Thursday, April 22, 2010

"I work for Lansing," Harris said in a voicemail. "I don't dictate what happens."

State financial CPA and Granholm's man in Benton Harbor apparently cannot act without her say-so. Joseph Harris, in BH for about 3 weeks, has little control over the job he's being paid (by BH) $11K per month to do - maybe it takes $11K to have complete control over an employee. The following Herald Palladium article on Harris, journalistic integrity intact, is a breath of fresh air. Comments at end.

Stood up?

Financial manager's absence at Tuesday meeting viewed as snub; Harris says Lansing wouldn't allow him to attend

By Evan Goodenow, Herald Palladium, April 21, 2010

Benton Harbor - When appointed by the state in the financial takeover of Benton Harbor, Emergency Financial Manager Joseph L. Harris promised transparency, not invisibility.
So some of the Benton Harbor residents paying Harris' $11,000-per-month salary wondered why he didn't show up for a Tuesday public meeting at City Hall.
"No one was looking for him to be a messiah, but at least someone to say, 'I'm coming here to help you,'" said meeting moderator Dr. Donald C. Tynes, a member of the NAACP Benton Harbor/Twin Cities chapter. "When you had your chance to say hello, you let it go."
NAACP member and meeting organizer George Moon said he never spoke to Harris directly, but was told by Ivy Gill, City Manager Ronald Carter Jr.'s secretary, that Harris would meet with residents. Gill refused to comment, but Harris on Monday denied agreeing to meet and said organizers needed to get approval from his bosses in the state Department of Treasury.
Harris said it was irresponsible for organizers to announce a meeting was being held when it hadn't been approved by the state, but said he would attend. But on Tuesday Harris said his bosses vetoed the meeting.
"I work for Lansing," Harris said in a voicemail. "I don't dictate what happens."
Those who do made a bad call, said some of the 40 people who attended the approximately two-hour meeting. Treasury officials said on April 1 when they appointed Harris he would have a public meeting several weeks into his tenure. That would allow him time to develop drafts of budget balancing and financial recovery plans, which he has until July 1 to complete for Treasury officials.
However, Harris met with about 100 bigwigs at an April 8 invitation-only gathering in which he announced that city employee layoffs would be necessary to deal with a $300,000 projected shortfall in this fiscal year and a $1.4 million shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year.
Residents on Tuesday expressed frustration that Harris could make time for the private gathering but not for them.
"He's just a free agent collecting $11,000 a month," said resident Catherine Barnaby. "He's for us, supposedly, and he won't meet us."
Barnaby questioned who Harris was accountable to as residents read copies handed out at the meeting of a Sunday Detroit Free Press article story about Arthur Blackwell II, the Highland Park emergency financial manager accused of embezzlement.
The article detailed how Treasury officials allowed Blackwell to keep his job despite learning he had written himself checks from the financially hurting city's coffers without state approval. Blackwell wasn't fired until the Free Press began investigating.
Treasury officials and Harris weren't the only ones criticized at the meeting.
Berrien County Commissioner Marletta Seats said Gregory G. Roberts, Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm's special adviser and Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships director, has been acting as a gatekeeper for Harris in violation of the separation of church and state.
Roberts was assigned by Granholm to help oversee state efforts to improve conditions in Benton Harbor after the 2003 riots.
Seats, the mother of takeover critic and Benton Harbor Commissioner Duane L. Seats, said she has been steered to Roberts when calling the state about Benton Harbor issues.
"I'm elected by the people and I've got to go through the church? Not me," she said. "I'm an evangelist too, but there is a separation."
Roberts said while he regularly confers with Harris, Deputy Commissioner for Local Government Services Valdemar Washington and State Treasurer Robert J. Kleine are Harris' bosses.
"My role is a dual role. Not just working with faith-based leaders, but with community leaders like in Benton Harbor," said Roberts, when reached by phone after the meeting.
"She clearly does not have all of the facts. She's looking at Greg Roberts through a portion of the lens."
Roberts said most residents will eventually appreciate Harris - Detroit's auditor general from 1995 to 2005 - due to Harris' financial acumen.
For now, residents like Willie Lark, owner of Lark & Sons Barbecue, remain skeptical. Lark said he resents that while the state appointed Harris, residents of the nearly broke city have to pay him.
"If I send somebody to work at Lark's, I'm paying them," he said. "If you send somebody to Lark's, you need to pay them."

COMMENTS: Harris says he works for Lansing -- why isn't Lansing paying him? He's losing the peoples' trust and will have to work to attain it (if he cares). He met with Whirlpool bigwigs, but not residents - that says it all. Harris is a pawn in "corporate fascism" (total merging of government and business interests). Detroit tried to get rid of Harris - Mayor Dave Bing finally did. Goodenow reports the Free Press investigated another financial manager; how about the HP investigating? Start with Whirlpool. Granholm adviser Greg Roberts was assigned to look out for Whirlpool's best interests and their takeover of BH. (The faith-based part of his job has absolutely no place in government.) Ms. Seats has the facts on Roberts - she went to high school with him.