Michigan To Appoint Emergency Manager For Detroit
Detroit’s financial situation has gotten so bad that the State of Michigan is stepping in to take over city operations:
DETROIT — Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan announced on Friday that the city of Detroit is so snarled in financial woes that the state must appoint an emergency manager to lead it out of disaster.
“There is probably no city that is more financially challenged in the entire United States. If you look at the quality of services for citizens it’s ranked among the worst. So we went from the top to the bottom over the last 50 or 60 years,” Mr. Snyder told Detroiters in a town-hall-style meeting that was broadcast live on local television stations across the city.
“It’s time to say we should stop going downhill,” he said. “There have been many good people that have had many plans, many attempts to turn this around, they haven’t worked. The way I view it, today is a day to call all hands on deck.”
The state-appointed manager, who could be selected later this month, would ultimately wield powers aimed at swiftly turning around the municipal government’s dire circumstances — powers to cut city spending, change contracts with labor unions, merge or eliminate city departments, urge the sale of city assets and even, if all else failed, to recommend bankruptcy proceedings.
After a state report that Detroit is carrying more than $14 billion in long-term liabilities and experiencing nearly annual projections of cash shortfalls, the decision was years — perhaps decades — in the making. Still, it set off a range of pointed, emotional reactions here about whether this was the first step toward true repair in a city that was once the nation’s fourth largest or one last very public sign of a city crumbling.
Some elected city leaders have widely criticized the notion of an outside manager as a takeover of their city and an affront to democratic principles, and they were expected to protest the governor’s decision. Under Michigan law, city officials have 10 days in which to seek reconsideration by the governor, as well as the possibility for a legal appeal in the courts after that. The decision comes during an election year for the mayor and City Council here, and even before Mr. Snyder’s formal announcement on Friday, members of the City Council had been mulling legal options, including the possibility of hiring outside lawyers to block the move
While the State of Michigan has sent in managers to solve crises in other smaller cities over many years, the move is politically fraught in Detroit, the state’s largest city and a mostly black city dominated by Democrats in a mostly white state where the capital is now controlled by Republicans, including Mr. Snyder.
Some political experts in Michigan have speculated that Mr. Snyder will choose a financial expert who is African-American in an effort to calm racial dimensions of the move in a city that is 83 percent black. Mr. Snyder said he has a top candidate for the job — someone he declined to name on Friday — to recommend to a three-person state panel that will make the appointment.
Leaders of the local N.A.A.C.P. in Detroit vehemently denounced the notion. “This is anti-democratic, not needed, and it’s against everything that this nation was founded upon,” the Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the local chapter, said in an interview. “For one individual to be able to wipe out the duties of our duly-elected officials, that’s more or less a dictatorship and it’s against everything that America is supposed to be about.”
Mr. Anthony added that the State of Michigan might want to consider whether it really wants to take on the difficult troubles of a city where residents have complained bitterly about darkened streetlights, slow response times by police officers and delayed buses even as city coffers are drained. “If you come into Detroit,” Mr. Anthony said, “you own Detroit. You own education. You own police and fire. You own public lighting.”
Some business leaders, however, said they welcomed the prospect of a state-appointed manager. Even as the city has wrestled with a shrinking population and tax base and shortfalls in the budget to pay for public services, there are signs of growth in the private sector, and some business leaders say the city’s financial tangle has become the one remaining factor still holding back Detroit.
“Our motto has been, ‘bring it on,'” Sandy K. Baruah, chairman of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, said of an outside manager. “This sends a positive message to business that Detroit is fixing its problems.”
Snyder has been criticized in the past for using this particular power granted him under state law to essentially step in and sweep the elected leaders of a locality aside, and I’m sure that we’ll hear some of the same kind of criticism now. At the same time, though Detroit’s fiscal and economic problems are the stuff of legend at this point and, politically, the city has been a mess for decades. Indeed, the city’s last Mayor is currently serving prison term after being convicted of multiple counts of corruption. In the end, cities and municipalities are subordinate to the state and, in Michigan’s case, it would simply be insane for the state to sit back and do nothing while the state’s largest city sinks further into the sewer. Before this announcement, it was being reported that city officials were contemplating putting Detroit through Chapter 9 Bankruptcy. If that’s not an indictment of their own competence, I don’t know what is. Perhaps it’s time for someone who knows what they’re doing to take charge.