Tuesday, September 4, 2007

SIMPLE: "Just Do It!"

The future will determine success of Pontiac's meetings

Web-posted Aug 26, 2007


The last of six roundtable discussions on the future of Pontiac has been held, and what can we say about the results?

True, we are hardly an unbiased observer, since we are the ones who launched the eight-month process. But the effort should be called at least a limited success.

The sessions certainly produced a wealth of information that the city's institutions can draw upon to move Pontiac forward.

In addition, a core group of individuals emerged who clearly have the city's best interests at heart.

A few people attended all six of the meetings. They are Mayor Clarence Phillips, Oakland County Circuit Judge Fred Mester, County Commissioner Tim Greimel, the Rev. Douglas Jones and Rick David of the United Way, who moderated all six events.

A survey conducted by The Oakland Press late last year served as the basis for the roundtables. Fed by the notion that Pontiac -- Oakland County's seat of government -- is a distressed city, readers were asked to list which problems they thought were most serious.

Public education, the police department, city finances and political leadership emerged as the top concerns. Roundtables were held on each subject, with city finances and schools each generating two meetings.

There were tangible accomplishments from the roundtable process. The education roundtable spawned a permanent group that is helping the district prepare the buildings for returning students and expanding mentoring efforts in the system.

The finance roundtable produced solutions to the city's problems that the City Council promptly rejected. But at least the public now knows who is responsible.

The police roundtable discussion made it clear that Pontiac is not interested in contracting with the Oakland County Sheriff's Office for service as a cost-savings measure. It also stimulated healthy discussion about staffing levels in the police and fire departments.

And last week's discussion on political leadership produced a request that the mayor and council schedule a retreat to improve their relations within six weeks.

The need for consensus on the school board was emphasized as well. Note that all of these concerns focus on Pontiac's public sector. Does this mean Pontiac's quality of life is wrapped up in public institutions?

The answer is no. All facets of the Pontiac community must be involved in improving every phase, "but we can't get the private sector to engage unless the public sector solves its problem," said Jack Weiner, chief executive officer of St. Joseph Mercy Oakland hospital in Pontiac.

That may explain the private sector's reluctance to participate in the process. Of nine individuals from the private sector invited to last week's roundtable, only two attended.

That was a disappointment, as well as the City Council's failure to produce an attendee.

So what is next?

Accountability needs to be established. It is one thing to identify problems, quite another to find solutions.

Solutions have been outlined, however, in the course of the discussions, and they have been fully reported on our pages and on the Internet. For instance, go to www.theoaklandpress.com, click on "Pontiac: What's Next?" and you will find -- among other things -- Chartwell's very comprehensive report on the school system, which contains all the fodder necessary for turning around the district, and recommendations for solving Pontiac city government's budget woes.

Are there some bitter pills? Indeed. Who said it would be easy? Trite as it sounds, the Nike slogan "Just Do It" fits Pontiac perfectly. First on the list should be for the City Council and mayor to forge a consensus on the city's budget deficit.

Won't they be embarrassed if the state has to come in and do it for them?

Let's see where we are at in the process six weeks from today.

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