Due to a recent decision made by Oakland County and neighboring suburbs, the city of Detroit may be hung out to dry. Last Wednesday, Oakland County made a federal request to implement a new oversight structure for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. The department has recently come under heavy scrutiny from state and national leaders due to its history of corruption and mismanagement. Though the department has been mismanaged, the city of Detroit should remain in control of the department. Detroit and its suburbs must agree to share oversight of the department in order to ensure an equal share of authority and financial liability.

Early last week, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing met with regional leaders about the status of the city’s Water and Sewerage Department, according to a Jan. 27 Detroit News article. The meeting took place after Oakland County filed a federal lawsuit calling for a new oversight board for the department. The Detroit Water Department has been criticized for its lack of oversight and longstanding corruption. Control over the department has come into question after it played a central role in former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s racketeering conspiracy indictment. Oakland County’s proposed board would replace the current oversight committee that’s composed of seven members, who are appointed by the mayor, with a five member board including Detroit’s mayor and representatives from different counties in Southeast Michigan.

The Detroit Water Department has been mismanaged under former oversight committees, so the concerns being voiced by groups from the suburbs aren’t completely unfounded. The city of Detroit controls a multi million-dollar department that supplies water to nearly all Southeastern Michigan. Any problems with the department affect a wide range of people, and Detroit leaders need to acknowledge there are problems that need to be addressed within the system.

While representatives from Oakland County and other suburbs are correct in recognizing that things must change at the water department, taking away power from Detroit isn’t a viable plan. Detroit bears the financial burden for the multi million-dollar department, and the proposed change would leave the city with that liability but give officials no authority over the functioning of the system. The suburbs and the city of Detroit must come to a compromise that holds the department’s leaders to a higher standard, yet also allows Detroit to have a central role in its operation.

The new water system should include input from regional municipalities, but the current state House bill being considered unfairly allocates authority. Oakland County and other suburbs that use Detroit’s water need to have an influence in the department’s decisions, but House Bill 4112 lets too much power rest in the hands of the suburbs. A compromise on this issue is in the best interest of the water department, and it will foster a spirit of cooperation between the different suburbs and the city of Detroit.

There is progress to be made in the infrastructure of Detroit, but stripping city officials of authority in that decision isn’t the way to go about it. Detroit needs to work its way back to being a hub city in Michigan, and regional cooperation will help make that happen.

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