Here’s a sick little scene I witnessed earlier this week.
The feds swarmed a police station and removed boxes and computers. Then they raided the home of the chief of police who doesn’t even live in the city. They took his personal computer and cell phone. Not done, the feds went to a tanning salon owned by the chief’s wife and ransacked that.
Suspected embezzlement, sources tell me.
So I went to city hall to get answers from the mayor, who had put out a press release informing the public that he had instructed the chief to cooperate with the feds.
While I was waiting for the mayor in the corridor of city hall, he snuck out the back door and drove away. As the chief executive, he never bothered to fully inform his employers -- the citizens -- what was going on.
This was Romulus, the little city down by the airport. It’s important to say that Romulus, like so many other cities in Michigan, is on the financial ropes. Firefighters have been laid off. The library is scheduled to close in six weeks. They even had to cancel the pumpkin festival.
I think Steve Luokkala, a Romulan and former Marine said it best: "I had to serve and protect a library in Afghanistan and here we are in Romulus talking about closing ours and now the police department is being investigated for embezzlement? This is s---.”
Yes Steve, it is.
You talk about Chicago and its famed municipal corruption. New York’s is the stuff of Hollywood movies. But I’ve worked in New York and New York works as a city. I’ve covered the Queens County courthouse and I’ve got to say I’ve never witnessed such turpitude and incompetence as I have in my three years back here in southeastern Michigan.
Romulus Police Chief Michael St. Andre has reportedly stepped down. But let’s assume, as is required by American custom and law, that St. Andre is innocent until proven otherwise. That doesn’t negate the fact that Romulus is run more poorly than a corner grocery store.
And then consider financial and political scandals in a half-dozen other municipalities:
In Southfield, a city council member has pleaded guilty to taking bribes and an expensive watch in exchange for his favorable vote on a pawn shop.
The Allen Park city manager was forced to resign after driving the city into near financial collapse with a poorly conceived plan to build a movie studio without first locking in a tenant.
In Ecorse, the mayor and city controller have been indicted on charges they took cash in exchange for favorable contracts.
In River Rouge, the former city council president was arrested in Florida earlier this month on charges he took bribes for his vote on a city contract.
In St. Clair Shores, the former mayor plead guilty to stealing $27,000 from city scrap metal sales and having a water bill waived on a home owned by his wife.
In Oakland County, two former leaders of the county Democratic Party were charged with election fraud and attempting to rig an election.
In Detroit … well, we all know about corruption in Motown. The whole world does by now. And before you send noxious comments about race or political party please notice my list includes both predominantly white and black towns, Democratic and Republican. It’s gotten so bad in Michigan that Attorney General Bill Schuette found the need to empower a new Public Integrity Unit to ratchet up the fight against municipal corruption. So far they've filed more than 40 charges, and that just the first month.
It’s gotten so bad that Gov. Rick Snyder signed the Emergency Financial Manager law that could strip troubled municipalities and school districts of their representative authority in favor of an all-powerful fiscal czar.
Our society is rotten. And who can be blamed? You, the uninvolved citizen. You’ve gotten the governance you deserve. Ask yourself, when is the last time you attended a city council hearing, a school board assembly or went to a voting booth? Don’t scream about your union rights when you don’t bother to go to your own union meetings.
The cure is a simple one: either you get involved in your government or Gov. Snyder will do it for you.