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 state mandated public meeting.
About 100 protestors gathered out front. And not everyone was admitted. The auditorium held about 200 people but many of the seats were reserved, complained attendees. Many questioned why the meeting was not held in the Erma Henderson Auditorium in the Coleman Alexander Young building that 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 members 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 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.
“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 takeover 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,” says Orr about challengers.
Orr presented many of the findings from his report, which states Detroit is “insolvent” and 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 you don’t take on any additional (debt)” or giving all city revenue to creditors for fifteen years.
Orr said his first priority as EM 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 some questions. One resident asked what the upcoming city council and mayoral election would mean under Emergency Management. Orr said under the statute, neither the city council or 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.”
He also said the EM will provide a two-year budget and restructure city operations to newly elected official.
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?”
Mayor Bing never took the plan to city council.
Throughout, the meeting Orr said he had been hearing from residents when he was at places such as Popeye’s Chicken about their conditions in the city. He referenced Popeye’s twice. He also stated he had an understanding for the people in the city that is rooted in race.
Orr said he is “three generations removed from picking cotton” and was born in a segregated hospital. He also said he had 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.”