Corruption

Volunteers Take Better Care of Detroit Than Elected Officials

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Prevailing wisdom holds that elected officials work for the public good, while private individuals are motivated by their own personal goals—including selfish things like profits. But does this notion hold true in practice? Definitely not in Detroit. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that with the Motor City no longer financially capable of providing many basic services, private volunteers are filling in the gaps.

"It is time-consuming," says Mr. Edwards, who spent his professional life molding glass into windshields and tail lights for Chrysler. "But I don't have anything else to do."

Across Detroit, do-it-yourselfers such as Mr. Edwards are rolling up their sleeves and opening up their wallets to provide basic services that the financially strapped city can no longer manage on its own, from boarding up vacant homes to mowing lawns to maintaining parks. In some areas, residents also partner with city agencies or look to philanthropies for help.

But what motivates people like Edwards to help out the community? Doesn't he only care about himself? How will he profit?

Mr. Edwards and his neighbors say it has been several years since the city provided many maintenance services on their far East Side block. In the winter, he also pays out of pocket for snow removal for most of his tiny block. Another neighbor has agreed to cover the rest of the block. That keeps residents from being snowed in at home, neighbors say.

"That's the reward," says Mr. Edwards. "They thank me all the time."

This is a great example of why private citizens can be more invested in their communities, and thus take better care of them, than the government. In stark contrast, here's what the highest and mightiest elected officials in Detroit have been up to in the last two years:

First, there's the sordid saga of Kwame Kilpatrick, previous mayor of Detroit, and his 19 federal indictment charges—everything from tax evasion to mail and wire fraud, with possible bribery charges moving down the pipeline. He's already been to prison for obstruction of justice and will likely return sometime soon.

Then there's Otis Mathis, who was head of the Detroit Public Schools Board until recently. He resigned last month in the face of a felony charge for fondling himself during a meeting in a school district office. Mathis was under fire even before that, though, since many people were uncomfortable with the fact that the person running the public school system could barely read and write.

And of course, no one could forget Monica Conyers, who briefly reigned as Detroit City Council President in 2008-2009. She's been sentenced to three years in jail for accepting bribes from, of all things, a toxic sludge company. When she's not acting out the plot of a Captain Planet episode from 1990, she spends her spare time berating fellow council members and even calling them names. Here's an unforgettable video of Conyers at a city council meeting in 2008.

You can check out an eighth grader calling out Conyers for her conduct here.

So who's pursuing the public good in Detroit: the elected officials or individual citizens? Seems like a pretty clear answer.

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  1. If you think for a minute that disorganized volunteers and “private sector” yabbos can do a better job than We can, you’ve got another thing coming.

    Think of all the duplicate effort…

    1. Top. Men.

  2. “Prevailing wisdom holds that elected officials work for the public good, while private individuals are motivated by their own personal goals?including selfish things like profits.”

    That idotic notion has never been prevailing wisdom amongst the general public.

    It’s merely an article of faith of the members of the church of liberalism.

    1. Unfortunately, that particular cult has a HUGE following…

  3. When you are a Liberal elected office holder, the people work for you.

  4. Mr. Edwards and his neighbors say it has been several years since the city provided many maintenance services on their far East Side block. In the winter, he also pays out of pocket for snow removal for most of his tiny block. Another neighbor has agreed to cover the rest of the block. That keeps residents from being snowed in at home, neighbors say.

    Have these activities been undertaken with the proper safety equipment and procedures? How can the residents of Detroit know that this work is being done safely and properly without Union Labor?

  5. When she’s not acting out the plot of a Captain Planet episode from 1990, she spends her spare time berating fellow council members and even calling them names.

    She also threatens to shoot and kill them.

    1. Meanwhile, back in Third World America…

  6. In stark contrast, here’s what the highest and mightiest elected officials in Detroit have been up to in the last two years:

    I knew that would be fun. However,

    He’s [Kwame] already been to prison for obstruction of justice and will likely return sometime soon.

    He is in prison as we converse for violation of parole, to wit – hiding money in an attempt to avoid paying off his $1 million fine that was part of his plea bargain.

    1. So, was the Kwame Kilpatrick show better than the Marion Barry show? Barry lasted longer, but on the whole, Kwame has managed to fit more comedy into a shorter run.

  7. This story proves nothing. It merely shows that the Wrong Leaders with Plans are in charge of Detroit. We need the Right Leaders with Plans, and good governance will be restored to the great city Detroit.

    1. The present mayor, a successful businessman, has the remarkable ability to face fiscal reality. The city council (lots of new faces after last falls election) also appears to understand that we are out of money.

      Things are looking up long term. Short term – this town is gonna continue to suck for the immediate future.

  8. Volunteers Take Better Care of Detroit Than Elected Officials

    I’m not sure why, but reading that made me think of this

    1. I’m not sure why, but reading this made me think you be disrespecting me!

  9. The people who volunteer without the promise of money or power as payment for their efforts are demonstrating heart, drive, dedication, and initiative.

    You don’t want power to go to the people who crave it, and this is proof of that.

  10. “That’s the reward,” says Mr. Edwards. “They thank me all the time.”

    Oh, Mr. Edwards, that is lovely. I do so understand.

  11. I’m pretty sure this entire thread is racist.

    1. Israelis are suspicious of me ’cause of my middle name, but, uhm, some of my best friends are Jewish. Uhm, Rahm, can you help me out here?

  12. So who’s pursuing the public good in Detroit: the elected officials or individual citizens?

    How many of those so-called “citizens” have a degree in Public Management?

    Huh?

    1. How many of those so-called “citizens” have a degree in Public Management?

      Much less spent their entire career in Public Service?

      Huh?

      1. Dis citizen tinks he knows better dan da politicians? Take him to Detroit!

  13. They need a wise Latina.

  14. Sadly, you don’t get a break on your taxes for doing all the stuff that the city is supposed to be doing with your taxes: garbage pickup, snow plowing, etc.
    Here’s another fun fact I just heard about Detroit: almost half the houses that are for sale in Detroit are in foreclosure.

    1. > Sadly, you don’t get a break on your taxes for doing all the stuff
      > that the city is supposed to be doing with your taxes:
      > garbage pickup, snow plowing, etc.

      But the same is true with HOAs.

      Which is why governments have been encouraging and/or mandating their creation for several decades. The homeowners get double-taxed, while the cities and counties don’t have to provide them with services.

  15. “since many people were uncomfortable with the fact that the person running the public school system could barely read and write.”

    Racists!

  16. > This is a great example of why private citizens can be more
    > invested in their communities, and thus take better care of them,
    > than the government.
    > In stark contrast, here’s what the highest and mightiest elected
    > officials in Detroit have been up to in the last two years:

    Thankfully such corruption does not happen with privatized corporate governments.

    Except for that HOA management company employee in Westminster, Colorado who was just sentenced to 10 years in prison for stealing $700,000. Or the HOA property manager in Cherry Creek, Colorado, who stole $308,000 to fund her gambling habit.

    Or the HOA property manager in Kitty Hawk, NC, who embezzled $1 million.

    Or that statewide investigation of HOAs in Nevada by the FBI that’s been going on for several years, involving several hundred million dollars.

    The problem isn’t government. It’s the concentration of money and power, whether by a public or private entity that believes the rules do not apply to it.

    What I find amazing is that individuals in Detroit can take care of their communities not only better than government, but without the privatized corporate government structure the Communisty Associations Institute wants us to believe is required to promote neighborliness.

  17. OMG, the 8th graders pwned Conyers. That was priceless. Her basic defense was, “I act like a petulant child sometimes; dont you?” And the kids were like, “Yeah, but I’m 14, and you’re on the city council”…? If only we had a council of 8th graders to Q&A every elected official… we might get some semblance of decency in public life.

  18. Wait a minute — the wife of a sitting congressman was sentenced to prison? How the hell did that happen?

  19. Detroit has to get serious about shrinking itself down to a realistically manageable size.

  20. Im not sure what the fuss is about. She was elected wasn’t she? the poeple of Detroit deserve her leadership.

  21. No worries! The rest of the nation will soon have the fun of volunteering to ensure basic services just as we Detroiters do now!

  22. Wow, so in comparison to bad people in public service in the city of detroit, gnut found corporations who had people doing bad things in the entire United States! Why that proves……well, nothing.

    1. > Why that proves……well, nothing.

      buzz,

      Some things are so obvious that I believe they shouldn’t require explanation. I was wrong.

      Robby Soave uses a cheap rhetorical trick of comparing a list of virtuous private citizens to a list of corrupt government officials. This being Reason, the idea the reader is supposed to take away from that is

      government == bad
      private == good

      I merely provided examples of officials associated with privatized corporate governments behaving in a corrupt manner.

      What is proves is simple: that private citizens and private corporations can be just as corrupt, criminal, sleazy, etc. as government officials. It’s not that complicated.

      The problem isn’t government. It’s the concentration of money and power, whether by a public or private entity that believes the rules do not apply to it.

      And after I posted the above, the Privatopia blog published another example; of an HOA treasurer in Massachusetts who embezzled $102,000.

      Given that HOAs have the power of small governments, but are shielded as corporations, that this happens is not surprising. Except perhaps to those who are blind to the dangers of The Privatized Toll Road To Serfdom.

  23. ROGULSKI: Why are you here?

    WOMAN #1: To get some money.

    ROGULSKI: What kind of money?

    WOMAN #1: Obama money.

    ROGULSKI: Where’s it coming from?

    WOMAN #1: Obama.

    ROGULSKI: And where did Obama get it?

    WOMAN #1: I don’t know, his stash. I don’t know. (laughter) I don’t know where he got it from, but he givin’ it to us, to help us.

    WOMAN #2: And we love him.

    WOMAN #1: We love him. That’s why we voted for him!

    WOMEN: (chanting) Obama! Obama! Obama! (laughing)

    RUSH: Now, yes, I think it’s fine to laugh. I think it’s frankly fine to laugh. (laughing) It’s freaking sad. Obama giving us money from his stash, that’s why we love him, Barack Hussein Obama, mmm, mmm, mmm. Here’s the report from yesterday, just to refresh your memory.

    ROGULSKI: Did you get an application to fill out yet?

    WOMAN: I sure did. And I filled it out, and I am waiting to see what the results are going to be.

    ROGULSKI: Will you know today how much money you’re getting?

    WOMAN: No, I won’t, but I’m waiting for a phone call.

    ROGULSKI: Where’s the money coming from?

    WOMAN: I believe it’s coming from the City of Detroit or the state.

    ROGULSKI: Where did they get it from?

    WOMAN: Some funds that was forgiven (sic) by Obama.

    ROGULSKI: And where did Obama get the funds?

    WOMAN: Obama getting the funds from… Ummm, I have no idea, to tell you the truth. He’s the president.

    ROGULSKI: In downtown Detroit, Ken Rogulski, WJR News.

  24. Please tell me Mr. Edwards drives a Gran Torino.

  25. gnut, tu quoques are lame. It’s your contention that some hundreds of thousands of stolen funds from all over the US somehow compares to the millions stolen [and probably billions wasted] in Detroit?

    What color, exactly, is the sky where you live?

    The embezzlement from the HOAs could in all probability have been prevented by decent budget and audit practices. The problem in Detroit has been that the entire system has been corrupted, *BY USING THE POWER OF GOVERNMENT*. It is a way of doing business. It is system wide and accepted.

    You are trying to compare a local fistfight between two 12-year-olds and a murder by Al Capone. One can carry the relative morality thing a bit too far, you know.

    1. > It’s your contention that some hundreds of thousands of stolen
      > funds from all over the US somehow compares to the millions
      > stolen [and probably billions wasted] in Detroit?

      * sigh *

      My point should be obvious — that private institutions and individuals aren’t immune to corruption, and Robby Soave employed a cheap rhetorical device to imply that they were.

      But if magnitude is all you care about (emphasis added):

      Park Avenue is now smack in the middle of a massive law enforcement investigation involving the corruption of HOA boards all over the valley. The suspicion is that crooked board members worked with lawyers and contractors to fleece homeowners out of hundreds of millions of dollars.

      As I have pointed out on other threads here, one of the problems with HOAs is that (1) their creation has been encouraged and/or mandated by governments, distorting the housing market and leaving consumers with less choices, and (2) they have the power of small governments, but are shielded as corporations.

      HOAs have incredible power over the homeowners in their jurisdictions, and these powers have been granted to them by courts and legislatures. Advocates of individual private property rights, which I think we all are, should be alarmed.

      But for some reason, libertarians are incredibly reluctant to admit the corruption and tyranny and bullying that exists in privatized corporate governments. There’s a whole book on that subject coming out later this year (working title, Private Communities and Local Governments by Evan McKenzie)

      Even the proponents of tort reform — there was a recent thread about that here — have remained silent on the subject of the parasitic tort lawyers employed by HOAs, who will bankrupt and foreclose on homeowners who dare to challenge the most trivial fine or refuse to kowtow to the Board of Directors. If you think the amount of corruption in HOA corporations is small scale, you have no idea how these attorneys and their legalized extortion rackets operate. (side note: As a result of the conservative and libertarian defense of HOA corporations, I’ve come to believe that the whole aim of the tort-reform movement is to prevent individuals from suing corporations, but not the other way around. Democrats, of course, won’t interfere with a source of income for one of their largest donor bases).

      For starters, listen to OnTheCommons.net (only two links allowed per post, so you’ll have to type that into your browser’s address bar).

    2. And here’s “another isolated incident

      Texas HOA property owners outraged over lack of transparency, questionable expenditures

      The neighbors wanted everyone to know exactly where their dues were going, so they also presented their findings at a recent HOA meeting that got so out of control some people were threatened with arrests.

      “People are outraged,” exclaimed Peggy Sue Wilson-Schmueckle. She’s the homeowner leading the fight to rid the association of what she calls gross mismanagement of funds by the board. “Once we uncovered it and did an audit, people were very outraged. They want them [the current board] to resign.”

      The information we uncovered explain why the homeowners are so bent out of shape. Records detail board meetings at nice restaurants; meetings that were not open to the public. We also found a document showing a $4,200 expense paid to the board president’s son-in-law for brush work he did in the neighborhood. Additional records showed the HOA donated thousands of dollars to random charities. The HOA even gave more than $1,300 to a group of HOA lawyers to help them lobby the legislature.

      Small scale corruption to you, but not to those directly affected — especially since their homes are forever collateral to whatever debts and liabilities the HOA corporation creates.

      Multiply times the hundreds of thousands of HOA corporations across the country…

  26. > It’s your contention that some
    > hundreds of thousands of stolen
    > funds from all over the US

    I should also point out that it’s not hundreds of thousands of dollars across the entire United States, but hundreds of thousands of dollars per HOA, which can be the entire annual budget of some HOA corporations. It’s a big deal for the homeowners affected.

    By your logic, I suppose that the theft of Michael Clauer’s house was “only” $300,000; peanuts compared to the budget of Detroit. But it was their single most valuable possession.

    And compared to the budget of Detroit, New London’s theft of Susette Kelo’s house isn’t worth mentioning.

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