Trying to write about the insanity that is Detroit these days is risky business. I am fully aware that, by the time you clap your eyeballs on these words, an emergency manager could be in the works, the city could be out of cash, Charles Pugh could be demanding we buy him a pony of his very own, or a spontaneous soviet of workers' and people's deputies may have seized control.
OK, that last was wishful thinking, but a boy can dream. Now then: If you haven't been on a bender down in a mineshaft, you may know that someone you never heard of a month ago named Krystal Crittendon is threatening to blow up the whole fragile consent agreement keeping elected city officials in their jobs.
Crittendon, the city's corporation counsel, filed a suit last month maintaining that entering into a consent agreement violates the city charter because Michigan is in "default" to Detroit, because it canceled revenue sharing payments to balance the budget, and because the state owes it a water bill for the old Detroit fairgrounds.
Last week she added a few other items, such as some unpaid parking tickets. Now, I am not a lawyer, though most high-priced ones seem to think her claims are nonsense. But I do know this:
What Krystal Crittendon is doing is the equivalent of a passenger on the Titanic arguing that nobody could get into the lifeboats because they lacked a government inspector's stamp.
What does she, or any of the irrationals supporting her lawsuit, think will happen if she torpedoes the agreement? Simply this:
The city will run out of money next week, and be taken over by the state. The governor will appoint an emergency manager, who then may be forced to lead Detroit through a painful bankruptcy.
Dave Bing, who a month ago bafflingly seemed to be trying to have it both ways, understands this. "Flexing My Pecs" Pugh is among those who don't, which, given that he doesn't understand the need to pay his monthly mortgage statement, should come as no surprise.
This all reminds me of an old Jack Benny routine in which a robber pulls a gun on the legendary tight-fisted comedian and says, "Your money or your life." Benny replies, "I'm thinking, I'm thinking."
Those wishing to kill the consent agreement evidently aren't thinking clearly. So listen up, comrades. Once more: If the consent agreement is blocked, odds are Detroit's elected leaders lose all effective power for the foreseeable future.
And still the lemmings march to the cliff, led by Krystal Crittendon. Which leads us to the obvious question: Who in the world is she and how did she get such a powerful job?
Oddly, nobody seems to have really looked into that, though the Free Press did ask her about her own unpaid parking tickets.
Recently, however, I asked a former City Council member I respect about this. She reminded me that the city's previous corporation counsel, or top lawyer, Kathleen Leavey, had to resign after she referred to 36th District Court as a "ghetto court."
That was in January 2009, a chaotic and horrible time for the city. It was less than three months after Kwame Kilpatrick had been hauled off to the hoosegow. Former City Council President Ken Cockrel Jr. was acting mayor, and was forced to simultaneously try to get a handle on city finances, which were in a mess, and run in two elections that were going to be held over the next three months.
What's more, he had to deal with an increasingly bizarre and disruptive Monica Conyers, who was daily disgracing City Council with her antics and her outbursts. Monica, my source said, apparently had a good relationship with Crittendon, and wanted her appointed.
Trying to appoint anyone else would have brought on a fight with Conyers, who today, of course, is where she belongs — in the slam. Crittendon had virtually no real world experience outside the city. She has never worked anywhere else since getting out of law school, but appointing her seemed harmless enough, given everything else going on. Besides, corporation counsels were easy to get rid of.
However, things have changed. The new city charter that took effect in January gives the corporation counsel more power and made her more secure. Today, the mayor would have to get a two-thirds majority on council to approve firing her. Given that the consent agreement passed by a single vote, that seems less than likely.
Corporation counsels normally wait for mayors to ask their opinion on matters of legality. Why did Crittendon decide to launch out on her own against the consent agreement?
Turns out JoAnn Watson, the queen of irrationality, asked her for an opinion on whether the agreement was legal or not. Everything followed from that.
Incidentally, the totally dysfunctional Detroit City Council hasn't even named its two members to the consent agreement's financial advisory board. That's something that should have happened in April. The unpleasant truth was that the consent agreement was a gallant attempt at preserving participatory democracy in a time of crisis.
But it was probably doomed from the start. The state now says it will hold up $80 million it promised the city when it signed onto the consent agreement, unless the city drops the lawsuit fighting the agreement. (Contrary to some councilmembers' belief, biting the hand that you are begging to feed you is normally not a smart idea.)
The priority needs to be fixing Detroit, by any means necessary, as soon as possible. Gov. Snyder should wait till the city is officially out of cash, and appoint an emergency manager.
Former city auditor Joe Harris would be the best choice, but what matters is getting someone compassionate, competent and sane. Such a person probably won't get along with Krystal Crittendon.
They certainly won't get along with much of City Council.
But what may not have dawned on those people is this:
They won't have to.
Infantile rhetoric at its finest: Frequent readers of this column know I have consistently opposed any effort to recall Rick Snyder. That's partly because, while I strongly disagree with some of his programs, he was legitimately elected, hasn't been fraudulent or criminal, and has not, in my judgment, done anything to justify removing him before his term is complete.
However, even if you disagree with all that, it is practically impossible to recall a sitting governor in this state. Unless you have something like $10 million to spend, there's no way you can get the signatures you need in the time allowed. (If you have that much to blow, you are a member of the 1 percent, and probably think he's doing just fine.) Last week, here's how a character named Bruce Fealk, press spokesman for the recall attempt, announced the failure of the second futile recall attempt:
"Effort to Recall Governor Snyder Enters New Phase as Recall Effort Ends."
George Orwell couldn't have done better. I imagine Brucie would have put this headline on the last election, assuming he ignored the minor parties:
"Bernero Finishes Strong Second as Snyder Comes in Next to Last."
Gratified by the honor: I was surprised and deeply honored last week, when the Association of Alternative Newsmedia chose P&P as the nation's best political column. It was even more gratifying to see my colleague Larry Gabriel's "Stir It Up" win for the best general interest column. In my case, I probably had an unfair advantage, given Michigan's native fauna of bizarre politicians.