Despite Initial Protests, Detroit Appears Resigned to Emergency Manager

In the month since Kevyn Orr was appointed to oversee Detroit’s finances, the city seems to be taking a wait-and-see posture.

Posted: 04/24/2013 04:46 PM EDT
Kevyn Orr

It had been more than a month since Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder named an emergency financial manager for Detroit, a move that prompted angry protests from activist groups complaining that the Republican governor of Michigan had trampled on democracy by making the appointment.

But since Snyder appointed Kevyn Orr, a man who will have nearly unlimited control over the fiscal affairs of Michigan’s largest city, Detroiters seem now to be cautiously resigned to the presence of an unelected official who will effectively run their city.

“I can’t say that people are thrilled about it, but they seem to be resigned to it,” said John Olumba, a member of the Michigan House of Representatives, in an interview with BET.com.

“To a large degree, people are unclear about what it means to have an emergency financial manager,” Olumba said. “So, they are trying to understand what it means and how it will affect their lives and living conditions in Detroit.”

What has added to the tempered response is the fact that Orr has remained largely in mode of analyzing various proposals to deal with the city’s $327 million budget deficit and to reduce its $14 billion in long-term debt. There have been few if any major decisions since he arrived on the job in March.

“In his first 30 days in office, he hasn’t really done much and, the truth is, he hasn’t made any major decisions,” said Maurice G. Morton, the chief executive of the Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences, in an interview with BET.com.

“Initially, there were lots of people in Detroit who didn’t support the idea of an emergency financial manager being appointed,” Morton said. “But I feel that reaction has died down. People are in a wait and see mode. We’ll see how they react after some time passes.”

Within hours of Orr’s appointment, Detroit community activists began their protest, including a slowdown of traffic along the major highways within the city. Leaders of the Rainbow Push Coalition and the local chapter of the NAACP complained that the naming of an emergency financial manager for Detroit represented a major disenfranchisement of the rights of citizens to be governed by those whom they elect.

Orr, an attorney in the Washington office of the prestigious law firm of Jones Day, has not offered specifics about how he plans to manage the city’s finances. Under Michigan law, he has the ability to alter contracts with the city’s labor unions. However, he has so far declined to say what sorts of concessions, if any, he might seek from labor unions.

In an interview with the Detroit Free Press, Orr said only: “I’m going to try to do this in a cooperative way with people.”

Orr said he had sent a letter to the city’s public safety unions to let them know that the city no longer had the obligation to engage in collective bargaining because of Detroit essentially being in receivership.

But he added that the letter “was meant to be a statement of fact. It wasn’t meant to be any form or expression of hostility toward the work rules and issues, particularly police and fire and EMS — let’s just be honest about that.”

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(Photo:  REUTERS/ Rebecca Cook)

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