Blog: Andrew Clock

If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito. - Betty Reese
Water Street Trail Project founder Andrew Clock, volunteer coordinator of the Michigan Roots Jamboree and barfly philanthropist, offers the pick-me-ups to prove that no one is ever a speck on the wall.

Who Should Hold the Keys to the City?

Like everyone else in Michigan, the Ypsilanti Heritage Festival is facing hard times. Attendance has been down and so has revenue. It's getting harder and harder to find donors and sponsors. You have to start asking yourself if there is still value in free civic festivals, and if it's even possible to maintain them as free and open.

I honestly don't know the answer to the second question. The deck is stacked against us, to be sure. Ypsilanti is in dire financial straits. A declining tax base and drastic cuts in state revenue sharing, combined with the debt of the failed Water Street development scheme has crippled us. Our schools are deep in debt, and proliferation of charter schools has made the situation more dire. We have the highest tax rates in Washtenaw County, and there is both a debt retirement millage and income tax proposed for the May ballot. Even with those increases, we face the very real possibility of having an emergency financial manager imposed on us, which would essentially eliminate local government. But we are still lucky by Michigan standards; we saw it coming and have already cut services to the bone.

The city's financial situation leaves our festival in the interesting position of being a civic festival that isn't supported by the city. That's not to say that the city doesn't go far out of its way to support us, they do. It does mean that we have to pay for every service we need. Park rental, police and public works services, and special event permits, even a $1,000-dollar a day capital improvement fee. City fees are the single largest budget item, and are the number one reason it's hard to keep things free. Now we have the added challenge of losing Michigan's charitable giving tax deduction, making it harder to raise the funds we need to keep the festival alive and free.

Even with all of those fees, Ypsilanti is not accepting any more large festivals, and is considering restricting or canceling existing ones if the tax measures don't pass. There simply won't be enough staff to cover it, they say.

I say if that's the case, if we have to give up the very things that make our city great, let's turn over the keys to the Governor right now. Why are we fighting to keep local control if we have to give up everything we love about our town anyway?

The answer to that first question I proposed, is there value in large-scale civic events, that's a solid yes. Festivals give communities a chance to come together. A chance to meet new people and learn about your community. Or maybe just a chance to have a good time. They bring residents out of their homes and visitors into the city.

I guess to me, the question is, do we really want to give up the things that make our cities unique, that bring us together? Is that really how we build a better, stronger Michigan? I don't like that answer. There has to be a way to make our cities financially viable without losing the things we love about them. Otherwise, what's the point?