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Asking questions

Week 29 of the occupation

By Shea Howell
Special to the Michigan Citizen

The Detroit City Council has finally taken a strong stand against the schemes of Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. It unanimously rejected Orr’s latest effort to protect Jones Day clients Bank of America and UBS by borrowing $350 million from Barclays Capital to pay off the termination fees on a disastrous swaps deal.

The move proposed by Orr is a thinly veiled attempt to protect big banks. Michigan Forward announced its opposition to the deal saying it “allows big banks and lawyers to step in front of Detroiters to collect first on city income taxes and casino revenues.”

Michigan Forward also noted the deal is “unprecedented for municipal bankruptcies in the United States, essentially allowing the wealthy big banks to jump to the front of the creditors’ line, while retired seniors are facing drastic cuts in the retirement income they depend on.”

The move by Orr is especially troubling because bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes already told Bank of America and UBS they could not expect to be treated ahead of Detroiters.

Brandon Jessup, C.E.O. of Michigan Forward Urban Affairs Group, called on the city council to “not allow banks to bully them around.”

This proposal by Orr, Executive Order 17, comes just days before the court will determine if the bankruptcy will proceed. Perhaps, more importantly, it is coming in the midst of federal settlements with banks for their outrageous predatory lending that led to the foreclosure crisis in our city. The New York Times reported this week that Detroit stands to gain at least some of the $13 billion settlement agreed to by JP Morgan Chase.

The Times reported, “$4 billion will take the form of relief for struggling homeowners in cities like Detroit. The payout will serve as penance for the bank’s general mortgage practices.”

The Detroit City Council and mayor need to be planning how this money can best be used to strengthen  neighborhoods and restore community life.

We cannot expect Emergency Manager Orr to think creatively about the needs of our people. He has already demonstrated he brings a deadly combination of arrogance and ignorance to his job.

Recently, Mayor Dave Bing summed up what many in Detroit have come to see. Bing said bluntly that Orr is “not doing a competent job.” Further, Bing noted Orr is increasingly extending his powers into every aspect of the city, without knowing what he is doing.

Mainstream media attempted to dismiss the mayor’s criticisms as the result of personal snubs. But a review of Orr’s basic actions since assuming unlimited authority reveals a different story.

For example, while firing long time city personnel, Orr turned to some of the smallest minds he could find for his staff. His chief assistant, Gary Brown, has proven to be little more than a schoolyard bully, whose lackluster role on city council did nothing to qualify him for his new, highly paid position. Then, there is his chief financial officer, Jim Bonsall, whose comment about shooting “someone in a hoodie” outraged the city.

Orr himself has made equally outrageous statements. Widely reported comments ranging from characterizing Detroiters as “dumb, lazy, happy and rich” to his claim, “I can cut somebody’s throat and leave them to bleed out in the gutter with the best of them” demonstrate a level of crudeness rarely seen in public office.

Just before the city council took its stand against Orr’s bank protection scheme, over 100 bus drivers protested the lack of safety, respect and basic functioning of our public transportation. One driver said, “They tell us we can’t intervene when we see a passenger being attacked, except to call for police, who never come. What kind of a human being would I be if I let that happen?”

This is a question all of us need to ask.

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