More than 33 years after he became known as the "Sludge Judge," Judge John Feikens has passed the title. Nearing his 93rd birthday, and reportedly in ill health, Judge John Feikens has turned over control of the case and consent decree involving the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.
The 1977 case, originally filed by the EPA, has been randomly assigned to Judge Sean Cox, a man nearly 40 years his junior. A simple Notice of Reassignment was entered by the Court on November 24, 2010, and a 33 year assignment ended quietly. Judge Feikens has served as a U.S. District Court Judge for more than 40 years.
Commentary: Judge Feikens' departure adds to a growing leadership void at a utility that provides water and sewerage services to over 4 million residents in Southeast Michigan. While not involved in the daily operations of the Department, Judge Feikens' has played a key stabilizing role over the past 33 years. Director Pamela Turner retired in July. Her position has yet to be filled. Assistant Directors George Ellenwood and Woodrow McCarty have also retired recently. Neither have been replaced. In fact, there are currently three (3) Assistant Director positions vacant on the DWSD Executive Team. Mayor Bing's COO, Robert Buckler, who was tasked with oversight of DWSD, abruptly retired in early October, 2010.
At a time when there are renewed calls for a regional water and sewer authority, the Department continues to struggle with compliance issues, and the dark clouds of a 5 year federal investigation continue to loom over the Department, DWSD desperately needs strong leadership. Deputy Director Darryl Latimer, is a very capable administrator, but he cannot be expected to deal with the multitude of issues facing DWSD by himself. Leadership starts with the Mayor. And Mayor Bing must recognize that he has a very serious problem that isn't going to be solved by appointing a new Director or allowing DWSD to limp along. Major change is required.
Oh, and one more thing, within 2 months, DWSD is expected to propose another round of rate increases. Get ready for more public outrage over rates.