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.

Say No to Small Government, Emergency Financial Managers

Ypsilanti is in a tough spot. Our city is facing a budget crisis that threatens to cut basic services, raise taxes, or both. Even with careful planning, even if we cut services and raise revenue, we still face the prospect of ceding local control to an EFM by 2017, and with it the very real possibility that we will lose local police, fire, even our parks and community centers, to a state-sponsored fire sale. And the biggest shame is we really have a chance to turn a corner.

Businesses are slowly coming back to our downtown. Long abandoned buildings have been rescued and transformed to lofts, and most of them are full. We have a thriving art and music scene. We have a major university that is working to build a partnership with the city after decades of animosity. We have a thriving and growing dining and nightlife scene, and an open and diverse community that accepts pretty much all comers.

Washtenaw County officials have seen the potential, and they have moved to help. By partnering with the city on state DNR grants they have helped bring a rebuilt public pool, and a pedestrian bridge spanning the Huron to connect to a new trail network to Water Street. That last investment alone will change the face of the city; it's the last link in a park system that will run nearly the entire length of Ypsilanti along the Huron River. And as a crown jewel of that park, a state of the art county recreation center and the infrastructure to support it on Water Street, the very vanity real estate project that has brought us to this financial crisis. With a little luck, it will be enough to make that property desirable to new developers.

We have a real chance. We have the things that young professionals want, and the housing prices that they can afford. But our schools are failing. We face draconian cuts to public safety and services. Our leaders tell us we need an income tax and debt millage just to stay afloat, on top of the highest tax rates in the county. It's going to be pretty hard to keep growing when we face those types of problems. I think Washtenaw County sees that, and they are trying to give us a bump in the right direction.

The state of Michigan, on the other hand, seems to only have one solution: figure it out or we'll do it for you. Older cities have been handcuffed; constitutionally mandated revenue sharing has been slashed. Tax credits that helped revitalize aging building stock slashed. Aid to schools cut and diluted even more by charter schools, which have now proven to be no better at education than public schools. Cuts to social services. Legislated union busting. Tax increases on the poor and elderly while corporate taxes are slashed. And the elimination of locally elected officials by state takeover.

Michigan is in better shape than it was a couple of years ago. The disease of free-for-all spending has come to an end. But all of the progress has come on the backs of our cities. It's like the cancer diagnosis you won't talk about. "I'm perfectly healthy, I just have a dozen or so tumors." We can balance the state budget all we want, it won't do much good if we're bankrupting everyone in the state to do it.

The people of Ypsilanti, the people of Michigan have stepped up. Groups like the Detroit Mower Gang and The Water Street Trail Project are reclaiming abandoned public lands. Community groups are stepping up to take over pools, community centers, parks, libraries, and all sorts of services that are the responsibility of the state. The DNR has even taken to asking for volunteer help to do maintenance in state parks. Churches and community groups are stepping in to replace the social services the state has eliminated. That's how we do things in Michigan. We won't be deterred, we won't back down. But enough is enough.

I don't buy into the ideals of small government, especially since that definition only seems to cover public services; when it comes to invading your privacy, women's health, or eroding public rights, supporters of "small government" don't seem to have a problem expanding government's reach. State government has time to pass laws to keep tabs on who's buying kegs of beer, the resources to try to figure out how to avoid adhering to voter initiatives passed with overwhelming support, but no time to help prevent residents of Flint, Pontiac, Benton Harbor, and Detroit from being disenfranchised and having the assets of their cities auctioned off. Is that really where our priorities are in Michigan? Now granted, I grew up in a family of public servant and union members, but that's not how I remember things getting done.