Thursday, December 24, 2009

Dave Bing and Mark Ridley-Thomas: A Contrast in Public Servants.

Dave Bing was elected mayor of the once great city of Detroit last year.

Mark Ridley-Thomas was elected to the Board of Supervisors of the struggling County of Los Angeles last year.

Dave Bing has no illusions about the task he faces. Detroit, once America’s fourth largest city in 1950 with almost 1,849,568 residents, has shrunk to about 900,000 today. The city has been declining for 4 decades, the catalyst being the riots of 1967. Between White flight followed by Black flight, and the decline of Detroit, the industry, the City is but a shadow of itself.

The remaining residents of Detroit are essentially dependent upon private pensions or government funds for their survival, through either employment or transfer payments.

If Detroit were part of a business, the Board of directors would liquidate it.

That is not an option for government. Neither the federal government nor the state of Michigan can walk away from Detroit.

But they can’t save it either.

The city of Detroit must reinvent itself. The entrepreneurial spirit must rise again.

Dave Bing is a realist. He understands the problems. His first goal is simply to stop the hemorrhaging, just to stabilize the budget, which shows negative revenue growth and a $325 million deficit.

The city is paralyzed by a culture of entitlement and ever rising union wages. City workers are represented by 17 unions with over 50 separate bargaining units, some with less than 100 members. Each has a president whose salary is paid by the city.

Mayor Bing is not anti-union, but he knows he must disabuse the public sector unions of their expectancy of guaranteed jobs with great benefits. A job at 90% pay is better than no job at 100%. The UAW did not make the adjustment in time.

Entrepreneurs are strangled by bureaucrats and taxes. He’s trying to find a way to cut through the red tape.

Dave Bing is not doing it for the glory. He’s already achieved one of the highest honors in basketball – being selected as one of the 50 top NBA players, having played 10 years for the Detroit Pistons.

He’s not doing it to get rich. He’s done that in the private sector. He founded Bing Steel when he left basketball, and transformed it into the successful Bing Group.

He’s doing it to give back. His goal is “to bring the city back.”

Dave Bing is a true public servant.

Symbolically, his office furniture is Spartan, and he draws no salary. He stated “there’s no money to be wasted on redecoration.”

Mark Ridley-Thomas is a career politician who’s clueless.

He has held political office since 1991, sitting on the Los Angeles City Council from 1991-2001, the California State Assembly from 2002 to 2006, the California State Senate from 2006-2008, and then jumping to the County Board last year.

His major opponent in the Board race was a fellow city councilman, former Police Chief Bernard Parks. Chief Parks has been a dedicated public servant his adult life. As Police Chief, he cleaned up, reformed, and strengthened the LAPD in the aftermath of the failures of his two predecessors. He incurred the wrath of the police union though, and the public employee unions poured millions into Ridley-Thomas' election.

So why did Ridley-Thomas jump to the County Board of Supervisors? Term limits, the powers of incumbency, and a $3 million slush fund.

The California assembly has a six year limit of three 2 year terms and the Senate eight years of two 4 year terms. The County Board of Supervisors has a 12 year limit, consisting of 3 four year terms.

Incumbents are hardly ever defeated for reelection.

Each supervisor has a $3 million annual allowance for staff and office expenses. Any part of those left over goes into a discretionary fund, which can be donated as grants to non-profits. In other words, taxpayer funds are given out as charitable contributions by the 5 supervisors in their discretion. The fund is essentially a slush fund since no supervisor dares question how another uses the monies.

Ridley-Thomas received approval for $707,000 in office renovations, which would exceed $1 million when new furniture, out of a different account, was thrown in.

One million dollars in office remodeling when the county budget is $36 million in the hole this year, and an estimated $173 million next year.

One million when the county budget dropped 2.1% from 2008-09 with 1,720 positions being cut.

One million dollars when the LA County courts have cut $140 million from the $850 million budget.

One million dollars when Los Angeles County has lost 340,000 jobs since January 2008.

Nothing is wrong with his office. It’s just that it’s in oak, and he wants cheery. He threw a walkin closet into the redesign as well as a kitchenette for the staff.

The crusade against the office renovation was led by the dynamic talk radio duo of John and Ken on KFI, ABC 7, and the Los Angeles Daily News, which called it “remodelgate.”

The funding was reversed three days ago on the motion of Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. It had become politically indefensible.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ problems is not per se the office remodeling as the budget collapses. The problem is one of attitude. He does not regard the public funds as a trust for the people, but as a piggy bank to be used for the benefit of the public employees and elected officials. He is all too representative of the political class corrupted by power, Lord Acton’s power.

Public corruption is bad, but more has been lost and squandered by "public servants" who believe that the public serves their needs.

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