cannot be surprised by President Omar's reversal of opinion,
initially voting to move the proposal forward on the Highland Park
Leadership Steering Committee (HPLSC), but later voting against it
My own abstention vote at
the HPLSC was the result of a frustrating lack of data. I felt that
the Rothchild-Wright Group had done a poor presentation, but did not
want to necessarily vote against them just because they might have
had a bad day.
I asked Mr. Wright about the lack of
online information, and he told me that the company was new, but his
former company, JM Wright &
Associates - had been around for 20 years.
I went home and spent frustrating hours
attempting to discern what and who this group was. The results were
I found NO tangible information,
direct or indirect about the company. The only thing I could find
was a one page
defunct website for the Rothchild-Wright Group.
To put it in perspective, were you to do a search on any established
company, you will usually find primary information - that which can
be gleaned from the company's website, secondary information - links
and interactions between said company and those with which it does
business, and third party information - comments and queries about
the company by unassociated individuals.
As far as I can discern, the company's main
boosters appear to come from State Senator Martha G. Scott's
What surprised me about the proposal was the brokers for Highland
Park - The State of Michigan - had apparently not given the State
appointed city manager the resources to perform a feasibility study
so as to determine the value of the
water department's product.
What is the value of drinking water ?
Who wants it?
What does it cost to get it to prospective customers?
This is basic protocol that precedes any
commercial transaction on this scale. The value of such a study
ought to be self-evident; the document itself is of immeasurable
value, because lenders - such as banks - have data upon which to
determine the risk of lending.
The study also gives the brokers protection in that if something
goes wrong, they can at least demonstrate that they have made
a good-faith effort to see that any transaction is based upon
It was obvious that Mr. Wright's organization
had done a study. They knew what to propose and, as is normal
business practice, went for the biggest profit margin possible. That
is as should be, that's free enterprise. My question is why hadn't
our brokers come to the table armed with their own study? Surely
they didn't rely on the Rothchild-Wright Group's study for their
With all this in mind, I went to the Council
special session to hear what Mr. Wright had to say, hoping to be
Alas, Mr. Wright's presentation at the Council
special session was as sparse of data and as vague as that I had
seen presented previously at the the HPLSC. At one point Mr. Wright
needed to get basic documents from his car while the council drummed
their fingers, waiting for the session to proceed.
Things seemed to go down hill from there. As
evidenced by their intense questioning, the Council seemed
increasingly skeptical and nervous about the proposal.
You may imagine the citizenry of Highland Park
exhibited even less enthusiasm when they got the floor.
When I left, Valerie Johnson of Farrand Park, a committee member on
the HPLSC and a member of the
Coalition waxed eloquently, elucidating her argument why the
Rothchild-Wright Group should not be allowed to run HP's water
I was relieved to hear the Council vote was
4-1 against, Frank Ross being the only
council member voting in favor. At the very least, the State needs to do the
above-mentioned feasibility study. The Rothchild-Wright Group needs
to come better prepared, if they can.
What needs to be done?
The State appointed city manager, Mrs. Ramona
Pearson, is bound by her mission to make Highland Park able to pay
its bills, at any cost. From her point of view, she is obliged to
entertain any proposal that falls within this parameter, even if it
may not be in the long term interest of the city. On any financial
issue, despite what the Mayor, the Council desires, the city manager
has the final say.
It is my hope that Mrs. Pearson will confer with the Governors
Office on this subject before overriding the wishes of the Highland
Frankly, I am surprised - with
all the attention that Highland Park appears to be getting from
Governors Office - that so little consideration is being afforded
this third world city.
Since the State is our broker in this matter, they are the ones
responsible to see that the Highland Park Water Utility be handled
in a responsible manner and not be victim to whatever opportunistic
fly-by-night company offers up a first bid.
To err is human. Is this an unfortunate
oversight? Might the parties take a deep breath and look at this
situation through new eyes? Surely reason must prevail.
Park Council President Ameenah Omar:
"I supported the Agreement with the Steering Committee because
the deliverables proposed by RWG directly addressed concerns
expressed by citizens for years.
I had questions and I raised them at the
meeting. Mr. Wright promised to respond to my questions, which
addressed the absence of a history of the company to operate
water systems, two years of financial statements which would
aid me in determining if the company could in fact finance the
Agreement, and a list of the names of investors.
I owed it to citizens to consider the
Agreement and to perform due diligence before voting on the
issue. Additionally, I have confidence in Mrs. Pearson and her
team. I could not take a chance on the issue being dismissed
before fully pursuing the possibility of meeting the needs of
At the Special Meeting to which you referred, Mr. Wright did
not provide the requested documents and responded poorly to
questions raised by Council members and the public. He, in
fact convinced me that he had very limited knowledge of any
water system, no plan was presented and he was very evasive in
his response to questions.
While his presentation was very poor, he
thanked me for my input after the meeting when I told him that
I really like the concept and I am aware that many
municipalities have turned to managed operations to off set
budget shortfalls, that he will check with his investors as to
their desire to continue talking with us. If so, he will
respond to issues raised at the meeting and get with Mrs.
I remain committed to taking cost cutting and cost avoidance
actions, and to working with the Emergency Financial Manager
and her team. I am very impressed that in spite of revenue
reductions, they have reduced our outstanding debt by more
than three million dollars.
The bottom line regarding the water
issue is that we need to relieve the general fund and design
operations to generate revenue to meet our pension
obligations. I do, however, owe it to citizens to be clear on
HOW WE REACH THIS GOAL. TO REACH THE BEST DECISION, WHAT HAS
WORKED FOR ME IS, HOLD OFF ANY MOVE THAT LEAVES ME WITH MORE
QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS. Premature decisions may cause me to
miss additional information. I owe citizens the assurance that
I have done my homework, free of compromise.
I fully stand by my decision on Monday
night and my decision does not mitigate Mrs. Pearson's
Addendum: I had a chance meeting with Councilman
Frank Ross, the only Council vote in favor of the Rothchild-Wright
water agreement. I asked him about his position on the water
issue and agreed to summarize his opinion for
"Highland Park is in a desperate condition, and this calls for
extraordinary measures, so that when The state appointed city
manager Ramona Person has spent a year carefully putting a
deal together that will help Highland Park into the black, I
think she deserves our moral and practical support. Mrs.
Pearson is not obliged to consult with the Highland Park
government and citizenry, yet she does, which is a tribute to
her consideration and honor.
Our citizens need immediate relief from inconsistent water
billings, out-of-control delinquencies and water main breaks
all over the city. Highland Park needs immediate cash flow to
move towards solvency and long-term operational stability. We
are not selling our water system but arranging for its
professional management. All the risk is on Rothchild-Wright
Group successfully managing our water system, with the option
to terminate the agreement within 30 days if they fail to do
so. We need to move forward immediately with this management
arrangement and I supported my opinion with my vote on Monday"
Comments? Agree? Disagree?