Niagara Gazette

Columns

August 1, 2013

GLYNN: State lawmaker recalls dysfunction in Detroit

Niagara Gazette — State Assemblyman Bill Nojay, who represents the 133rd District in the Rochester area, has first-hand experience of the dysfunction that left Detroit in deplorable conditions.

The new lawmaker served as chief operating officer of the Detroit Department of Transportation before his election to the Assembly last year.

As you know, the Niagara Falls City Council’s majority is sometimes chastised for its obstructionism. The Detroit City Council is much worse. Assemblyman Nojay recalls that during his tenure in the DOT post, 10 percent of the bus-fare collection boxes were broken. In any other municipality, that would simply be a matter of awarding a contract . Instead, the council blasted Nojay and his staff for ignoring the fare-box problem since the Motor City was losing about $5 million every year by not collecting fares. It turned out the contract to fix the fare boxes had been sitting on a desk in the City Council office for nine months

In an recent Opinion Page article for the Wall Street Journal, Nojay recounted he once waited five hours to discuss a minor transportation problem while the Detroit City Council argued whether to approve the demolition of vacant and vandalized houses — one by one. At last count, Detroit had more than 40,000 vacant houses.

Nojay is staunchly opposed to a government bailout for Detroit. He said: “What it needs is to sweep away a city charter that protects only bureaucrats, civil-service rules that straight-jacket municipal departments, and obsolete union contracts.” Sounds like a sensible step forward.

•••

FISCAL CRISIS: A major factor for many financially-strapped cities is “spiking,” the practice of public employees jacking up their final year salary (e.g., working overtime, or perhaps cashing in unused holiday time) to inflate the base upon which their pensions are determined. A classic abuse of that practice is Marty Robinson, the female chief executive of Ventura County in California. According to a recent report in the Economist, Robinson, who was earning $228,000, cashed in $69,000 of unused holidays and other benefits to retire with a yearly pension of $272,000. But it’s happening all over — not just in California. In Illinois, the General Assembly Retirement System provides for nearly 300 ex-state lawmakers, About 10 percent of those receive annual pensions exceeding $100,000. There are more than a few such cases in Albany  too.

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