Friday, April 2, 2010

America's Toughest Job?

Brenda Clack and Dayne Walling looking carefree on the campaign trail last June. (Photos by Gordon Young)

When I was writing about the Flint mayor's race last summer for Slate, I was impressed that two rational, well-adjusted candidates — Dayne Walling and Brenda Clack — were fighting so hard for a job that seemed so thankless.

“The winner of this city's Aug. 4 special mayoral election will be expected to solve problems caused by complex global economic forces that he or she is powerless to control, while also mastering the mundane yet vexing task of running a weary city in need of jobs and revenue,” I wrote. “Hey, I got a pothole on my block, and the garbage truck missed my house yesterday. And while you're at it, could you please do something about deindustrialization?

Less than a year into office, Dayne Walling is discovering that the honeymoon is very short for Flint mayors. He was immediately criticized for two high-profile appointments to his administration. A Flint school board member launched a quixotic recall effort against him. Then he was forced to lay off police and firefighters to help erase a massive budget deficit he inherited after efforts to renegotiate union contracts stalled. The layoffs happened to coincide with a series of fires in abandoned houses and buildings. Arson is suspected, and Walling said the fires had a “perverted political purpose.” Awkwardly, Walling has had to request special police protection at his home after he received anonymous threats. Oh, he also had to reduce garbage pickup, causing residents to fret about rats.

Of course, let’s not forget about Flint’s seemingly never ending unemployment problems and shrinking tax base.

Just to make life interesting, Walling plans to run for re-election in 2011, and he may face a familiar opponent. Former Mayor Don Williamson, who resigned in the face of a recall election, is hinting at a possible return to politics.

Kristen Longley of The Flint Journal reports:

But Williamson said he’s recently received “a couple thousand phone calls — or more” from supporters who say they’d like to see him go for it.

He said he’s recovered from the health issues that prompted his resignation from the mayor’s office, and he feels “in perfect shape.”

“Somebody has to save the city of Flint,” Williamson said. “The people are calling me.”

More than 2,000 calls? Really? That’s about 10 percent of the people who voted in the last mayor's race. Let’s see, Walling was elected in early August, so if the calls of support for Williamson started immediately, that means about 9 calls a day, every day, until now. No wonder the former mayor is in such good shape; he’s spending a lot of time running to the phone.

And Walling is spending all his time trying to run the city. No one said it would be easy.


  1. Toughest job? At $106,000 a year and a police force that is constantly cut to pay it, what's so difficult about it?

  2. Cutting $8 million out of a city budget seems pretty tough to me. Not sure how I'd do it. Glad I don't have to. Let's hear some ideas...

  3. I should add that I meant to put a question mark after the headline, meaning it was open for debate. Didn't mean to imply that this was indeed the toughest job. So I added the question mark.

  4. Yeah, as far as elected positions go, this one's pretty tough. That said, I would have cut everything but police and fire. And I think jobs where you have no real control and you have to do them to pay the bills are all probably tougher than being mayor of Flint simply because Walling or Williamson and Stanley could all quit and do other things.

  5. The issue though is that cuts have been made around the board and Walling was still forced to make cuts. Some officers cost the city over $100,000 in total compensation/benefits. They wanted to cut 15% of that total cost.

    The unions, in this case, are engaging in an aggressive misinformation campaign and unfortunately it seems to be working.

    If the public safety unions were willing to take those cuts, no one would have lost their job.

  6. the city of flint is being bled dry. most of the firefighters and officers do not live in the city. thus they are taking away from the tax base needed to pay their salaries. considering the economic times, i would prefer to see the fire and safety guys stay on the job and agree to take modest cuts in benefits, just as everyone else has had to make. they want to protect the residents of flint, many who have lost medical benefits, and seen their medical premiums rise. we would like to keep you but less residents, including firefighters and police, mean less revenue. move back into the city, that would be a start. as for the fires of vacant homes, and suspicions of arson, the mayor should call in the fbi.

  7. Dan, if these 15% cuts are so great, why did the mayor only take a 5% cut?


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at