Stephen Henderson: No joy in seeing Moroun jailed – but valuable lessons on greed

Stephen Henderson
Free Press Opinion Page

I don’t relish seeing anyone hauled off to jail over civil matters.

Incarceration, in my view, should be reserved for people who pose a danger to the public.

But I do empathize with the frustrations that led Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards to toss 84-year-old Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun into the clink Thursday morning.

What else was Edwards supposed to do? Moroun and the Bridge Company reneged on design plans they’d agreed to with the Michigan Department of Transportation to share construction responsibilities for new ramps and access roads to the bridge.

Then they ignored Edwards’ order to fix what they’d done wrong.

Then they ignored a contempt order under which Bridge Company President Dan Stamper was previously jailed.

And since then, they’ve continued to stall and evade, claiming that they were complying while MDOT found nothing concrete was happening.

Obviously, Edwards had had enough. A court order has to mean something, and ignoring it has to have consequences or our legal system becomes a joke.

So now Moroun and, once again, Stamper have to get locked up. It’s pathetic, really; a spectacle that’s an embarrassment all around.

But the bigger tragedy here is in the background of this dispute, a collision of private and public interests that really casts doubt on how little regard one of this area’s wealthiest and most powerful citizens has for the people who use his bridge, or for the laws that govern us all.

This is about money, plain and simple. The changes the Bridge Company made to their agreements about the access roads mean millions more in the business’ coffers. The Bridge Company sent trucks past their duty-free store and gas pumps, rather than off local roads, which was one of the aims of the whole project.

And the money was more important to the Bridge Company than the public interest in the project.

Remember that. It’s a valuable insight for the city and state to keep in mind going forward.

It should help us all keep perspective on the Bridge Company’s fierce and heavily financed opposition to a second bridge to Canada. How flimsy do their vocal claims that a new bridge isn’t in the public interest look in that light?

And if that second bridge ever gets built, these lessons should figure into decisions about who might operate that span. To me, it was always logical that the Morouns, who have successfully operated the Ambassador Bridge as a private company for years, would be strong candidates to run the new bridge.

But if they can’t see the imperative of the public interest in their dispute over the ramps and access roads to the current bridge, why should anyone assume they’ll see it in the operation of a new bridge?

The bottom line is that the Morouns seem content to honor the public interest only when it aligns with their private, money-making goals. That attitude has made them lots of money. Thursday, their blind pursuit of that Gordon Gekko-like axiom landed an old man in jail.

The lesson should be clear.