March 2, 2012; Source: Detroit Free Press

The state of Michigan plans to take away the City of Detroit’s use of $15 million in Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) funds and weatherization funds that typically go to Detroit’s local community action agency, or CAA. Unlike nearly all other CAAs in Michigan and around the nation, Detroit’s community action agency is a city agency, not an independent nonprofit.

The state and the FBI are already digging into the city’s Human Services Department’s alleged misspending of public dollars. In recent years, the agency had to give back some $7 million in Head Start funds because of declining enrollments despite an ever-increasing Head Start waiting list. The city already returned $9.2 million in weatherization funds last year because the city missed spending deadlines. The state also charges the city with having billed the state $600,000 for a nonexistent workforce development program. Mayor David Bing then laid off the department’s entire weatherization staff. The CSBG funds—$6 million—go to services that help the poor such as homeless shelter programs and food banks.

The state’s position is to transfer responsibility for Detroit’s weatherization and CSBG programs to an independent nonprofit that would run the programs. Oddly enough, Mayor Bing has agreed to work with the state in picking a nonprofit to receive and administer the funds. Some on the City Council were leaning lukewarmly in that direction too, until word leaked out that the state had already talked to the Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency in suburban Wyandotte to take over at least the weatherization program if not that and CSBG together. That has thrown a monkey wrench into the plan.

Some Council members are simply ticked that the state started sounding out other agencies without the city at the table. Others are open to a nonprofit takeover, but only if the nonprofit is from Detroit, not from suburban Wyandotte, the home of the Wayne Metropolitan CAA. And some, such as Council member Kwame Kenyatta—while acknowledging the problem of mismanagement—are simply opposed to taking the funding out of the city government’s control, arguing, “I don’t support any sort of takeover of this city and this government, but I definitely support a makeover of this government.”

Is turning the city’s money over to a nonprofit to administer a good idea? Is the city so structurally deficient that it cannot be fixed in a way that would do the right thing with weatherization and CSBG funds? Or should the state be working with Mayor Bing to clean up the city’s Human Services Department and rebuild the city’s capacity to run its own programs? –Rick Cohen