A Look Inside Detroit, Bus Edition …

This is a must-read WSJ piece. And imagine, this is just a single department, in a single city. Definitely click-through.

Lessons From a Front-Row Seat for Detroit’s Dysfunction – WSJ.com: 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.

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. Micromanagement by the council was endemic; I once sat for five hours waiting to discuss a minor transportation matter while City Council members debated whether to authorize the demolition of individual vacant and vandalized houses, one by one. There are over 40,000 vacant houses in Detroit.