Officials in the financially beleaguered city of Detroit misplaced a $1 million check made out to the city's school system for a month. According to Bloomberg News, the fact that the check languished in a drawer, forgotten, for weeks from late February to March is another sign of the city government's staggering inefficiency and bureaucratic incompetence.
A spokesperson for Emergency Manager and Washington, D.C. bankruptcy lawyer Kevyn Orr blamed the oversight on the fact that the city's technology is not up to date. "Nobody sends million-dollar checks anymore — they wire the money,” Bill Nowling told Bloomberg.
“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.”
The city reportedly has no central computer system. Each agency bought its own machines separately over time and no effort has been successful and getting the entire system to communicate. Part of the estimated $18 billion of debt currently owed by Detroit is an excess of fees generated by the cost of paying employees through an inefficient system.
For most U.S. public employees, Bloomberg said, the cost of processing a paycheck is around $18. In Detroit, the cost is about $62 multiplied by the city's 9,560 employees.
Philip Bump of the Atlantic Wire wrote Friday that while $1 million sounds staggering, it's actually only .04 percent of the city's $2.5 billion 2013 to 2014 budget.
Orr was brought in by Michigan's Republican Gov. Rick Snyder -- a pro-privatization tea party favorite -- in March, purportedly to stave off the city's looming bankruptcy. Critics of the plan pointed to emails earlier this month that indicated that city officials never intended to avoid bankruptcy at all, but were merely performing a dumbshow to placate the city's labor unions.
Detroit Mayor David Bing (D) said that he has done his best to work with the emergency management team and took them at their word that bankruptcy -- and thereby the termination of benefit payments to retired municipal employees and their families -- was not their first preferred option.
However, Bing pointed out, Orr's resume might indicate otherwise.
"They chose one of the most renowned bankruptcy lawyers in the country to be emergency manager," Bing told the Detroit Free Press. "I’ll let people think what they want to about that.”
[image of executive realizing he made a mistake via Shutterstock.com]