YEAR IN REVIEW
DETROIT UNDER EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT
52 percent of Michiganders and over 80 percent of Detroiters voted in Nov. 2012 to repeal Public Act 4, the state’s emergency manager law. Gov. Rick Snyder appointed bankruptcy attorney Keyvn Orr as Detroit’s emergency manager under the new repeal-proof EM law Public Act 436 on March 14, 2013.
With the Detroit EM appointment, over 50 percent of African Americans in Michigan are currently subject to emergency management. Mayor Dave Bing stood “in partnership” with Snyder and Orr at a press conference to announce the EM appointment. Orr began his 18-month term March 25. Two federal lawsuits were subsequently filed challenging the law’s constitutionality by the organization Stand Up for Democracy — which led the repeal effort of PA4 — and the Detroit Branch NAACP.
In June, Orr stopped paying Detroit’s bills, letting the city’s debt grow. Both lawsuits were put on hold by U.S. Judge Stephen Rhodes when Orr filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy on behalf of the City of Detroit, July 18. Elected officials, citizens, city workers and retirees protested Orr’s leadership role in the bankruptcy proceedings. On July 25, Judge Rhodes authorized EM Orr to take the city through bankruptcy. Orr contracted numerous consultants whose bills some say will total more than $100,000 million.
One of the restructuring contractors is Orr’s former law firm where he was partner until his EM appointment in Detroit. In August, Orr was quoted in a Wall Street Journal article saying Detroiters are “dumb, lazy, happy and rich.” Over 30 members of Detroit clergy and community members held a press conference to call for Orr’s removal.
BANKRUPTCY MAKES HISTORY
In a historic ruling, Dec. 3, Judge Stephen Rhodes determined the City of Detroit is eligible for bankruptcy, making it the largest municipality to go through bankruptcy proceedings. In his 140-page opinion, Judge Rhodes determined PA 436 is not unconstitutional. The judge did not hold any hearings on issues raised by citizens in the lawsuits he put on hold including the position that PA 436 is a violation of the Voting Rights Act.
Challengers to the bankruptcy testified that Orr did not negotiate in good faith with the unions and that the plan to file bankruptcy was determined before Orr’s appointment. Gov. Rick Snyder made history as the first sitting Michigan governor to testify in court. In his testimony, Snyder told the judge nearly 40 times he did not recall key events in the process leading to EM Orr’s bankruptcy filing. As part of his proposal to rid the city’s debt, Orr suggested paying pensioners 10 cent on the dollar, while banks received nearly 100 percent.
CHAOS IN CITY HALL
The appointment of an emergency manager was not the only thing that shook up city hall. Three council members vacated their seats before the end of their terms. Former President Charles Pugh “disappeared” prior to breaking news of alleged “inappropriate contact” with a Detroit Public Schools student at the all-male Frederick Douglass Academy. Reports indicated Pugh left the state, placing him in Seattle, Washington and later in New York City.
Former Pro tem Gary Brown resigned for a position in EM Kevyn Orr’s office as Chief Operating Officer. Kwame Kenyatta who was periodically absent from the council table during 2012, stating health challenges, also resigned. Saunteel Jenkins replaced Pugh as Council President and Andre Spivey replaced Brown.
Following community outrage, former Chief Financial Officer Jim Bonsall — appointed by EM Orr — resigned Oct. 15 after being suspended with pay for making sexist and racist comments in the workplace. In a planning meeting for the city’s annual Angel’s Night activities, Bonsall asked if he could, “shoot someone in a hoodie.” Bonsall replaced former CFO Jack Martin, who Gov. Snyder appointed Detroit Public School’s emergency manager a week earlier.
Mayor Dave Bing complained to local media outlets that he was being left out of the governing process. An organizational chart was released that showed Bing had no oversight or operational duties. The outgoing mayor was honored this month at two events given by media and business leaders. He said he’s grateful he could “restore integrity to the mayor’s office.”
DETROIT’S MAYORAL RACE
Despite numerous challenges to his eligibility to run for mayor of Detroit, Mike Duggan will be sworn in as mayor of Detroit in January after winning an unprecedented write-in campaign.
Duggan moved into the city a year before his run. He filed, however, a week after the timeline outlined in city’s charter.CPA Tom Barrow challenged Duggan’s residency and he was removed from the ballot. Duggan later ran as a write in candidate and became the top vote –getter in the primary. He went on to beat Sheriff Benny Napoleon in the general. Napoleon was joined in the general by former Corporation Counsel Krystal Crittendon who also ran for mayor in the primary. Barrow ran but lost his bid for the city’s top office for a third time. Other candidates included accountant and former state representative Lisa Howze, who will serve in Duggan’s cabinet as his chief of staff.
Barrow led a lengthy but unsuccessful recount challenge following certification of the ballots. Several ballots were not counted, many appeared to be duplicated and some boxes appeared tampered with, according to Barrow and other challengers.
DETROIT PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Gov. Snyder replaced former DPS EM Roy Roberts with city’s former CFO Jack Martin, July 15. Martin is the third EM to be appointed over DPS. Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed Robert Bobb in 2009. Bobb’s contract was renewed under Snyder. Roberts replaced Bobb before his contact ended and Martin replaced Roberts who held the position for two years.
During his time as EM, Roberts issued $250 million in bonds to bring down the short-term deficit, while added to the long-term debt. Before retiring, Roberts announced the closing of four schools including Oakman Orthopedic an elementary and middle school for children with special needs. In addition, Roberts initiated plans to move Davis Aerospace High School from the city airport.
Supporters of both schools held rallies and community forums in hopes of receiving a resolution and reversal from Martin. Advocates convened at city council’s formal session Nov. 26 anticipating the voice of city council to echo their concerns. On his way out, Roberts appointed Jonathan Kinloch to the school board which the DPS board challenged vigorously. Until emergency management, school board positions were elected or appointed by board members. Yet, Judge Annette Berry ruled the appointment would stand and emergency managers are able to make appointments to elected bodies. Under emergency management since 2009, DPS has now been under state control for 11 of the past 13 years.
COUNCIL BY DISTRICT
Under the city’s new charter, in effect Jan. 2012, city council members were elected by district for the first time in nearly a century. The city was divided into seven council districts. There are two at-large positions.
District 1- James Tate
District 2- George Cushingberry Jr.
District 3- Scott Benson
District 4-Andre Spivey
District 5-Mary Sheffield
District 6-Raquel Castaneda-Lopez
District 7-Gabriel Leland
At-Large- Brenda Jones, Saunteel Jenkins
Mary Sheffield is the youngest person on council at the age of 26. Raquel Castaneda-Lopez made Detroit history as the first Latina ever elected to Detroit’s council.
President Barack Obama was sworn into office a second time January 21, coinciding with the national holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. President Obama beat Mitt Romney for a second term and made history in 2008 as the first Black president.
STATE TAKES BELLE ISLE
Against much opposition, the State of Michigan now runs Belle Isle Park. For the first time, since the body was elected, council unanimously rejected an offer from the state and emergency manager. Though EM Orr reversed council and gave the state control of the city’s largest park. Council wanted a 10 year lease for the park. As EM, Orr is not subject to council’s decisions and awarded a 60 year lease to the state. According to Orr, the lease saves the city $8 million a year.
MICHIGAN DEMOCRATIC PARTY GETS NEW LEADERSHIP
Lon Johnson was elected as the chair of the state’s democratic party, Feb. 23, beating out long-time party chair Mark Brewer. Members of the party criticized Brewer believe he had become ineffective. However, Johnson has yet to prove that he’s the change the party needs, according to some leadership and members within the party. Many chided Johnson for ignoring Detroiters in selecting a 2014 gubernatorial candidate.
50TH ANNIVERSARY MARCH ON WASHINGTON
2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his “I have a dream” speech. Thousands convened Aug. 24 in celebration and remembrance of the historic event. Rev. Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III organized the gathering.
KWAME KILPATRICK SENTENCED
Former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was sentenced, Oct. 10, to 28 years in prison for federal corruption. Kilpatrick, 43, was convicted of extortion, racketeering, conspiracy and fraud charges. He was the city’s youngest mayor when elected in 2002 at age 31. Kilpatrick resigned from office in 2008, after a whistleblower case where he and his former chief of staff Christine Beatty lied under oath about their extra-marital affair. In 2010, Kilpatrick and city contractor Bobby Ferguson were indicted. Ferguson was sentenced to 21 years on the same day as Kilpatrick. Eighteen Kilpatrick officials have been convicted of corruption.
In May 2013, it was revealed the state’s school reform system Education Achievement Authority could not exist without the Detroit Public Schools. Not only were DPS buildings and programs turned over to the EAA, the state’s troubled district used DPS’ borrowing authority to help with its erratic funding.
Critics of the state’s system questioned the quality of the program since its inception. The same measurements to determine student performance in Michigan’s traditional public schools are not being used in the EAA, therefore, there is no tool to measure the new model’s impact. The results, however, from these same tools (i.e. the MEAP test) were used to determine which schools would be placed into the EAA. As the year closes, trouble continues within the system. One-fourth of the students have left and the system has lost 32 staff members. A key board member also resigned.
NEW POLICE CHIEF
EM Kevyn Orr appointed James Craig as chief of police in August. Craig is the city’s fifth police chief in five years. He has restored precincts in the neighborhood and eliminated police districts. Craig has also held large community meetings to engage citizens and initiated a Neighborhoods Police Officer Program that puts officers on foot in the city’s neighborhoods.
Only months into his tenure, Craig was criticized for implementing the controversial stop-and-frisk policy recently banned in New York City. He has also come under fire for his recent Operation Mistletoe initiative that has included mass raids in Detroit neighborhoods. In October it was reported that Craig was not a certified police officer — which is not mandated by the city’s charter.