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August 01, 1969 - Image 2

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1969-08-01

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was introduced in Detroit, one inner
city resident claimed it was "the greatest
hope for the ghetto." But now, over a year
later, most local citizens have begun to
look upon the multi-million dollar program
in community participation as "the great-
est hoax."
Once a promising cornerstone in Presi-
dent Johnson's attack on urban problems,
the concept of community participation
has been jettisoned from the Model Cities
program by the Nixon administration. Ur-
banologists from Patrick Moynihan to
Jane Jacobs h a v e derided the idea of
"maximum feasible participatioh" by pov-
erty area residents, calling it instead "the
maximum feasible misunderstanding."
And if the sad experience of Model Cit-
ies in Detroit is indicative of the state of
the program across the country, it is un-
derstandable why this change of opinion
has taken place.
As it was originally envisioned, the fo-
cus of the program w a s to incorporate
"widespread citizen participation" at all
levels in a massive project to revitalize the
target poverty area. This was to be accom-
plished through the creation of an elected
Citizens Governing Board which would
formulate and execute a five-year master
plan for change.
BUT AFTER only a few months, the 102
elected citizens from Detroit's poverty
area who were to work "in partnership"
with city officials, had been subtly squeez-
ed from any meaningful role in the pro-
"You take 102 people who mistrust each
other, and have little organizational exper-
ience, and they are expected to make de-
cisions that $30,000-a-year sociologists
have failed to make," says Earl Adamas-
zek, a member of the Citizens Governing
Adamaszek himself personifies many of
the problems the citizens faced. Entering
the program "to protect the interests of
the Poles," he found himself confronted
by citizens lobbying for conflicting paro-
chial concerns. And few were willing to
compromise their goals for fear of being
cut out of the program completely.
Since the designated poverty area in-
cluded not only black areas, but also seg-
ments of the Polish and Southern Appala-
chian communities, as well as the existing
high rent urban renewal area of Layafette
Park, personal disagreements were inten-
sified by the ingrained prejudices of each
Antagonisms among members ran so
djeep that one white member of the citi-
zens board claims he had to give all mo-
tions - "even points of order" - to a
black member before they would even be
considered. Even before any planning could
be Initiated, these hostilities lead to a ser-

ies of delays marred by bickering o v e r
mere operational matters. At one meeting,
for example, board members argued for 15
minutes o v e r the question of adopting
Robert's Rules of Order. "Many long nights
were spent just hassling over structure,"
recalls Manatee Smith, chairman of the
Citizens Governing Board.
Architects of M o d e 1 Cities legislation
hardly intended for the citizens to go it
alone, however. An appointed city unit -
the Model Neighborhood Agency - was to
provide technical planning assistance and
aid in interpreting federal guidelines, as
well as constituting a link with the city
and the Department of Housing and Ur-
ban Development.
TO HEAD the Detroit Model Neighbor-
hood Agency, Mayor Jerome Cavan-
augh appointed David Cason, Jr., a black
sociologists who had previously been in-
volved in smaller citizens' participation

zens were intimidated," says Dr. Etheline
Crockett, a vocal spokesman for the citi-
zens and wife of controversial Detroit
Judge George Crockett. "T h e y couldn't
handle the agency people. But I think the
government would be surprised to find out
that the ordinary guy has some notions of
what he wants."
As the confusion multiplied, the Model
Cities program gradually fell far behind
the federal planning schedule. While Cason
viewed these delays as the product of per-
sonal bickering among the citizens, board
members claimed they could h a v e been
avoided had the agency responded to their
demands for planning information.
In essence, the citizens w er e given a
blank check to plan, but were not told how
the process could be carried out. "The citi-
zen knows what he wants, but he j u s t
doesn't know how to go about bringing the
needed changes," explains Dr. Crockett.
"The agency should have worked closely

"Sure the citizens were intimidated. They couldn't handle
the agency people. But I think the government would be
surprised to find out that the ordinary guy has some no-
tions of what he wants."

projects. But instead of acting as a catal-
yst for citizen's participation, Cason failed
to provide the citizens board with the as-
sistance members say they needed to make
the program workable.
Cason's interpretation of t h e citizen's
role was nonfunctional: If t h e citizens
want to call the program their own, they
should assume responsibility for it. Even
on small points, 1i k e announcements of
meetings, Cason argued. "If t r u e citizen
participation existed, the citizens wouldn't
be on my back to carry out their communi-
cations," But board members interpreted
his attitude as a lack of interest in the
program. "Sure Cason would be damned if
he did something and damned if he didn't,
but that's no exculse for complete nonpar-
ticipation," one board member complains.
The citizens, many of whom had no more
than an eighth grade education, claim the
agency failed to aid them in either their
organizational difficulties or in unravelling
the mysteries of what they called "HUD
language"' -the program guidelines which
could have explained their duties. Cason's
solution to the problem of semantics was.
typical of the bureaucratic attitude he con-
tinually displayed - the agency director
simply provided board members with a new
set of federal pamphlets. "They are not
reading the information I've given them,"
Cason complained. "They've not kept up
with their homework."
jN THE FACE OF HUD jargon and Cas-
on's bureaucratic approach, many citi-
zens were easily confused. "Sure the citi-

with t h e different citizens committees,"
board member Fred Fechheimer suggests.
Even when citizens demanded information,
the agency rarely complied. "We begged
for population breakdowns to determine
playground locations," says Adamaszek.
"But these figures were never compiled."
Instead, such information had to be pro-
vided by more knowledgeable board mem-
bers. And, Fechheimer charged, "No one on
the agency staff knew anything a b o u t
housing." As a lawyer, he had to draw up-
on his legal experiences to function ade-
quately as chairman of the board's hous-
ing committee. Cason's only response to
these requests was that information was
still being compiled.
ANOTHER SORE POINT in the growing
antagonism between the board and the
agency was the question of the citizens op-
erating budget. While the agency func-
tioned on a first year planning allocation
of $174,000, few of the b o a r d members
were reimbursed for their time or expenses.
"We worked from May to December with-
out one single penny, not a cent for post-
age or taxi fare," complains Dr. Crockett.
Not until she attended a convention of
Model Cities program participants did Dr.
Crockett discover the citizens were entitled
to an operating budget of $32,000. Only
after bringing this to the attention of the
agency were the funds released. "The hard
feelings and bitterness from this incident
could have been avoided with just 4a little
advance planning by the agency," says
Fechheimer. But Cason maintains he had
to "force" the city to.grant the funds. "And
even when the citizens received the check,
they didn't want to c a s h it," he says.
"They've still got $21,000 left.
Not only did the citizens feel they were
being ignored but that they were belittled
by the condescending attitudes of the
agency staff. "We had a distinct feeling
that the local agency held us in contempt,"
says Dr. Crockett.
"If you want a symbol of the agency's
support for the citizens," says Adamaszek,
"it would have to be the office they gave
our board chairman. While Cason had a
large office with a secretarial staff, Mana-
tee Smith received a plank over a waste-
basket ,- no telephone, no secretaries."
BY LATE SUMMER 1968, the agency
became concerned over the lack of
progress in formulating the master plan.
Nine other "first round" cities had already
submitted their plans to HUD and were
awaiting their initial block grant. With the
possibility of a' Republican victory in the
fall, some agency officials feared the pro-
gram would be drastically altered. Although
little planning had been accomplished,
Cason called a three day meeting of the
Citizen's Goyerning Board to move towards
finalization of the master plan-a docu-
ment HUD officials estimated would take
a year to write.
Following that hectic meeting, many
citizens wondered if their ideas were in-
cluded in the master plan at all. "There
was a lot of confusion all the time," board

large city telephone books - to the board
members 15 minutes before it was to be
sent to HUD. "Even if you spent a whole
night on the book, you couldn't get through
it, not eve one section of it," says James
Howard. "Everyone's suspicious of the city
agency, but no one can prove anything."
JN SPITE of citizen complaints of "un-
fair" treatment by the agency, only
the most adamant critics have visibly sup-
ported their disgust by resigning from the
program. Those who remain on the board
have been described by one citizen as "the
precinct worker type" - non-innovative
people with their political beliefs formu-
lated and stable, and their allegiance tied
to the Democratic party.
Attempts by more demanding citizens to
gain control of the board have been easily
quashed. A more activist member was
soundly defeated by moderate Manatee
Smith during a recent election for chair-
man. And Smith's easy-going attitude is
typical of many board members: "The Es-
tablishment is beginning to listen, but they
have a long way to go," he says. "Not
everybody is going to give up power over-
Not only has the board sought a con-
ciliatory tine, but the Model Neighborhood
Agency has insured that potentially dis-
ruptive elements of the community will not
be attracted to the program. In last May's
election for new board members, the agency
failed to provide adequate polling stations
and offered only token publicity. Areas
usually serviced by two or three voting
stations, for example, received only one. In
addition, voting limitations have barred
the young from participating\ in the pro-
Not surprisingly, many board seats were
uncontested and three seats remain to be
filled. "I'd venture to say 98 per cent of
the people in the areas concerned aren't
even aware of . the program," estimates
Cason admittedly fears involvement of
uninformed segments of the community in
the Model Cities program could trigger
their political awareness and pose a po-
tential threat to the existing political
order. "Many state representatives could
feel threatened when they have to deal
with a new constituency," he says.
He specifically fears, however, the poten-
tial ability of the Model Neighborhood
Agency to be more responsive to the local
resident's needs than city hall, might easily
transform the agency into a "shadow gov-
ernment," a power outside city hall and
a mechanism to opposed it. "Creating a
shadow government proves that our govern-
ment is failing," he adds.
born out by recent studies of poverty
programs. Two researchers commenting on
OEO programs have observed that in-
creased political participation in poverty
programs by the poor creates pressures
upon established political leaders and may
even generate hostility to the poverty
program itself.
Although citizens did run for re-election
last May and meetings are regularly sched-
uled, the events of the past year have ef-
fectively ruled out any meaningful role for
the citizens.
But not until HUD secretary George
Romney announced last May the city would
receive a block grant of $20.5 million, and
that the Nixon administration had devel-
oped new Model Cities guidelines, was this

David Cason, Jr.: Diretor of the Model Neighborhood Agency

trend officially confirmed. Overturning the
initial promise of citizen participation ins
the "planning and execution of the pro-
gram, Romney explicitly noted, "the Mayor
is responsible for the program, "while the
citizens role is merely advisory."
To many citizens, the federal approval
of this shift was viewed as a confirmation
of Cason's tactics. "What I feared has come
to pass," Dr. Crockett said of the Romney
statement. "I recognized he was saying
what I already knew-that the govern-
ment's talk of citizen participation was
nothing more than mouthing of cheap vol-
unteer help." Board member Adamszek
added, "at least somebody had the guts to
finally tell us."
SINCE ROMNEY'S announcement of the
block grant last May, the program has
been "wallowing in the doldrums," Adams-
zek says. None of the programs outlined
in the ambitious master plan have re-
ceived any of the promised $20.5 million
in federal funds. And the most needed
projects, new low cost housing and re-
habilitation of deteriorating homes, have
been indefinitely delayed. "We had hoped
to begin these projects this summer," says
Manatee Smith, "but now we will be lucky
if we can begin by the end of the year,"
Few people involved in the program agree
on the exact cause of the delay in funding,
except to admit it has been paused by red
tape. Once again the citizens are faced by
a bureaucratic muddle with the agency
failing to alleviate or effectively explain
it, while their critical needs have yet to
be answered.
Manatee Smith claims the federal money
is entangled in the budgeting processes of
Detroit Common Council. As he explains,
a contract must be drawn between the
city and HUD, and another between the
Model Neighborhood Agency and the city
before any money can be received. But, the
city is "bogged down by the end of the
fiscal year and won't write the contract
until it clears up all other matters."

ASON ASSERTS, however, the money
is somewhere in the slow-moving fegal
mechanisms in HUD. not those of the city.
"The goof-up? is in HUD," he says. "It's the
end of their fiscal year and they've been
deluged by all different agencies trying to
beat their deadline."
A spokesman for HUD admits there is
a back up in processing but maintains the
lack of a contract shouldn't prevent the
city from beginning any Model Cities peo-
jects. "The signing of a formal contract
has little meaning, the spokesman said.
"As soon as Detroit tells us what they
want funded, we can write checks against
their approved grant."
The hope that Model Cities could pro-
vide tangible results had kept many citizens
in the program, even when the city and
the federal government , reneged on the
promise of "widespread citizen partic pa-
tion," Board member James Howrd's
guarded attitude typified that of many
citizens: "We're not going to say anything
about the program until we see the money.",
With the money lost in the bureaucratic
labyrinth, and few attempts being made
by the agency to write checks against
the promised funds, the agency is toying
with dangerous emotions of bitterness and
disillusionment. Manatee Smith, who both
expressed and symbolized the conciliatory
tone of the board, already has harshly
criticized this inertia as "just disgusting."
How long be f ore the dim hopes of
other board members turn sour will depend
on the agency's ability to deliver the
promised goods.
OTHERWISE THE disillusionment re-
sulting from this program undoubtedly
will only add to the existing bitterness of
ghetto residents. Ironically Model Cities
might become an additional cause of what
it was intended to avoid-a violent ex-
pression of self-determination. "If the city
doesn't act in any positive 'way, they've
asked for trouble," says Dr. Crockett.
"They haven't seen a hot summer yet."



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