Detroit needs an EFM

There was really nothing surprising about the report issued Tuesday by a financial review team that was looking at the city of Detroit’s finances.

The city is and has been in a mess. There is long-term debt without a hint of a plan to dig out from under the strangling obligations. There is a serious short-term deficit in operational funds. Although there has been some belated movement by city leaders to deal with cash-flow issues, it is way too little and way too late.

Although Gov. Rick Snyder has shown remarkable patience, he has no choice but to pull the trigger on appointing a financial manager. Really, he should have done it long ago. His problem may be that he could struggle in vain to locate a skilled person who could do the job.

The city has long-term obligations in the form of bonds and commitments to pay for health-care and retirement benefits. City and union leaders have shown no ability — or, in some cases, interest — in addressing this.

On a operational level, the city is a mess. Crime is sky-high, with an average of a homicide a day. Vacant homes dominate neighborhoods. Streetlights don’t work.

The current mayor can’t work with a city council that is dominated by scene-stealers and name-callers who would rather stir the pot than calm troubled waters. The fiasco over the state’s discarded attempt to save Belle Isle is just one of many examples that show the city’s leadership does not have the priorities necessary to tackle the major problems faced by the city.

An emergency manager is a difficult choice. It overrides the democratic process that elected a mayor and a council, as ineffective as they may be.

But the alternative is to watch the state’s largest city — and its residents — slip deeper into a financial and dysfunctional abyss.

We have an interest — both practical and humane —in seeing the city recover. There is no way to justify the sacrifice of still another generation of youngsters who had the misfortune of being born in Detroit. The region is dragged down by the failures of its core city; we all would benefit greatly if Detroit thrived.

The appointment of an emergency financial manager is no panacea for Detroit. There is no magic treasure chest of money waiting to be discovered. Detroit’s problems are decades old and stem from multiple sources. Even a talented, well-intentioned leader will have to enforce harsh

and unpopular steps in order to create a semblance of a brighter future.

Better an emergency manager, though, than a bankruptcy judge, which is the only other viable alternative. There will be no solution from a city government that is beholden to unsustainable union contracts as well as predisposed to name-calling and perpetuating fears and divisions.

The city’s problems are not all self-induced. Decades of migration have reduced a world-class city of more than 2 million to a struggling nightmare of about one-third of that. But the woes have been amplified by an incompetent city council as well as the ravages of the corrupt Kwame Kilpatrick administration.

With some of the recent investments in the downtown area, it’s hopeful to dream of a recovering city with employment and a nightlife — or, at least a pulse.

But that’s a scant start. A healthy city has to have safe streets, strong schools, reliable services and, for Pete’s sake, streetlights that work and roads that are plowed.

Several versions of Detroit’s government have proved incapable of these tasks. It’s time for an emergency manager.