Sunday, January 20, 2013
The Body Politic
"...for the body politic incorporated-- not individuals. That was the reason the people wanted the charter amended.."
On Jan. 14 Krystal Crittendon announced a possible bid for the Mayor of Detroit, proving that she may have survived one of the most vicious 'witchhunts' the corporate media in Detroit has ever levied on a city official.
This summer, local news outlets spent weeks laying seige to the person and reputation of Crittendon, the City of Detroit's Corporation Counsel. What did Crittendon do to incur the wrath of our suburban warrior press?-- her job, as it turns out.
As Mayor Bing was pressuring City Council to approve a far-reaching Consent Agreement with the State of Michigan, Crittendon turned up legal grounds to challenge the agreement. She asked a judge to rule on the matter. That request was fully supported, in fact mandated, by the new City Charter, whose revision was approved by a referendum vote in 2011.
Unfortunately for Crittendon's career, her actions also stood directly in the way of Governor Rick Snyder's ongoing plans to execute a political and economic takeover of the city of Detroit.
It needs to be repeated, (it was conspicuously played down by the Free Press and the Detroit News) that Crittendon was not only at her discretion to question the consent agreement's legality in court-- she was legally bound to do so.
In fact, it would have been grounds for removal if she hadn't taken legal action. She attempted to make that point to reporters the couple of times she spoke publicly on the subject, but they reserved very little space to report on what the revised charter actually says.
Ingham County Circuit Judge William Collette later decided that Crittendon's suit was unfounded, but his decision was based on an interpretation of the old city charter, according to Crittendon and other legal observers.
It is the new City Charter, ratified by voters months before his decision, which dictates Crittendon's actions. And the revised City Charter explicitly states that she act on behalf of the City of Detroit and not the Mayor and/or City Council.
That particular change in the definition of the Corporation Counsel's responsibilities was, ironically, one of the main issues which motivated proponents of the City Charter revision in the first place.
The entire episode is instructive considering the ferocity and obvious intent to vilify, which local papers (except one) exhibited as they executed their "investigation" into Crittendon's actions. She was labeled a "rogue attorney" and even held responsible for the potential bankrupting of the city (the Governor and the Michigan Treasury Department had made clear that they would not release tens of millions of bond monies held in escrow to the City of Detroit unless the Consent Agreement was approved by City Council).
They ignored completely the fact that Crittendon interpreted the City Charter correctly and that the judge in the case ruled on an obviously expired document.
It was a textbook example of how easy it is for the suburban-based media to turn a Black public figure, no matter how ethical their actions, into an "uncontrollable" or "rogue" city official.
Mayor Dave Bing, with Governor Snyder-appointed deputies literally looking over his shoulder (and probably directing his every move), has, of course, lobbied for Crittendon's removal from the moment it was apparent she wouldn't ignore the law.
On January 8 the 'coup d'etat' was complete. City Council reversed earlier legislative actions in support of Crittendon, and voted for her removal from the position of Corporation Counsel by a 6-3 majority. (Kenyatta, Jones and Watson remained loyal to the people).
Crittendon's intention to run for Mayor of Detroit in 2013 indicates she received a good amount of public and political support during the ordeal. If she continues to show the courage, composure and self-control she maintained through this summer, she's a worthy candidate in my opinion.
Crittendon's political future aside, there are some dire consequences to be examined as a result of her relatively easy removal by Mayor Bing and Governor Snyder.
Firstly, the firing of Crittendon sets a dangerous precedent for future City Counsels who may have differing opinions than the Mayor. Even scarier is the fact that the City Charter has now been trampled and disregarded a mere ten months after a highly-publicized, fairly democratic revision process.
There were some reasonably progressive changes that were worked into the new Charter. We must be vigilant in assuring that they are protected in the future.
The music track above includes responses given by former Detroit Corporation Counsel Krystal Crittendon to local TV cameras and correspondents when they cornered her in the Coleman A. Young Municipal Building. The segment aired on WXYZ-TV Detroit on June 14, 2012.