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Detroit City Council should offer options, not roadblocks

February 25, 2005

Facing a $230-million deficit, the Detroit City Council ought to help lead or get out of the way.

Leadership doesn't mean swallowing everything Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick proposes, but it means more than just saying no.

The posturing over mayoral cuts to bus service and the Belle Isle aquarium doesn't bode well for a city facing financial crisis and possible bankruptcy. Council members are trying to buy time, but time is run-ning out.

Instead of suggesting alternatives, the council would rather pass politically appealing but meaningless resolutions such as the one it approved Wednesday, urging the administration to keep the aquarium open for two months while supporters look for alternative funding. The city can't afford to do it without hurting the Detroit Zoo, which oversees the aquarium.

Worse, council members approved another measure limiting the zoo's ability to sell or transfer animals. The legally and ethically questionable motion might mean that, if the aquarium closes, the animals can't be moved to other zoos without council's approval. Keeping animals in a closed aquarium, as council members and the mayor wrangle, could endanger the health and welfare of the animals.

The council is understandably concerned about cutting or reducing service on nearly 50 bus routes and ending 24-hour service. One in four Detroit households does not have a car, and bus cuts will have a severe impact. Kilpatrick has said he won't cut core services, namely, police and fire. But bus service is just as vital for many Detroit workers

Still, the council's response has been to oppose the mayor's plan without offering alternatives. Inefficient operations and work rules are costing the Detroit Department of Transportation millions of dollars a year, but the council won't take them on. Maybe free fares for senior could be eliminated. Seniors are deserving, but so are low-income workers who won't have a way to work.

Detroiters know what the council is against. Now they need to know what it's for.