DETROIT — The Detroit News’ discovery in May that five Detroit lighting employees had collected $1.6 million in overtime pay in three years was just the latest in a series of scandals observers say add up to one thing: The city lighting department should be sold to the highest bidder.

“What makes Detroit’s situation so remarkable is that the city can’t hire and keep enough engineers and supervisors to do the dangerous, highly specialized electrical work that requires overtime,” the News wrote in an editorial May 12. It quoted Jamaine Dickens, a spokesman for Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, saying that the city has trouble keeping these workers because the private sector pays more.

“That’s all the more reason to privatize the system,” notes Michael LaFaive, senior managing editor of Michigan Privatization Report. The private sector has innumerable advantages on their public-sector rivals, but one of the biggest is flexibility in distributing resources to their highest and best use — such as to talented engineers.

The News cited “an antiquated power system that frequently breaks down and leaves too many residents in the dark.” In response to Kilpatrick’s claim, in opposition to privatization, that it isn’t necessarily less expensive, the News pointed out that “At this point, the system may have little real value left and may have to be virtually given away. That would be better than continuing to subject residents to such poor service.” The paper emphasized its point “…giving up the power business would only recognize what is already happening — the city needs outside help to keep its lighting system from blacking out.”