Monday, March 20, 2006

Political Animals: Let's Make Matters Worse

Does this feel familiar?

From Otis White's Urban Journal at

Must every issue in Detroit degenerate into name-calling and race-baiting? Apparently, yes. Take the seemingly easy issue of the Detroit Zoo. The city can no longer afford its $5 million a year subsidy for the zoo, but not to worry. A non-profit organization offered to take it over. All the city council had to do was OK the deal. But first, of course, the region had to take its usual walk down Vitriol Lane.

Background: Detroit is broke. Actually, it’s worse than broke; it’s facing a budget gap of at least $100 million. Given this, it can hardly afford such expensive but acclaimed luxuries as a city-supported zoo or its annual subsidy to the Detroit Institute of Arts. But, fortunately, the zoo has friends, a group called the Detroit Zoological Society, which offered to take responsibility for the zoo. The state said it would help out with a $4 million gift to ease the transition from city to non-profit management. Simple deal: Sign the papers and we’ll take this financial worry off your hands. Ah, but nothing is simple in Motown.

First, council members voted down the deal because they felt Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick wasn’t attentive enough to their needs. “The administration keeps wanting council to vote on something they’ve not had time to review,” a council aide complained to the Detroit News. “It disrespects the city council. If they don’t understand that, they’re stuck in one of the steepest learning curves in the history of mankind.”

Well, OK. Every city has prima donna city council members. But then, for some reason, the county executive of suburban Oakland County, L. Brooks Patterson, felt a need to weigh in, declaring that the entire Detroit city council ought to be in a zoo. Barbara-Rose Collins, one of the council members, shot back that white people don’t own black people anymore. Then Patterson sneered that he’d rather own an old Buick than Collins. Yikes!

Eventually, some semblance of reason was restored, and the council approved the transfer by a 6-3 vote. (Two of the three dissenters said they voted no because they felt the mayor still wasn’t prompt enough with information.)

All this would be funny if not for the dire straits Detroit and the region is in. Beyond the city’s staggering budget problems is a divided and economically ailing region. If ever there were a time for leaders to rise to the occasion, this is it. Alas, fate didn’t give Detroit leaders capable of rising. Instead, cruelly, it delivered L. Brooks Patterson and Barbara-Rose Collins.


mike said...

You touched on something I'm curious about. What is the City of Memphis and/or Shelby County subsidy for the Memphis Zoo? I know the pandas are costing a couple of million a year. How much does our zoo cost us?

Why is it that when we face budget cuts things like that, the museums and the golf courses never get mentioned as being cut or sold? Instead, they go straight to cutting vital services.

Just curious.

Larry said...

Write to the zoo and ask them ...

Anonymous said...
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Smart City Consulting said...


As for the zoo, the county does not fund it, and the City of Memphis' budgeted amount was $1.5 million in the most recent fiscal year, down from $1.7 million a year earlier. In other words, the city spends the equivalent of just under two cents a year in property taxes on the zoo.

Meanwhile, the total revenues of the Memphis Zoological Society were $15 million a year in the most recent IRS reports.

Under the heading of outsourcing management, the zoo seems like a success story.

As to the cutting of vital services, that's a tried and proven political strategy to keep from making the hard decisions.