Confusion City

Thoughts Concerning the State of Leadership in Bay City

    Additional Reporting by
    icon May 16, 2024
    icon 4 Comments

This might surprise some who know me as the “Hippie Mr. Rogers” of Downtown Bay City, but I once had a corporate career where there were only a couple of people between me and the top of British Petroleum.  I was an engineer who worked his way into management on the back of an ability to deal with what might be called “confusing situations,” where technology, business practices, personalities and cultures all came into play.

Those same skills helped the couple of times I’ve stepped out into the rough & tumble life of an entrepreneur.  They certainly came into play when I taught people the basic skills necessary to qualify for a chemical industry job when I was at Delta College.   To some degree, that is one of the things I have tried to do with my topical columns in the REVIEW - clear up a confusing situation.  Today, as I look around the local landscape, that’s exactly what we have on our hands.

Take, for example, an opinion I see regularly expressed on social media that the decision to lease the two City owned bridges to a private company was made by the “libtards” in CIty Hall or an example of  “Bidenomics.”  Let’s be clear:  There is nothing liberal, Democratic, progressive, Green, Socialist or Communist about giving control of a public asset to a private company.  It’s not even a Republican idea. This is straight out of the Libertarian playbook. Seriously, I wonder how many people that have been calling themselves Libertarians the last few years are now upset about the bridges.  They are confused.

There are all sorts of axioms that could come into play here.  “Be careful what you wish for.”  “Play stupid games, win stupid prizes”  “F**k around and find out.”   I’m going to go with “You get the government you deserve.”

You see, the voters at large aren’t alone in their confusion.  You have City Leadership that thinks of themselves as the local Economic Development Committee or the Tourism Bureau, all while shirking their responsibilities for infrastructure and services for decades.

You have local non-profits that are trying to be banks and concert promoters.  We have plenty of these in town that don’t need public money to get it done. 

You have people running these non-profits who see them mainly as a well-paying job for themselves, which is a long way from what was envisioned when the concept was put into the tax code.  But who could blame them in a world where the head of a non-profit like Blue Cross / Blue Shield of Michigan makes in the range of $20 million dollars a year?

Over the years I learned there are a few different reasons you can be confused.   One of these is you could be dealing with a partial set of facts.  Maybe your research was incomplete,  Maybe you have been duped.  Maybe you are just wrong.  But suddenly, when things don’t go the way you predicted, it’s confusing.  It happens to all of us sometimes..

You can also simply be in over your head.  Maybe you are more inexperienced than you realized.   Maybe the Peter Principle finally caught up with you and you are, in fact, incompetent in your role. Maybe you made your first big mistake and your corrective actions made it worse.

Understand that, as I write this, I have been all of those things myself at one time or another.

If I was in the current leadership group in Bay City, I honestly would quickly cop to one of those.  It’s probably the truth and the quickest path to redemption.  You have to realize that the other explanations for some of the most newsworthy events in the City over the last few years could just as easily be explained by other “C” words, among them things like “coziness” or “corruption.”

As someone who did nearly a billion dollars in deals in 35 countries, has been covering the area now for 20 years and someone who simply has their eyes open: you only get these types of results when you are bad at math, bad with money or bad at morals.  Pick one.

Here is the thing about being in leadership.  You are going to get constant criticism.  Stupid people are going to call you stupid, because they don’t know any better.  Thing is, smart people are probably going to call you stupid, too.  A good leader can figure out who is who.

When you are in charge, the best thing is you don’t have to be the smartest or most experienced person in the room. You need to learn to tap in to them. This, to me, seems to be the biggest failing in the elected and appointed group running the City right now.  City Hall looks like a Palace, but they run it like a bunker.

For instance, I attended quite a few of the meetings on the bridges over the years. I wasn’t the only one at those meetings.  What the Commission and City Management failed to pick up on is some of those white haired old coots in the audience used to be heavy hitters in industry -  Former Dow, Dow Corning, GM managers and engineers.  People good at math, good with money and with experience signing off on $100 million dollar projects.

Instead they hunkered down and gave us the situation we have now.

Please do not take this as anti-Bay City.  I am just calling it like I see it on a relatively small group of people that has managed to gain influence over City affairs. When I moved here around 20 years ago, I told many people that it reminded me of Royal Oak / Ferndale in the 80’s, where artsy people took over a dying town and made it a place more mainstream personalities, including the coveted families and young professionals wanted to live.  That’s what happened.

Unfortunately, as that metaphoric river has risen, we have a group of people floating on top of it like ducks thinking they got taller.  They are confused and it is time to start clearing some things up for them. 


Share on:

Comments (4)

icon Login to comment
  • user image
    Victor Mobley

    Because we lack a strong local news scene, I don’t know the nitty gritty details of the bridge decision. It’s my understanding that the bridge deal itself is the bad decision, but your article implies that the issue was that it was handled poorly. Do you think if they had consulted with those local “experts” things would’ve ended up differently? I think people would benefit from a detailed breakdown of their decision-making on the privatization.

  • user image
    Gary Alan

    Thank you Matt, very well stated. You nailed it!

  • user image
    Chris Williams

    Let's not make the mistake and think the elected officials are to blame for most things that have gone astray the majority of elected officials take their lead from the bureaucrats who have betrayed this city for fall to long with a mass majority of them not even living within the city limits and have no vested interest in the city as long as they continue to have their nice paying jobs packed full with benefits the citizens pay for it's time for the elected officials to actually do some good and pass a resolution that clearly states if you work in city hall you must be a resident of the city of bay City not in some surrounding township.Is there a city commissioner that has the balls to put that out on the table? I highly doubt it very sad

  • user image
    Rick L

    1) in the last 15 or 20 years, there came some time when the commissionershad to declare where their financial campaign support came from. I don't think there was an exception to the rule that all the commissioners accepted campaign money from the labor unions. There's nothing illegal about that, of course, but it helps to KNOW who the politicians represent. 2) One progressive idea that would help immenselyin Bay City is if the freedom of information law was updated to 21st century technology. The principle is simple: the information that people should be entitled to under the provisions of the law should be available almost immediately. It should not take a written request ,screened by a hired attorney, to decide how to handle the request. it is absurd to base FOIL on a primitive practice, that a clerk has to DROP what they're doing to go hunt for the requested information. Nothing could be intentionally more inefficient. Anything that is specified by the FOIL should be processed and stored on a computer or put into a computer to be available within 24 hours. The current system is archaic and maintained to BE slow. The website should be user friendly to allow people to get to the information they desire. Information BELONGS to the people, not to the politicians or city staff.