Heise of Plymouth and Eileen Kowall of White Lake introduced HB 4112 which seeks to privatize the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department by creating a Regional Water Quality Authority to oversee the Detroit owned and operated water system.House Bill 4112
While the bill has already been publicly opposed by the Detroit City Council and other officials from the State House, Wayne County, and Macomb County, there is still a lengthy battle ahead. Citizens must inform themselves of the details of this issue and take action to ensure that their dissenting views are heard.
Please find below several links and contact numbers which may prove helpful to those wishing to speak out on this matter.
Rep. Kurt Heise, Plymouth
Rep. Eileen Kowall, White Lake
(517) 373-2616 or (866) 334-0010
Michigan House of Representatives - Complete Listing