Contingency plans being developed for the bankruptcy of Detroit

A number of municipalities have experienced fiscal troubles in recent years but the issues in Detroit may be pushing it to bankruptcy:

The working concept, still evolving, assumes that the state’s financial review would find severe financial distress in Detroit, that Mayor Dave Bing and City Council would be unable to push through overdue restructuring, and that the process would culminate in appointment of an emergency financial manager under Public Act 72.

The case would be filed under Chapter 9 of the federal bankruptcy code, according to two ranking sources familiar with the situation, following efforts to reach prenegotiated settlements with as many key creditors — unions, vendors and pension funds among them — as possible before any filing…

The evolving bankruptcy scenario is a clear signal that Gov. Rick Snyder and Treasurer Andy Dillon have lost confidence in the ability of the mayor, his management team and council to honor their commitments under the eight-month-old consent agreement with the state, or to make any meaningful progress on restructuring.

Over recent years, a number of suggestions have been thrown out regarding Detroit including the city should be contracted and it is an ideal site for urban farming and reclaiming the land from unused and/or vacant buildings.

I wish the article spent more time discussing what would then happen to Detroit moving forward. How will this affect city services and residents? After a managed bankruptcy, where does this leave the city? Realistically, what plans could be pursued that would put Detroit on a better financial footing and with some hope for the future?

Naperville government leads Illinois’ top 20 cities in social media use

Naperville is used to accolades – see this well trumpeted #2 ranking in Money‘s Best Places to Live in 2006. Here is a new measure of excellence: Naperville is #1 in a suburban government’s use of social media.

A University of Illinois at Chicago study ranks the western suburb No. 1 among local government websites in a study of social media use by Illinois’ 20 largest cities.

Researchers from the university’s College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs analyzed the websites using at least 90 criteria to determine how well each provided residents with information and the opportunity to interact with officials. Chicago and Elgin round out the top three…

In addition to its main website, Naperville uses Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, RSS feeds and about two dozen e-newsletters to communicate with residents. It also is looking into starting a mass notification system that Community Relations Manager Nadja Lalvani likened to a “reverse 311.”

“It’s very important for us to be able to communicate effectively and efficiently with residents and other constituents,” Lalvani said. “Social media is very prevalent and another tool to make sure the message is penetrating our audience.”

The UIC study also found increasing use of social media by cities around the country. In 2011, 87 percent of the 75 largest U.S. cities used Twitter, compared with 25 percent in 2009. Likewise, 87 percent used Facebook, compared with 13 percent two years prior.

It doesn’t surprise me that Naperville would lead the way: they seem to have the resources to make this happen as well as the interest in being efficient, taking advantage of new technology (see the ongoing debate over wireless electricity meters – the city’s view and an opposition group), and communicating with people.

I wonder if the study included talking to residents to see if these efforts are reaching them. This is an on-going issue for many communities: the city/village/town claims that they are putting out information while residents suggest they are blindsided at the last minute or aren’t informed at all. I think both sides are often right: many communities have newsletters and websites where information can be found. However, searching out and reading this information does require some effort on the part of residents. Add in the issue that many communities are without local newspapers and it is more difficult to transmit this information broadly. If this plan of attack in Naperville is successful, I imagine more communities will follow their lead.

A second issue could still limit the effectiveness of the social media outreach. I was reminded of this by a talk I heard last week: governments may make information publicly available but they don’t necessarily make the information easily understandable. For example, a community may release some data or an important report but the language and data requires interpretation that the average citizen may be incapable of doing. There is a translation issue here from technical or government speak to what people can understand and then react to. Or a large dataset may be public but it requires knowledge of statistics and specialized software to make some sense of it. Granted, it can be hard to boil down complex issues into newsletter items but it also shouldn’t be the case that newsletters and tweets only cover basic stuff like brush pick-up and meeting times.