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EM holds required ‘community meeting’

Protesters outside Wayne State University Law School not allowed inside the meeting.  PHOTO COURTESY LEONA McELEVENE

Protesters outside Wayne State University Law School not allowed inside the meeting. PHOTO COURTESY LEONA McELEVENE

Plans to lease Belle Isle

DETROIT — No baby strollers. No large purses or book bags. Metal detectors. Three police departments — Michigan State, Wayne State University and Detroit Police departments — made for a controlled environment at Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s first legally mandated public meeting.

About 100 protestors gathered out front. And not everyone was admitted. The auditorium held  250 people, but many of the seats were reserved, complained attendees. Many questioned why the meeting was not held in the Erma L. Henderson Auditorium in the Coleman Alexander Young building, which seats 500.

One resident asked about the administration’s lack of transparency, saying the meeting seemed “generated” just to comply with the law and is “more show than tell.”

Orr said his administration “has nothing to hide.”

The EM’s staff said throughout the meeting, outbursts would not be tolerated and people who did not comply would be thrown out.

Public School Advocate Helen Moore of Keep the Vote No Takeover was escorted out of the building (see Moore’s account on page 6).

Moore, from the balcony, loudly made a speech about being discriminated against.

“I refuse to be treated as a second-class citizen,” Moore said.

After the audience was quieted, Orr was brought in to speak.

“Do you want to be part of the problem or part of the solution?” EM Orr asked the crowd saying, “Everyone needs to acknowledge the (financial) problem(s).”

In March, Gov. Rick Snyder appointed Orr as emergency manager under Public Act 436 to take over the city’s finances.

At the meeting, Orr said he wants to be the “zen” of emergency management but says many of the changes “wouldn’t be easy.”

“Now look, I’m a trial attorney. I can cut somebody’s throat and leave them to bleed out in the gutter with the best of them. But I didn’t want to do that,” Orr said about challengers.

Orr presented many of the findings from his report, which states Detroit is “insolvent,” operating with a deficit and currently owes approximately $17 billion.

Orr called the debt level “unsustainable” and says current expenditures outpace revenue. He also said the city would not be able to operate if Detroit were not taking on debt.

He compared the city’s debt to a household earning $1,000 a month but owing $1,800 and “putting the rest on a MasterCard” or having to borrow from friends and family.

Orr says it would take 68 years of paying $250 million to pay off the debt — assuming the city doesn’t take on any additional debt or give all city revenue to creditors for fifteen years.

His first priority as EM, Orr says, is public safety and reinvestment. He also promised to lease Belle Isle, saying he wanted to get “$6 million off the books.”

The meeting was open for questions. Orr took no more than 15. One resident asked what the upcoming City Council and mayoral election would mean under emergency management.

According to P.A. 436, neither the City Council nor mayor have authority. He also said if new public officials were not helpful, “at my discretion, spending five more months under EM may be appropriate.”

The EM will also restructure city operations and provide a two-year budget to the newly elected officials.

Orr appeared to be unaware of the plan presented by a coalition of unions to Mayor Dave Bing in 2012 that would have led to $120 million in cost savings for Detroit. Orr asked, “When was this presented?”

Despite public protest, Mayor Bing never took the plan to City Council.

Throughout the meeting, Orr said he had been hearing from residents at Popeyes chicken about their conditions in the city. He referenced talking to residents at Popeyes twice.

Orr also told residents he had an understanding of their lives that is rooted in race.

Orr said he is “three generations removed from picking cotton” and was born in a segregated hospital. He talked about eating sugar sandwiches and believes he has an understanding of “hard living” and “discrimination.”

Orr is expected to meet with creditors this week to begin negotiations. He said there is currently about a “50/50 chance” Detroit would enter bankruptcy.

He also said he needed “cooperation and collaboration.”

“I have a powerful statute (P.A. 436), but I have an even more powerful Chapter 9.”

Orr’s full presentation is available at www.detroitmi.gov/DepartmentsandAgencies/EmergencyManager.aspx

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