Lessons from a Front-Row Seat for Detroit’s Dysfunction

Bill Nojay, Wall Street Journal, July 29, 2013

Since Detroit declared bankruptcy on July 18, the city’s crippling problems with corruption, unfunded benefits and pension liabilities have gotten the bulk of airtime. But equally at fault for its fiscal demise are the city’s management structure and union and civil-service rules that hamstring efforts to make municipal services more efficient. I would know: I had a front-row seat for this dysfunction.

Last year, I served as chief operating officer of the Detroit Department of Transportation. I was hired as a contractor for the position, and in my eight months on the job I got a vivid sense of the city’s dysfunction. Almost every day, a problem would arise, a solution would be found—but implementing the fix would prove impossible.

We began staff meetings each morning by learning which vendors had cut us off for lack of payment, including suppliers of essential items like motor oil or brake pads. Bus engines that the transportation department had sent out to be overhauled were sidelined for months when vendors refused to ship them back because the city hadn’t paid for the repair. There were days when 20% of our scheduled runs did not go out because of a lack of road-ready buses.


A major expense for Detroit is the cost of lawsuits filed against the city for various alleged injuries on municipal property. At the transportation department, there were hundreds of claims arising from bus accidents alone. How many of those claims were fraudulent? How many were settled (with the cost of settlement and legal fees posted against DDOT’s budget) at unnecessarily high cost?

It was impossible to know, since the city’s law department handled all litigation and settled cases without consulting the DDOT staff. It was the law department’s policy to settle virtually all claims—which meant that the transportation department became easy prey for personal-injury lawyers bringing cases with little or no merit, costing the city millions.


Disability and workers’ comp claims were routinely paid with no investigation into their validity. More than 80% of the transportation department’s 1,400 employees were certified for family medical-leave absences—meaning they could call in for a day off without prior notice, often leaving buses without drivers or mechanics. Management’s only recourse to get the work done was to pay the remaining employees overtime, at time-and-a-half rates. DDOT’s overtime costs were running over $20 million a year.

Then there was the obstructionism of the City Council. While I was at the DDOT, roughly 10% of bus-fare collection boxes were broken. In another city, getting a contract to buy spare parts to repair these boxes would be routine. The City Council publicly expressed outrage that we didn’t fix the fare boxes, since the city was losing an estimated $5 million a year in uncollected fares.

But the reason we couldn’t fix the fare boxes was that the contract for the necessary spare parts had been sitting, untouched, in the City Council’s offices for nine months. Due to past corruption, virtually every contract had to be approved by the council, resulting in months-long delays. {snip}

Union and civil-service rules made it virtually impossible to fire anyone. A six-step disciplinary process provided job protection to anyone with a pulse, regardless of poor performance or bad behavior. {snip}


Detroit’s other municipal departments had similar challenges. I would often compare notes with managers trying to run the city’s street lights, recreation programs, police departments and smaller offices. All of us faced similar gridlock.

The last thing Detroit needs is a bailout. What it needs is to sweep away a city charter that protects only bureaucrats, civil-service rules that straightjacket municipal departments, and obsolete union contracts. A bailout would just keep the dysfunction in place. Time to start over.


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  • Puggg

    What Detroit needs is its old demographics back.

    • E_Pluribus_Pluribus

      Snapshot of what four decades of liberal social engineering did to the Detroit public schools:

      1954 – 84 percent white
      2004 – 3.7 percent white

      • Puggg

        It’s not so much “liberal social engineering” as much as it was racial replacement. Unless you consider out right racial replacement as an example of liberal social engineering.

        • E_Pluribus_Pluribus

          I was thinking of busing for racial balance, “desegregation.” The effect was certainly racial replacement, but the engineers certainly did not see it that way at the time. Quoting Wikipedia:

          The judge who instituted the Detroit busing plan said that busing “is a considerably safer, more reliable, healthful and efficient means of getting children to school than either car pools or walking, and this is especially true for younger children.”[3] He therefore included kindergarten children in the busing scheme: “Transportation of kindergarten children for upwards of forty-five minutes, one-way, does not appear unreasonable, harmful, or unsafe in any way.”

          • Ed_NY

            Speaking from experience, busing was unreasonable, harmful and unsafe in every way.

          • me

            Yup. The Cathedral believes that White character is something that will ‘rub off’ on Blacks, like Whiteness is not something inherent instead of socially engineered.

        • Sick of it

          Considering amnesty…it is!

        • dukem1

          Ethnic cleansing.

        • NeanderthalDNA

          Funny. Germans have traditionally managed to live crowded together in large urban sprawls and have a functional social welfare system. And pay their bills. And keep the place looking decent. Without lots of crime.

          Guess there aren’t enough Germans in Detroit, eh?

      • Defiant White

        Your analysis is ridiculously over-simplistic. I guessed you missed the part where the city’s industrial base disappeared, taking the whites with it. What was left were the dregs of society who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) escape.

        Whenever “Detroit” comes up, it’s always used as a poster child for black failure. But that’s not true. Haiti may all be excellent examples of that (plus every other country in Africa, it seems) but the problem in American cities is much more complex.

        Haiti is an example of a resource-rich nation run into the ground by black stupidity. But Detroit was run into the ground by the industrial collapse of American steel and American car makers. Blacks just finished off whatever was left of the carcass.

        Whites left Haiti because of black revolt. Whites left Africa because they granted their colonies independence. Whites left Detroit because the industries collapsed. What all three have in common is that when whites leave, blacks fail. Blacks, on their own, are incapable of living in a Western society.

        • sbuffalonative

          I agree that we have to take into account the loss of manufacturing jobs for white workers. But the riots also drove out whites who may have stayed and stuck it out by starting their own businesses or working for lower wages in other jobs.

          I live in what might be called a bedroom community of the old steel mills in the Buffalo area. After the mills closed, many white people left but there were few blacks. This area didn’t succumb when the steel mill closed. In fact, for many years it remained safe and stable community supported by people with modest incomes.

          Blacks are definitely the nail in the coffin but had whites felt safe, more might have stayed.

        • MekongDelta69

          While you make a good point about the auto industry, you are over-analyzing.

          Pre ‘Great Society’:
          1.) Blacks came north to look for jobs.
          2.) Blacks got jobs for which they were
          3.) Blacks (for the most part) had a mother and a father.
          4.) Blacks (for the most part) didn’t go all ‘Black Power’ because Whites wouldn’t put up with it.
          5.) Black criminality was confined (for the most part) to black neighborhoods.
          6.) Blacks (for the most part) were glad
          they were making more money than where they came from – because if they hadn’t been, they would have voluntarily moved back.

          Post ‘Great Society’:
          1.) Blacks come north to inhabit White cities.
          2.) Blacks take over because of ‘affirmative action.’
          3.) Blacks move into White neighborhoods because of forced integration.
          4.) Blacks (urged and encouraged by self-loathing, guilt-ridden, mentally-deranged leftist whites), rape, rob, kill Whites and plunder cities.
          5.) Whites get called ‘racist’ for daring to point this out.
          6.) Whites get disgusted with being blamed for all of Blacks’ failing and leave the cities.
          7.) Formerly White city becomes all black and cities turn to dust.
          8.) Blacks bitch and moan that their ‘meal tickets’ ran out on them and it’s Whites’ fault their cities turned to dust.

          • Defiant White

            And you say I’m over analyzing? LOL Once again, this is overly-simplistic. If your model is correct then every city in America should be a “Detroit.”

            Look, as white nationalists (or whatever we want to call ourselves) what we’re offering fellow whites is the CONFIDENCE that we know what we’re doing and can make things better.

            To do that, we have to engage in rational analysis. We have to deal with FACTS and we have to be able to analyze problems properly. otherwise, our solutions are no better than the Liberal’s solutions.

            There is much more going on in Detroit than negro stupidity and criminality. All American cities suffer from that but not all will end up like Detroit. The difference is the economic base.

            A city can ride out the curse of blackness as long as there’s sufficient employment for enough responsible whites to pay taxes. But when that disappears, the place folds.

          • Gunrunner1

            Sorry, but Pittsburgh (80% White) dealt with the collapse of the Steel industry just fine. Seattle dealt with the loss of Boeing just fine. Detroit had a demographic shift and an average I.Q. drop of its population of over 25 points when White engineers left and shiftless negros moved in.

          • me

            You’re partly right, yet partly wrong. The curse of ‘blackness’ on the land is undisputable for bringing about violence, mayhem, destruction, and White Flight. The area of Appalachia is poor, but you can walk down the street without getting your throat slit for a pair of sports shoes, or suddenly becoming unconscious in a ‘knockout game’.

        • MBlanc46

          You’re also missing a couple of important events here. First, the riots of 1967. Second, Coleman Young telling whites that if they didn’t like the way he ran Detroit, they could leave. You’re right, it’s a complex story, but other rust belt cities experienced similar conditions and didn’t become Detroit.

      • 48224

        I doubt that Detroit schools are 3.7% white. More like 1%. Some blacks and others are obviously calling themselves white. DPS was 99% black last time I checked. There are whites moving back into the city but NONE of them put their kids in the public schools….if they even have kids.

        • E_Pluribus_Pluribus

          My 3.7 percent white for the Detroit public schools was for 2004. You are talking about 2013 and may very well be correct for that year.

    • MBlanc46

      And the only way to begin the process of restoring the old demographics is to put the white people in charge. That is what the bankruptcy judge needs to do.

      • Defiant White

        Not at this point.

        • MBlanc46

          As the process unfolds, a reorganization will be implemented. That reorganization should include a governing entity controlled by whites.

  • [Guest]

    Most of these systems and procedures are useful for building and maintaining civilization, Mr. Nojay, and they were put into place for that reason.

    The problem has to do with WHO is in charge of them.

    • Ed_NY

      What Mr. Nojay also said in that article is that blacks never show up to work. They abuse sick time, workers compensation and are down right useless. Blacks are not productive citizens at all but they are rather deadweight on White Americans.

      • [Guest]

        >>>Blacks are not productive citizens at all but they are rather deadweight on White Americans.

        I agree.

        Concerning the article: Nojay is acknowledging that Detroit suffers from “corruption, unfunded benefits, and pension liabilities,” but in addition he’s pointing the finger at “the city’s management structure and union and civil-service rules.”

        My point is that the problem isn’t really the system; it’s the people who are in charge of the system—blacks.

  • Spartacus

    This never gets old :

    • Ed_NY

      I showed that pictorial to my wife many years ago and made a race realist out of her. Thanks for reminding me and as you said “it never gets old”.

    • dmxinc

      Sad thing is Rome failed. We are failing and there are more descendants of those Africans in the world than the descendants of all White cultures combined.

      How can this happen?

      • Spartacus

        Actually, there’s still more whites around than there are blacks, although that’s set to change in a few years…

        “How can this happen?” you ask . It’s quite simple, really – We feed them . When we stop, most of them die, end of story .

    • Skip Wellington

      Those grass condos are “fixer uppers”.

      • jane johnson

        And the one on the left is a Section 8 just waiting for diversity to make it more vibrant.

  • WmarkW

    “Democracies perish when the people realize they can vote themselves money” is variously attributed. This is what it looks like. It just happened quicker in this case, because government is black’s closest thing to capitalism.

  • bigone4u

    Incompetence, incompetence, incompetence–there must be a black incompetence gene waiting to be discovered by scientists. The blame game gene is there too. It’s the same in Africa, Detroit, Birmingham, and so on. Expecting any different outcome is insanity. One city at a time is falling to the corrupted gene pool. and we’re paying for it.

    • Frans

      It’s also called low I. Q. in many cases. But you’re right that there’s a screw loose somewhere in there—the incompetence of even the more intelligent ones is in the genes. Every where that blacks run things failure and disaster follow.

  • kjh64

    Detroit, Zimbabwe, what’s the difference?

    • China_Rising

      Detroit has Whitey’s tax revenue. Detroit is actually a paradise compared to Zimbabwe. Remove racist Whitey, and the true Bantu will be revealed.

      You ain’t seen nothing yet. Just wait until Detroit files for bankruptcy in another 5 years.

    • Alexandra1973

      Guns versus machetes…?

      Over there it’s called tribal warfare, over here it’s gang warfare.

  • 1proactive2

    Of course this former supervisor is reporting as a sober adult, but Detroit’s representative’s will instantly scream “racist” if tax bailouts require an elimination of the current city council and the layers of city bureaucrats.

    Don’t look for the MSM to be honest and focused if a bailout demanded these conditions. Read Colin Flaherty’s book, “White Girl Bleed a Lot” to see proof of my statement. The book records how the MSM completely disregards black mob attacks on whites and Asians, and those, across the country going on for the past several years. You can read a synopsis of the book on Amazon along with reviews therein.

    The MSM views blacks as a protected minority, pets, if you will, and thus not bound by any rules of ethics. Liberals in congress will also chime in as will the union bosses regarding any major overhaul being racist in their view.

    Blacks are consistently self-sabotaging, and they enjoy the process, it glaringly appears. They demand from decent society that they will not be held accountable for any corruption, crime, incompetence, or destruction of the cities they govern, and they will be respected by the potentates in power in their demand.

    Don’t look for any positive and lasting change when the fed and state kicks in with a waterfall of tax cash handouts. Most of our current congress is on the same page as Detroit’s politicians, and the black thugs will continue to rule the streets in that third world shooting gallery.

  • Luca

    The bigger problem for these city governments will be the unfunded salary, pension and benefits packages. Union negotiators sat across the table from the very people they helped get elected and said “Give us A, B and C and throw in the moon and the kitchen sink, you’ll retire before the scat hits the fan. Unless of course, you’d rather be out of a job next year.” When the rank and file got raises it trickled up to the managers automatically, so no one complained. Everyone got a big slice of the pie.

    It was a nice arrangement until recently, but they always knew it was unsustainable, even these idiots know simple math. They just don’t care; they’ve got golden parachutes.

    • Frans

      I’m not convinced of that—that even the seemingly more intelligent ones know simple math. I believe that there’s a common sense and logic gene missing in the majority of “these people,” and the corrupt unions easily take advantage of their greed and gigantic egos.

  • Evette Coutier

    During the 68 riots blacks robbed and burned the white owned stores across the city. Whites people began leaving the city in mass for fear of black mob violence. Their businesses had been destroyed and they said enough. Detroit quickly became a black city with all the accoutrements of blackness, and the city decayed into the urban paradise it is today. All the excuses,the rationales, and the finger pointing will never change the reality that blacks are at fault for their stereotypes, their failures, and for white flight.

    • Ed_NY

      I thought all of those black automotive engineers and black technocrats were going to revitalize the US auto industry and Detroit. At least that’s what some in the MSM have said.

      • They’re tired out from inventing the heliocobopter. Ask them again in 400 years.

        • me

          Don’t forget the other ‘black invention myths’…..which made the entire continent of Africa what it is today….

  • Funruffian

    Detroit is a freak and horror show of multiple proportions. You can not expect a collective IQ of 85 to run factories, organizations and business without mishaps, evildoings, negligence and gross incompetence.

    • Alexandra1973

      Looks like a war zone to boot. Last Thanksgiving I took my son up there to see my relatives, and my mom drove us down Woodward Avenue, it was DEPRESSING. You could look down the side streets and see empty lots, buildings with bars over the doors and windows, buildings destroyed….

      Visited my uncle in a neighboring suburb, he and his wife have cameras around their house because of car theft. They told me that my 1997 Grand Caravan was a prime target for theft, so when we got back to my mom’s, she parked behind me in her driveway. My aunt also told me that someone tried to steal their car, but she had a gun and with it convinced the thieves that it was best not to try.

      When I was a toddler, back in the 70s, we lived on Trumbull. Not too long ago I used Google Earth to check it out. I knew a long time ago that after we moved out the apartment house there it had burned down…but when I saw the location on GE, I saw that only the Trumbull Corner Market was still there, the rest of the block–nada. Sad. I still have memories of my mother pushing me along in a stroller and I’d watch the pavement go by beneath my feet.

      I’m wanting to go visit again before my son starts school. This time I’ll take I-275 *around* Detroit, to I-696. I also make it a point to refuel *outside* of Detroit.

      • saxonsun

        A friend used to take my sister around Boston to see the black squalor–a tour of the ghetto.

        • Alexandra1973

          I hope they were armed. When my dad was alive, any time he had to go in or through Detroit, he was packing heat. A .357 Magnum.

  • din_do_nuffins

    “Almost every day, a problem would arise, a solution would be found—but implementing the fix would prove impossible.”

    Translation: Implementing White privilege is impossible with Government empowered Diversity.

    • me

      Quit using the ‘White privilege’ phrase. That’s what our enemies use. The only ‘White privilege’ that exists is in funding our own genocide…..

  • me

    LOL! Don’t forget the food stamps, Section 8, race ‘quotas’, Affirmative Action, free Medicare, and the Obamaphone. Hee hee!
    Now, they want more ‘gibs me dat’, which the Cathedral will gladly give them.