The city of Detroit is notoriously bankrupt. They tear down vacant homes every week. They are turning off city lights. Their police are passing out flyers calling the city a war zone and warning people that they “enter at their own risk”. But despite all this, their water and sewage department still employs a horseshoer.

Of course, the fact that the department has no horses does not seem to pose a problem. The horseshoer's job description is “to shoe horses and to do general blacksmith work … and to perform related work as required.” The position pays around $57,000 a year in salary and benefits. The union that represents the departments workers says it is “not possible” to eliminate positions.

Union rules say so, so it must be true.

Critics say the Detroit Water and Sewer Department is much less efficient than other municipal water departments, employing 2 to 5 times the number of employees per customer than Chicago or Philadelphia. Still, the union maintains they need even more people to effectively run the plant.

It may indeed be true that the department is bloated, wasteful and inefficient, but to that fact I ask, are those other city departments prepared to shoe horses in an emergency if the need should arise? I think not. The hand is clearly on the other foot now, and Detroit's preparedness for virtually any contingency (except solvency) could look prescient through the right eyes.

True, those eyes might be bloodshot, nearsighted and in need of cataract surgery, but it could be viewed that way.

Detroit Free Press editorial page Editor Stephen Henderson wrote recently about the “intolerable waste” in the Water and Sewer Department. Of course there is “intolerable waste” in the Water and Sewer Department. They were designed to handle intolerable waste, and they really seem to have taken that task to heart. They should not be criticized for simply going above and beyond in the creation and ongoing management of waste. This is what they know. This is what they do. This is who they are.

Still, not to be swayed by the argument, Henderson continues; “For unions and the whole idea of collective bargaining, this is the kind of report that just makes any sort of future very, very hard to negotiate. It suggests that collective bargaining turns government into a provider of jobs instead of public services.”

What?! Collective bargaining turns government into a provider of jobs instead of public services? This cannot be true. If that were the case, Governor Walker and his union opponents in Wisconsin would have had ugly, yearlong confrontations, instead of the harmonious convergence they created to solve that states budget issues. I simply cannot accept that argument.

I realize that on the surface, and in fact on many levels, the idea of a municipal water utility, that hasn't owned a horse for many decades, employing a full time horsehoer seems a tad wasteful. A bit ludicrous. A smidge unseemly. Still, I believe it is an important position.

After all, someone has to keep the stable boy and carriage driver company.

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