Leaked e-mail: DDOT’s April 5 hearings were intentionally scheduled to reduce media attention

When I found out at the last minute on April 5 that the Detroit Department of Transportation was holding hearings about yet another round of service cuts later that afternoon, the fact that the hearings were scheduled for Tigers Opening Day did not strike me as the actions of a government that wanted the hearings to get much media attention.

But to actually get proof of that? Ouch.

@Detroit_DOT, a very funny and clearly satirical twitter feed posing as DDOT, posted what appears to be an e-mail written by Naomi Patton, Press Secretary for the Office of Mayor Dave Bing (Also visible here). Several DDOT employees and representatives of the Mayor’s Office are included in the thread. In the thread, they discuss the fact that April 5, when they’d planned to have public hearings, is Tigers Opening Day. Naomi Patton’s alleged e-mail reads,

“I dare say it’s the perfect day to have a public hearing if you want to avoid media.

“Having covered Tigers Opening Day on more than one occasion, I can guarantee you the people who would attend this hearing ARE NOT going to Opening Day, and the media will be primarily, otherwise occupied. The people will definitely still be there and they will still be upset, but you won’t have as much media attention as a slower news day would warrant.”

In fairness, the posted e-mail thread features new DDOT CEO Ron Freeland bringing up the schedule issue as potentially problematic, stating “this is not a good day to have a public event.”

What was the result of the Mayor’s Office and DDOT’s ultimate decision to host hearings on Opening Day? Word barely got out about the hearings. Six weeks prior, the DDOT hearing I went to was well-attended and quite angry. This time around, at the same location and time of day as before, the room was virtually empty. Transit wonks outnumbered people whose primary relationship to DDOT is simply riding it.

I will note that DDOT COO and conservative talk show host Bill Nojay took the opportunity to informally answer questions from the audience moreso than at previous hearings, but it was cold comfort in light of the absence of those who will be most gravely affected by these cuts.

DDOT’s previous round of public hearings regarding service cuts took place after new schedules had been printed, in blatant violation of legal requirements that public comments be taken into consideration. At the February 24 hearing I attended, they concluded the meeting by very abruptly letting us know that they’d go ahead with the cuts as planned. They weren’t even pretending that they were going to take our comments into consideration, which is legally required.

DDOT will host a follow-up meeting this week. From their website:

“DDOT has scheduled a  follow-up meeting for the public hearings that were held on Thursday, April 5, 2012. The meeting will be held Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at the DDOT Main Office – 1301 E. Warren Ave, Room 107 for 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.”

Spread the word.

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