Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano has got a lot of unwelcome publicity in the past week due to the enormous hole he dug for himself with the Turkia Mullin scandal. (If you’re not local, or otherwise need to get caught up to speed on how Mrs. Mullin snagged herself a nice windfall courtesy of Wayne County taxpayers, let me steer you to the Detroit Free Press’ coverage & Jack Lessenberry’s op-ed on the scandal.)
Having read Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson the riot act on this blog on more than one occasion, I figure it only fair to call out Mr. Ficano. And this isn’t the only reason why Wayne County voters ought to replace him. Let me recount some others:
1. First of all, it appears the Mullin case is only one of a number of other questionable cases involving separation payments to former Wayne County employees under Mr. Ficano. For further detail, check out Sandra Svoboda’s story in this week’s Metro Times.
2. These generous payments to Ficano appointees have taken place at the same time that Mr. Ficano has been laying off and instituting furlough days for rank and file county employees. I’m not terribly sympathetic to public sector unions, but they have every right to be outraged that Ficano’s appointees are getting lavish payouts when they are being asked to sacrifice.
3. The Aerotropolis. Mr. Ficano ‘s been hawking the I-94-centered Aerotropolis for years. From what I’ve read of the aerotropolis, a concept aggressively marketed by its originators John Kasarda & Greg Lindsay, it seems like a half-baked idea with little evidence that it generates the type of metropolitan economic growth its supporters claim it can. (See the New York Times review of Kasarda & Lindsay’s book for a more detailed and nuanced discussion on this topic.)
Mr. Ficano’s embrace of the Aerotropolis is part of a bigger problem:
4. A misguided sense of economic policy, which he shares with former Governor Granholm. One thing I do appreciate about L. Brooks is his refreshing bluntness. His initial reaction to state tax incentives for the Aerotropolis was to call them “another example of the never-ending torrent of legislative bullshit out of Wayne County.” L. Brooks ended up coming around to Ficano’s side on the issue, but I think he was onto something with that characterization. I think giving tax breaks to businesses to locate in the area around the airport, just because Mr. Ficano got sold on the Aerotropolis idea, is a lousy idea that only contributes to a race to the fiscal bottom between state and local governments.
“If you’re going to consolidate anywhere in the world, you can now come here, because you are going to get tremendous tax breaks,” Ficano said at the time.
This is not a visionary long-term economic development policy. Just because it is (sadly) popular among state and local officials across the country does not mean it is smart, appropriate, or good for metro Detroit. Unlike Governor Snyder, who has waged war on tax incentives, Mr. Ficano has not yet recognized this.
Metro Detroit more than ever needs the best leadership it can get. Sadly, between Mayor Bing and Mr. Ficano, it’s still not getting it. Hopefully this will be the straw that breaks the voter’s back and leads to shakeups in the next elections.