We’ve only just begun
Mayor Coleman A. Young’s portrait was moved this week from Cobo Hall to Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, as if there was some attempt to honor the legacy of the city’s first Black and longest-serving mayor’s legacy. The move coincided with the first week of Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) Kevin Orr who, along with representatives from the Snyder administration, settled into work on the 11th Floor of the Coleman A. Young building — in what has traditionally been the mayor’s suite.
Detroit, along with Mayor Young, fought the state of Michigan for more than 50 years. The fight has been about maintaining ownership of the water department, eliminating the Detroit Public School Board, indefensibly high insurance rates, reneging on revenue sharing — basically starving the city of resources or any single policy that benefits residents in an aging urban center.
The Snyder administration has been laying the plan for a city of Detroit takeover for at least a year. Some people question if 18 months is enough time for an EFM to turn around the city. With a plan, it probably is.
The Snyder administration began executing, with the help of Mayor Dave Bing, when Bing refused to take the union concessions to City Council more than a year ago. Now we can certainly count on change in Detroit, if recent big announcements are any indication.
For some, the change comes as good news. Dan Gilbert is unveiling an urban plan for downtown Detroit that includes 35 outdoor cafes; a light rail is coming to downtown; local business leaders, including Roger Penske, “donated” police cars and EMS trucks to the city. (Except the donations won’t go to the city but a private nonprofit. So, they are in essence keeping their gift.) The federal judge ended oversight of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.
Just in time for the EFM. Expect the Water Department to be sold or regionalized. Belle Isle will also probably go. DDOT and the dollars that go with it may go to the new regional transit authority just like the Detroit taxpayers’ schools were folded into the EAA.
And this is only the beginning. We will, undoubtedly, be looking at a new city unless some legal intervention can prevail.
The bankers will now define the fate of Detroit families and it will include selling taxpayers’ assets to pay off the banks and Orr, a bankruptcy lawyer, may steer the city through a reorganization that includes cutting or otherwise reducing pensions.
In what appears to be a glaring, devilish conflict of interest, EFM Orr, a former Jones Day lawyer, will now work with old bosses who will represent the city. Oh yes, and Jones Day also represents the banks that Orr will be negotiating against — or for, depending on your understanding.
State policies and the banks have crippled Detroit and they are now first in line to benefit from the city’s misery.
Don’t be fooled — this isn’t about getting your street lights on.
For those in the city who have fought for respect and self-determination, the battle has only just begun.