ElectionDetroit City Council Candidate Questionnaire: Lisa Howze
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About 50 percent of the city's $1.8 billion general fund budget is spent on salaries and benefits. Is there a way to address an accumulated deficit of at least $300 million and avoid the risk of insolvency without significantly reducing those worker costs? If not, by what percentage overall do you think they should be cut?
Yes; generating more revenue and using current resources more efficiently is the way to address a $300 million budget deficit without significantly reducing worker cost. One opportunity to generate revenues for the city of Detroit evolves around Belle Isle. Apart from charging a toll to get onto Belle Isle, the city can lease naming rights on each of the more than 20 sheds at Belle Isle to local and national firms. The city can partner with a company to create a customer loyalty program whereby local retailers, including gas stations, restaurants, and party stores within a 10-mile radius of Belle Isle can participate and offer discounts to holders of the Belle Isle "membership" card. A portion of the proceeds generated from such a program can then be reinvested in the neighborhoods.
A method to cut cost would involve streamlining the operations of various City departments to help our budget concerns. By performing managerial and operational reviews, we can determine where there is waste and duplication of effort, and therefore, eliminate unnecessary costs.
We would also want to review the city's private service contracts to determine if there is a better way to do business and learn if we are truly receiving value for service.
Do you have any other ideas as to how the city can either significantly cut costs or raise revenue?
The City's most valuable asset is its land, which the city has in abundance. The vacant land must be put to productive use that will generate property tax revenues. To encourage economic development, the city may offer tax abatements for a period not to exceed five years to business developers in exchange for job creation for Detroit residents.
Another use of the land is urban farming. This solves two problems – productive use of land and giving city residents, and particularly senior citizens, access to healthy fruits and vegetables. The monies spent to purchase fresh produce will circulate within the local Detroit economy.
In terms of cutting cost "Right Sizing" the City is a cutting edge idea that would allow for more efficient use of government services such as police, fire and waste pick up because of the decreased area that has to be supported.
Would you support changing Detroit's city charter to allow district elections for some or all council members?
Yes. I support council elections by district as it offers citizens an opportunity to have a council person who can be directly responsible and accountable to the citizens in that community. I do caution and ask whether or not the council member who serves by district can be any more effective in addressing citizens' needs if the authority to hold department heads accountable resides in the executive branch only. I am also concerned whether or not the council member will get the support that he or she needs to provide adequate resources to the citizens in the communities where he or she serves. The soon to be newly elected Charter Commission needs to give these concerns careful consideration when drafting the new Charter, as it relates to council by districts.
The Detroit International Bridge Co. is attempting to purchase a section of Riverside Park so that it can build a new span adjacent to the Ambassador Bridge. At the same time, a publicly owned bridge is being planned for the Delray area. Explain your support for or objection to each plan.
The Windsor-Detroit link is very important for both Canada and the United States, but there's a huge problem. As it stands, traffic on the bridge is a nightmare, featuring ongoing bottlenecks and congestion that doesn't even spare the trucking industry which is hurting badly from this state of affairs. Therefore I support feasible measures that rectify the clogged Windsor-Detroit crossing and cure the heavy barriers to both trade and travel. However, my utmost concerns lie with those who reside in those communities that will be most affected. Environmental justice is a major concern. I am of the position that any project should first pass an environmental assessment. An estimated 10,000 vehicles cross the bridge daily and the emissions from those vehicles should be considered before approving any project. Traffic on surface streets are also of great concern.
One of my major concerns with the Detroit International Bridge Co. project is the possibility that southwest Detroit will be overrun by industry if the Ambassador Bridge is allowed to proceed with its plans. According to the Southwest Detroit Business Association, businesses directly impacted by the construction have lost up to 30% in revenue. Traffic congestion, including commercial trucks, has tripled in local neighborhoods, especially those near Fort Street, Clark Street and Rosa Parks, causing substantial accelerated wear and outright damage to local streets. The freeway closing has also led to an increase in criminal activity, especially prostitution.
The City Council has twice voted to send the city's trash to landfills instead of the incinerator, and is exploring its legal options in an attempt to make that happen. The administration, meanwhile, is considering purchasing at least a share of the facility, and possibly all of it. As a council member, would you support or oppose continued use of the incinerator?
I oppose continued use of the incinerator. According to Waste News, Detroit is the only City of the 30 largest cities in the US that does not have any form of curbside recycling. The report conservatively estimates that a 50% recycling rate in Detroit would likely result in creating more than 1,000 new jobs in the City of Detroit. If we do not renew the contract with the incinerator operator and instead use a landfill, we'd have the flexibility to start and rapidly expand recycling (according to the ecology center). We'd save on tonnage, and residents could possibly be paid for recycling.
Also, the incinerator is ranked 6th of 124 major sources in Wayne County for nitrogen oxides (1,444 tons). High levels of mercury and dioxins blow over the City. Some reports argue that the incinerator is a major cause of high rates of asthma in the area surrounding the incinerator. Detroiters in turn pay three to five times more per tonnage to dispose of their waste. I can't support those numbers.
Given the city's fiscal crisis, what, if anything, would you do as a council member to help support the arts and culture in the city?
I would evaluate each of the city's cultural centers and determine the current cost of managing these facilities. I would ask the city to explore options to streamline the costs and improve the bottom line operations. In addition, I would work with organizations like Center for Creative Studies, Detroit's School of Performing Arts, and other groups that support creative expression to promote art and culture in Detroit. Arts and culture are a very important to a thriving society.
What have you done personally or professionally to help advance civil rights, regional cooperation, race relations, poverty reduction, pro-environmental efforts, or any other similarly significant cause?
Related to poverty reduction, I have done the following:
Through the National Association of Black Accountants and Volunteer Accounting Service Team of Michigan, I have prepared free tax returns for low to moderate income working individuals and families, helping them to obtain the federal earned income tax credit. In addition, I have developed materials and presentations that teach adult and youth audiences about principles of financial management, including saving, investing, financial goal setting, budgeting, and debt and credit management.
As a council member, what could you do to help Detroit capitalize on the burgeoning green economy?
By supporting and advocating for the training of our populous in the growing field of green technology. I plan to work with groups like Detroiters working for environmental justice who already have programs in place to train in areas such as environmental assessment and weatherization.
What innovative ideas do you have in regard to dealing with the massive amounts of vacant and abandoned property in Detroit?
I propose three options:
The first 3,000 to 5,000 demolitions to target should be of grossly dilapidated structures near schools and recreation centers. Concentrate these efforts into a particular street or neighborhood to improve one area of town at a time. Place the newly vacant land in a land bank and offer it for sale to individuals or corporations who have sustainable plans for immediate reuse. Use the proceeds from the sale of land to fund the next series of demolitions.
As part of Workforce Development Program, train displaced workers in building construction and demolition. Place newly trained individuals with companies that are on the approved vendor list for demolition and debris removal in Detroit. Provide worker with a voucher that can be redeemed for goods and services of business establishments that will benefit from having abandoned property removed.
To prevent recently foreclosed homes from adding to the list of vacant and abandoned homes, issue a moratorium on foreclosed homes. Arrange for city, county and state elected officials to meet with the homeowner and the financial institution and work out an agreement whereby the homeowner has an opportunity to remain in their home in exchange for servicing another need in an effort to rebuild Detroit with available labor. The financial institution in return receives a tax credit.
Name one of your favorite movies about politics? What is it about this movie that made an impression?
Vantage Point was a political action-thriller. The intriguing thing about this movie was that it illustrated how people view and process information from different perspectives, sometimes resulting in a false understanding of what actually occurred.
What book dealing with politics or government — either fiction or nonfiction — would you recommend others read? Why?
The Audacity of Hope, by now President Barack H. Obama. The citizens of Detroit are void of hope given the condition of the economy and the lack of faith in their elected officials. This book touches you on a spiritual level and makes you believe again. More importantly, it helps us to believe in our own human potential.
What piece off music (other than Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On,") has affected you in a political, moral or social sense? Please explain why.
Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror." Change starts with self. We cannot expect others to do for us what we are not willing to do for ourselves.
What question should have been included in this, but wasn't? And what would your answer to that question be?
What skill set would you bring to City Council if elected and how would that benefit the city?
I am the only certified public accountant running in the City Council race. I will bring more than 14 years of public accounting and client service experience, which includes creating budgets, reviewing contracts, analyzing financial results, performing financial as well as operational audits, and managing client expectations. This skill sorely needed given the city's $300 million budget deficit and the council's responsibility to approve the budget.