You almost want to burst into tears reading this tale of woe from Detroit.
Can't they send people to jail for this kind of inefficiency and negligence?
In late February, cash-strapped Detroit received a $1 million check from the local school system that wasn't deposited. The routine payment wound up in a city hall desk drawer, where it was found a month later.
This is the way Detroit did business as it slid toward its bankruptcy filing, which it entered July 18. The move exposed $18 billion of long-term obligations in a city plagued by unreliable buses, broken street lights and long waits for police and ambulances. Underlying poor service is a government that lacks modern technology and can't perform such basic functions as bill collecting, according to Kevyn Orr, Detroit's emergency manager.
"Nobody sends million-dollar checks anymore - they wire the money," said Orr spokesman Bill Nowling. Except in Detroit.
"We have financial systems that are three, four, five decades in the past," Nowling said. "If we can fix those issues, then we'll be able to provide services better, faster, more efficiently and cheaper."
Detroit doesn't have a central municipal computer system, and each department bought its own machinery - much of which never worked properly, according to Orr, 55, who took over in March. The last such acquisition, 15 years ago, was of a system based on Oracle Corp. technology that wasn't fully put to work.
The city is buying new software to improve income-tax collection, especially from suburban commuters who work in Detroit, said James Bonsall, the chief financial officer hired by Orr. The dysfunction extends beyond machinery, Nowling said.
It gets worse as the usual suspects step forward:
Union rules have "bumped" workers into positions they aren't qualified for as departments make cuts, he said. The city has no training programs and doesn't evaluate employees in 2,500 job classifications.
"It has nothing to do with bad employees," Nowling said. "These employees in some instances are still following work rules that were created 40 years ago."
Detroit's operational flaws are pronounced, according to a June 14 report from Orr.
It costs the city $62 to process each paycheck, every pay period, for its 9,560 employees, compared with an average of $18 for U.S. public employers, Orr said in the report. The main reason for the high cost is that almost 150 full-time workers produce Detroit's payroll, including 51 uniformed officers.
The city's income-tax receipts are processed by hand, among the 70 percent of accounting entries done manually, according to Orr. He said in his report that the U.S. Internal Revenue Service described Detroit's tax-collection system as "catastrophic" in a July 2012 audit.
Some bills go uncollected for six years. The city has had to rely on the kindness of big business, as General Motors has donated $8 million to provide new vehicles for the police and emergency medical services. Heart attack victims are likely to die before an ambulance arrives.
The list of incredible dysfunctional government services never ends. And this begs the question: Is it worth investing billions in a city that's dying and with a government that, no matter who heads it, is incapable of governing?
It may not be worth it but we're going to do it. And before too long, some of that cash is going to be coming out of your pocket. The problems could be addressed by the local and state government - if there was the will to do so. But the easy way will be to beg DC for a bailout. And since politicians avoid doing the right thing - especially if it is difficult - Washington is eventually going to get involved.