Detroit Manager Says He Is Focused on Finances, Not Politics

Kevin Orr says Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was operating within the interests of Detroit by making the appointment.

Posted: 03/18/2013 12:37 PM EDT
Detroit Manager Says He is Focused on Finances, Not Politics

As Kevyn Orr approaches his new job as the emergency financial manager for the city of Detroit, he does so with an unusually large set of critics and condemnation from local elected officials.

Nonetheless, as Orr prepares to take the reins of Detroit’s finances, Orr said he is not focused on the politics or public opinion. Instead, he is fixated on solving longstanding problems in Michigan’s largest city.

“I am not a politician, and I am appointed to get a job done,” Orr said, in an interview with BET.com. “I know it’s hard for a lot of people to accept what has happened. But I look at this as a positive development.”

Orr, a 54-year-old attorney in a prestigious Washington law firm of Jones Day, was selected by Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder to step in and manage the finances of Detroit. He has particular experience in the area of business restructuring, financial institution regulation and commercial litigation and represented Chrysler in dealing with the giant automaker’s bankruptcy.

The decision to appoint an emergency financial manager has been harshly condemned by elected officials and activist groups. They have complained that the governor has removed the power of locally elected officials and disenfranchised voters in Detroit, a city with an African-American population of nearly 85 percent.

Orr insists that his major concern is not the politics of Snyder’s decision, but instead finding ways to help solve the fiscal problems of the city. Detroit has been struggling with its finances for decades. But the problems have only become more ominous in the last few years. The city, whose population has dropped from nearly 2 million 60 years ago to slightly more than 700,000 now, is confronting more than $14 billion in long-term debt and frequent shortfalls.

“The first thing is to get our hands on the data,” Orr said. “We have to figure out to continue to provide services for the people of Detroit in terms of health, safety and welfare. We have to figure out how to best fulfill our short- and long-term obligations in terms of pensions and benefits for retirees. And, of course, we have to determine how to pay our debt obligations.”

The newly appointed manager is native of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and a graduate of the University of Michigan, where he earned a degree in political science in 1979 and a law degree in 1983.

Orr said he was sensitive to charges that the governor’s appointment of an emergency financial manager disenfranchised the voters of Detroit because it effectively stripped local elected officials of their decision-making power.

“I am appointed at the behest of the governor, but I am highly sensitive to charges that voters are being disenfranchised,” Orr said.

“I grew up in the South. So, I know what disenfranchisement looks like. People have the right to express their concerns. But this was an appointment that was duly enacted by the chief executive of the state of Michigan. And all municipalities in the state report to the governor.”

Orr added that Detroit mayor Dave Bing has stated his intention to work with him and that, "I hope the City Council will, too," Orr said. "This is an appointment that will be in effect for 18 months, maybe less."

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(Photo: Courtesy of Jones Day Law Firm)

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