The naming of a new emergency financial manager in Detroit has been met with strong disapproval from local officials, clergy and activists, who complain that democracy is being compromised by having an outsider run the city’s finances.
The protests and criticisms came within hours after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder named Kevyn Orr, a Washington lawyer with expertise in bankruptcy law, as the financial manager. Officials and others complained that the state had taken away the decision-making ability of the officials elected by the people of the city.
“This represents a major disenfranchisement of citizens’ political rights,” said the Rev. David A. Bullock, who is president of the Rainbow Push Coalition in Detroit and president of the Highland Park branch of the NAACP.
“The emergency financial manager comes in and does all the duties previously done by officials elected by the citizens in Detroit,” Bullock said, in an interview with BET.com. “That means my vote no longer counts. If my vote doesn’t count, now you have voter suppression. They are ignoring the will of the people in the state of Michigan.”
Bullock said that a number of local advocacy organizations in Detroit are planning a series of protests, the most notable of which are demonstrations groups of motorists to slow traffic on the city’s major highways. He added that several advocacy and civic leaders had written the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, asking it to intervene and prevent the emergency manager from taking office.
Under Michigan’s law, the governor can appoint an emergency manager to essentially run the financial operations of the city in place of a locally elected city council or other group of elected officials. Gov. Snyder, a Republican, has appointed managers in several Michigan cities, most of them with large African-American populations, which has fueled intense controversy.
Detroit's City Council recently voted to challenge the appointment of an emergency manager. Dave Bing, Detroit’s mayor, said last week that he opposes the appointment of an emergency manager and that he will challenge the governor’s move.
Shortly after Orr was named, local clergy and leaders of advocacy groups held a protest rally in downtown Detroit. And the criticism of the governor’s decision and of Orr was strong.
“While I am saddened, I am also angry for we are being falsely oppressed based upon a phony, faux, non-existent fiscal emergency rooted in an unjust law which is nothing short of a Jim Crow-esque abuse of law,” said Tom Barrow, a mayoral candidate and president of Citizens for Detroit’s Future, speaking to the crowd.
The Rev. Charles Williams II, the president of the Michigan branch of the National Action Network, spoke specifically about Orr. “We’re not worried about no Kevyn Orr,” he said to the gathering, “Uncle Toms ain’t nothing new. We’ve had Uncle Toms for a long time.”
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(Photo: Rebecca Cook/Reuters/Landov)