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Former Ann Arbor Public Services Administrator Starts Detroit Fire Then Throws Gasoline On It

Sue McCormick’s (below) bouffant hair-do, a 60s throw-back, supposedly hides horns. At least this is what a fired forestry worker claimed when talking about his work for the City of Ann Arbor, and McCormick—who was his boss. McCormick, who worked for the City of Ann Arbor until former City Administrator Roger Fraser decamped with his pension to work for the Snyder administration, the State of Michigan and, most likely, toward a third public pension. McCormick packed her bags and took a job with the Detroit Water and Sewage Department as the Director—took her Ann Arbor pension, and went off to Detroit to the Big Leagues.

She went from sedate Ann Arbor, where the Mayor and City Council could be led around by their egos, to Detroit, where the political culture is less, well, gentile. City Council members air dirty political laundry in the Detroit newspapers, and on YouTube. It’s the city where Mayor Dave Bing walks a tightrope above the chasm of insolvency.

When McCormick left for Detroit, Ann Arbor politicos-in-the-know posited she’d been hired for one reason: to privatize the Detroit Water and Sewage Department. After all, McCormick managed to privatize several of Ann Arbor’s departments, including the composting program. That was supposed to save taxpayers big bucks. To date, however, McCormick’s promised savings have been elusive. It turns out that McCormick had, indeed, been hired to bring in a private company to run the city’s Water and Sewer Department.

In Ann Arbor, such ALEC-inspired tactics found enthusiastic support among the local Hive Mind Collective and Borg Queen John Hieftje. However, in Detroit, McCormick is finding the waters a bit rougher.

At issue is a plan cooked up by McCormick to reduce the union work force by 80 percent over the next five years. The proposal by the consulting firm EMA Inc. was approved by the DWSD board last month. It would change the way jobs are classified and shrink the number of water and sewer employees from 1,978 to 374, then McCormick would hire 361 private “contract” workers. McCormick has told city officials the move could save about $149 million annually. Yeah. Right.

It’s exactly the kind of scheme McCormick and Fraser cooked up time and again in Ann Arbor with help from the fauxgressive politicos. The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and the city, for instance, employed unionized parking workers until John Hieftje and his DDA pals got the bright idea that Republic Parking could be hired to run the city-owned parking lots. The unionized workers were bounced from the payroll, and this freed up money for perks like $50,000 bonuses for Republic Parking big wigs each year. Big savings? Since 2009, metered parking rates have been jacked up from $.80 per hour to $1.50 per hour with the city using Republic Parking and its low-paid workers.

The Detroit Board of Water Commissioners adopted McCormick’s proposed restructuring plan, then approved a $48-million no-bid contract with with EMA Inc. of Minneapolis, despite protests from unions and environmental groups.

According to reporting by the Detroit Free Press McCormick justified the scheme thusly: “It results in benefits to the community that will help us minimize rate increases. We have a process in place to make sure that we don’t go too far, too fast.”

Ann Arbor water customers know better than to believe that Sue McCormick has ever cared about minimizing rate increases.

While head of the Ann Arbor Water and Sewer Department, McCormick led City Council by the nose and urged them to increase water rates dramatically. In 2004, residents paid $2.92 per unit for usage between 20-45 ccf of drinking water. By 2011, when McCormick left, the cost of the same amount of water usage had been jacked up to $4.50 per unit. She had been allowed by Fraser to build up a surplus of between $30-$50 million dollars in the water and sewer fund. McCormick, Fraser and the Hive Mind Collective members, led by Borg Queen Hieftje, then siphoned off water and sewer money to pay for pet projects, such as the salary of the first administrator of the Percent for the Art program, as well as a $1.2 million dollar project that ran a sewer line to the middle of an empty field on Fuller Road (an improvement for the parking lot and train station Hieftje wants to put on fragile river-front parkland, across from Fuller Pool).

While Ann Arbor’s Hive Mind politicos supported Fraser  and McCormick in their efforts to sock it to unionized workers while lavishly compensating upper-level managers (including themselves), Detroit’s unionized workers and City Council members are less, well, collegial and cooperative. In fact, McCormick’s Water and Sewage Department workers are in open revolt. The 950-member union went on strike Sunday to protest plans to lay off many of them and privatize some of the work. The workers belong to Local 207 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. A judge promptly ordered the union workers back to their jobs.

It’s illegal in Michigan for municipal workers to strike. End of story? Not in the D.

The union promptly challenged the federal judge, and the group’s lawyer told the press: “Judge Cox is the cause of this strike. He took over and unilaterally started deciding what union rights would be… We just don’t think he can be employer and judge. We don’t think you can act as management and then pretend to be neutral party.” Union president John Diehl then slapped the 99 Percent card right down on the table in front of 1 Percent Poster Girl McCormick. He told the media: “This strike gives the people of Detroit a much needed and long awaited opportunity to change the balance of power in our favor.”

The striking workers defied the order to send them back to work and continued to picket. In a leaflet passed out by AFSCME Local 207, the union suggested that Bing will fold, because in an election year, the union’s leaflet posits, the Democratic Party “can’t have a Democratic politician like Bing openly busting a union which is only trying to defend our modest living standards.” McCormick’s next move? Gasoline on the fire. On October 2, 2012 she sent letters to 34 of the striking workers suspending them—the first move in an effort to fire their uppity ashcans. McCormick writes in the letters that the workers “engaged in gross misconduct that endangered public health and safety.”

On the World Socialist Website, the October 2, 2012 headline says it all: “Oppose the strikebreaking injunction! Defend the Detroit water and sewerage workers!”

In September 2012 an Ingham County judge struck down two parts of the consent agreement Governor Snyder imposed on Detroit in order to avoid having an Emergency Manager come in and strip Mayor Bing and City Council of all powers. The judge’s ruling stipulated that Sections 4.1 and 4.3 are “severed and declared void,” because they violate the emergency manager law, Public Act 4. Public Act 4 itself was stayed in August pending a November 6th vote on whether it should be repealed. But the Detroit consent agreement remains in effect because it was agreed to while the emergency manager law was still in force.

Section. 4.1 says, in part, that Bing has “the authority to negotiate, renegotiate, execute, amend, modify, reject or terminate collective bargaining agreements.”

If the strike gathers support from the city’s other unionized workers—a distinct possibility—the 4 million people in Wayne and Oakland counties who get their water from the city of Detroit, could face dry taps. AFSME union leaders could face charges of contempt and jail time, and striking workers could lose their jobs, pending legal hearings. Sue McCormick’s job as the Director of the Detroit Water and Sewage Department hangs in the balance. There are plenty of Ann Arbor city employees who would be delighted to see McCormick fall flat on her bouffant.

“She was a terrible manager, just terrible to work for. There were a lot of happy people when we found out she was leaving to go to Detroit,” said one of McCormick’s former employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity. 

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2 Comments for “Former Ann Arbor Public Services Administrator Starts Detroit Fire Then Throws Gasoline On It”

  1. i think you mean “genteel” :)

  2. Bing ought to be spanked for hiring McCormick. Of course it is always good idea to hire a Democrat when you want to dismantle essential services or sell off public assets. It’s touching to see them, hat in hand, shoulders slouched feeling like they are feeling our pain. Yeah Detroit, it’s no good trying to educate or discipline them. Spank the mayor and boot Lady Bouffant back to Lansing.

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