City chaos makes good copy (August 15, 2001)

By Andrew Heller

I returned from vacation to numerous questions that popped up while I was away about whether I was thrilled with the attempt to recall the mayor.

Let me answer collectively: Are you nuts? This guy is black gold, copy-wise. Texas tea. And I’m Jed Clampett. Sure, the city needs a change in leadership. Sure, Flint’s a mess and getting worse by the minute. And, sure, the Woodman simply hasn’t done the job. But recall him? Hello? Leaders like this don’t exactly grow on trees, people.

I’m being purely selfish, of course, but it would be just my rotten luck if the recall were to succeed. Woodrow suddenly would have to find some other way to print money without doing a whole lot. (I recommend columnizing.) And there I’d be without my ace in the hole, my fallback plan, my when-all-else-fails man.

For instance, when I return from vacation it’s difficult to write because it takes a few days to work up a healthy anger about anything. So what happened Sunday night as I read through the week of Journals I had missed? Flint fire offenses to cost $151,200.

Oh, sweet mama, I love this man.

The fines, it turns out, are the biggest ever levied by the state against a fire department in Michigan and nearly twice as large as the previous record fine for safety violations. (So if we’re ever searching for something to put on welcome signs at the city limit. … )

According to my favorite newspaper, the state has conducted 1,053 inspections of fire departments since 1989, and in all that time it has found only eight willful violations of Michigan OSHA standards. Wanna guess how many the Flint Fire Department had in this one inspection? Three. That’s huge. That’s like the Detroit Tigers beating someone 94-3. We rule!

And the funniest thing is that several of the violations were for — get this — not having functioning smoke detectors in several fire stations. No smoke detectors! That’s like a jail not having locks on the cells. Like a … well, it’s like a fire station … not having freaking smoke detectors!

In all, the state found 90 safety violations. As the City Council’s Scott Kincaid put it: It’s absolutely ridiculous that the fire department has that much disregard for firefighters’ safety.

The problem, it seems, is that no one instituted the sort of routine safety and maintenance programs that just about every other business has had in place for years.

That would seem to bespeak a lack of quality leadership. And guess who appointed the fire chief under whose watch all this happened (or didn’t happen, as the case may be)?

That’s right. Your fearless leader, the Woodman.

It’s a bit early to blame the fire chief alone, but if the buck in his department stops with him, then what we have here is another example of the mayor’s inability to pick quality people for crucial jobs.

Let’s see, there was James Makokha, the former director of governmental policy who was convicted of bribery charges. Then there was Steven Waller, the former director of parks and recreation, who was convicted of attempted embezzling. And of course, who could forget Marc Puckett, the former finance director who resigned after costing the city a million dollars for screwing up pension funds?

Recall? You don’t recall a mayor who brought you all that AND leads the city into financial ruin AND acts as if he’s God’s gift to North America. Not from my perspective, anyway.

You give him a lifetime contract.

To contact Andrew Heller, call (810) 766-6116, fax (810) 767-2278 or e-mail [email protected]. For Heller columns online, visit

Copyright Flint Journal / MLive Media Group ( Used with permission.

Files dealing with Marc Puckett