Well, well. Kevyn Orr is now firmly in the saddle as Detroit’s Emergency Financial Manager. Mike Duggan’s campaign for mayor has evaporated, leaving Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon in the driver’s seat. And Bob Ficano, the current Wayne County executive, is teetering on the brink of political extinction, trouble with the law — or both.
So where does all this leave folks like me who believe Michigan’s prosperity is deeply tied up with the future of our state’s two largest units of local government?
First, my impression is that Orr is doing a terrific job, and in the process has provided some real credibility to the entire Emergency Financial Manager system adopted by the state.
He’s protected his back by reaching out to Mayor Dave Bing and the Detroit city council, keeping them on the payroll. He finally appears to be bringing accounting clarity to Detroit’s famously opaque books. And he is aggressively making the argument to bond-holders that it would be best to cut a deal with him rather than risk an unknown but all-powerful bankruptcy judge.
In other words, he’s offering bondholders a “haircut” in the form of a buzz cut rather than a potential total head-shaving. Of course, nobody has any idea how things will turn out, especially since the public employee unions are foaming at the mouth over proposed cuts in pensions and health care, let alone wages and work rules.
The public relations battle to frame the terms of the war is already beginning to take shape. Orr and much of the Detroit media are in the process of setting the stage as a conflict between the unions representing the 30,000 current and retired city employees and the 713,000 city residents the census found in 2010, a figure that has likely shrunk some, according to Data Driven Detroit.