Detroit, Emergency Managers, Flint, Michigan — April 25, 2013 at 7:09 am

Flint and Detroit and Belle Isle, oh my!


The State of Michigan is in a weird state

Let’s start out with something besides Detroit, shall we?

Flint Emergency Manager imposes governing classes on City Council, restores part pay, and makes them take his flak

Flint Emergency Manager Ed Kurtz restored 30% of the Flint City Council’s pay ($7,000/year) and 60% of Mayor Dayne Walling’s pay. As a condition, the Council members must complete classes on how to govern:

It’s back to school for Flint City Council members if they want to collect their partial pay that emergency manager Ed Kurtz reinstated last week.

Kurtz is requiring council members to complete the Michigan Municipal League’s level one core courses and receive the MML Education Award within one year.

“It should certainly help them get back to where they can run the city,” Kurtz said.

The restored pay of $7,000, which is 30 percent of a council member’s salary, doesn’t come with benefits.

The courses from the Michigan Municipal League are usually on Fridays and Saturdays at sites throughout the state. The eight hours of instruction are on topics such as board governance, human resources, leadership skills, municipal finance, strategic planning and others.

While the city will pay for the courses, city council members will be responsible for travel, lodging and meal expenses.

This seems like a smart move and one that I’ve been advocating in some form or another since the spring of 2011. Why not help government leaders be better leaders?

Kurtz also issued an order (pdf) that is a bit more troubling. The order says:

  1. Meet once per month (4th Monday) in order to hear concerns from constituents. Council members must be in attendance throughout the meeting.
  2. Accept and respond to constituent calls and requests for information. Council members shall submit actionable items to the Emergency Manager in writing.
  3. Schedule meetings as requested by the Emergency Manager to address issues that have significant impact on the City such as the Comprehensive Master Plan, KWA, Charter Revisions and other issues that may arise.
  4. Complete Level One of the Michigan Municipal League (MML) core courses for municipal government and receive the MML Education Award within one year. The City will pay for the costs of the actual training, exclusive of travel, lodging and meals.
  5. All communications with staff must be in writing and directed through the Emergency Manager’s office.
  6. Comply with any other request authorized by Public Act 436 from the Emergency Manager on timely basis. To be eligible for compensation, each Council member shall execute an acknowledgment of receipt of this order and agreement to abide by its terms.

So, like I said, I think the class thing is a terrific idea. What I find troubling is the Kurtz is forcing the City Council to hear all of the complaints of the citizens of Flint on his behalf and then sort of filter them out so he doesn’t have to deal with the riff raff. They have to hold meetings and take calls where they are sure to get an earful from disgruntled Flint residents and then let him know when he needs to get involved. Very tidy.

I also find the “don’t talk to City staff without my knowledge” provision supremely offensive. These are, after all, democratically elected officials. They shouldn’t have to pass their communications with City staff members through an unelected dictator. Period.

Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr considering hiring someone to do the job HE was hired to do

This blows my mind:

Detroit emergency financial manager Kevyn Orr is considering creating an auditor general position for the city.

According to the Emergency Manager, the move would improve oversight of the 300-million dollars in federal grant funding the city receives each year. Orr says the city needs to keep a closer eye on how it spends federal dollars.

I’m sorry, but isn’t that exactly the sort of thing that we hired Orr himself to do? I mean, the taxpayers of Michigan are paying this dude something like a quarter million dollars a year to sort out Detroit’s finances. Isn’t one of the tasks covered by that enviable salary overseeing federal grants? Surely there are comparable positions already in the Detroit city government. If those already in charge of keeping tabs on grants and such need further training, fine, do that. But hiring someone to do the job we hired HIM to do? That’s ludicrous.

UPDATE: As Bill Cole points out in the comments, Detroit already has an auditor general. His name is Mark W. Lockridge. So why is Orr planning to create a position that already exists???

Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr ready to do away with collective bargaining with city employees

In a move that was predicted from Day One when Public Act 4 was passed, Detroit EM Orr sent a letter to “state employment relations officials” letting them know that PA 436 gives him the right not “to bargain or participate in compulsory arbitration with Detroit’s public safety unions”.

Kevyn Orr, a former bankruptcy lawyer, alerted state labor officials on Thursday that he has no legal requirement to bargain or participate in compulsory arbitration with Detroit’s public safety unions.

The statement by Orr, sent in letters to state employment relations officials, is his first public indication that he actively is considering exercising some of the most sweeping powers granted to him under the 2012 state law that created the position of emergency manager.

Detroit has agreements with some 48 unions, and outside analysts say the city needs concessions from organized labor if it is to restore public finances devastated by a shrinking population and high unemployment.

Staking out his position in the letters, Orr stated that Detroit is in receivership, and he has no duty to bargain under procedures set forward in the state Public Employment Relations Act. The city and its lawyers “are authorized to advance this position and seek…any and all relief available by law,” he said.

Orr’s move incensed unions for firefighters, police officers and paramedics, whose current pacts with the city end on June 30.

I’ll give him credit for not excluding cops and firefighters as Republicans have done in much of their union-crushing legislation. Orr, at least, is “fair”. You know, if you consider ignoring the fact that unions exist and have rights “fair”.

The “Belle Isle as Galt’s Gulch” idea just won’t die

In Ayn Rand’s book “Atlas Shrugged”, a near bible for the tea party and for libertarians, the smartest, wealthiest people in the country all walk away to form their own little haven called “Galt’s Gulch”. A Detroit businessman, Rod Lockwood, wants to turn Belle Isle into an independent commonwealth that looks remarkably like “Galt’s Gulch”. When he first trotted out the idea, it was all but laughed out of the state. But Lockwood is back, apparently, this time proposing a new community named “Jefferson” on the other side of the Belle Isle bridge that will be home to all of the Detroiters who will act as servants to the wealthy living in the new haven for the rich:

It’s hard to tell whether Rod Lockwood is in on his own joke.

The businessman, who amassed a fortune in real estate, made a radical, controversial proposal earlier this year to buy Belle Isle from the city for $1 billion and transform it into a Hong-Kong-style quasi-independent commonwealth.

Citizenship would require a $300,000 stake, but starving artists or musicians could earn residency in the commonwealth through a kind of hardship sponsorship. Because, you know, diversity.

Lockwood seems incredibly sincere, even though he hasn’t received support from any of the entities whose approval would be required to make this plan happen. But hope springs eternal, I suppose, and on Friday, Lockwood unveiled the second component of his plan: The creation of a district named “Jefferson” just off the coast of Belle Isle.

A logistical hub and residential center that would support the island and create thousands of jobs (mostly servicing the island’s wealthy residents), Jefferson is intended to sweeten the Belle Isle Commonwealth pot. Lockwood says the plan should convince skeptical city officials that his proposal for Belle Isle would provide the kind of economic lift that could truly move the needle in Detroit.

Here’s what Lockwood says about “Jefferson” on his webpage in answer to the FAQ “Why will Detroit do this?”:

Detroit will see many benefits. The $1 billion dollars Detroit receives from the sale will be used to help with blight removal and train people with the skills needed to fill the thousands of construction jobs created on Belle Isle. About $4 billion of public infrastructure will be required on the island plus another $20 billion of private construction. Also, the huge influx of capital into Belle Isle will cause spin-off factories, businesses and retail services which will have to be located in Detroit near Belle Isle. In the book, a new community called Jefferson is one of the beneficiaries of the Belle Isle Midwest Tiger, as it is located on the other side of the Belle Isle bridge. Jefferson itself will bring thousands of construction jobs as housing, restaurants, hotels, retail and golf courses will be built to support the Midwest Tiger, creating an additional $20 billion in construction activity. It is likely a second monorail connecting Jefferson to downtown Detroit will be built, again creating more jobs and an explosion of new construction activity in Detroit.

Let’s be clear: this utopian dream of his is nothing more than an island with its own colony of servants conveniently living on the mainland where they won’t sully the Island of Wealth and Excess with their presence. It’s offensive beyond anything I’ve seen in a very long time and the fact that anyone at all is paying attention to him is astonishing.

Fortunately, it’s never going to happen.

[CC Photo credit: Michigan Municipal League (MML) | Flickr]