The appointment of emergency financial manager Kevyn Orr by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to manage the city is a nadir in Detroit’s history and marks the latest effort to save a city long in decline.
A new law governing emergency financial managers in Michigan goes into effect on March 28, 2013 and replaces Public Act 4, which was repealed by Michigan voters in November 2012. Since the repeal of Public Act 4, the state has been operating under Public Act 72, an emergency financial manager (EFM) law originally enacted in 1990. (The text of the original law can be found here).
Arguably the most objectionable aspect of EFM legislation is the hijacking of democracy from a city’s residents by Michigan’s governor. Rachel Maddow persuasively argues this case here and here and here. Bottom line: the EFM supersedes the city council and mayor. The mayor and council are elected. The EFM is not.
Governor Snyder’s particular choice of EFM to manage Detroit is not helped by his own history of tax liens. Further, Kevyn Orr’s annual salary of $275,000 eclipses that of Detroit’s mayor, who earns a mere $158,558. It’s tough to justify such high pay for someone who is solely accountable to the governor. It’s also tough to justify a white governor effectively taking away the voting impact of Detroit’s majority black population.
Despite my misgivings about the undemocratic nature of the EFM law, I remain unconvinced that the appointment of an EFM for Detroit is an inherently bad decision. What remains to be seen is whether orr not Orr will lead a transparent management process that brings the city’s residents, business leaders, and elected officials to the table. An open process led by a sharp, efficient manager might be just what Detroit needs. If this eventuality comes to pass, Governor Snyder will be seen has having taken a major political risk for the sake of Detroit’s future. But that’s a tall order, and the mediocre history of EFM appointees in Michigan suggests that Kevyn Orr will become the latest to fail, only on a much grander scale. Detroit deserves better than that. Hopefully Orr will prove to be the exception to the rule.