There’s no doubt that one of Michigan’s biggest stories this year is Gov. Rick Snyder’s decision to put Detroit under an emergency manager, and put attorney Keyvn Orr in that post.
But Detroit is far from the first or only city in the state to have an Emergency Manager. Though the original title was Emergency Financial Manager, the title changed after new legislation took effect March 28. Currently, there are EMs in Flint and Benton Harbor.
Allen Park and Ecorse, two small downriver Detroit suburbs, are both being run by the same Emergency Manager, Joyce Parker.
There’s also been one for the past few years in Pontiac, who is preparing to turn the reins back over to an elected government. Hamtramck and Highland Park have also have had emergency managers, and Hamtramck may again.
Some have been troubled by the fact that while EMs now run cities with less than 10 percent of Michigan’s population, they include almost half the state’s African American residents.
Undoubtedly, the appointment of Emergency Managers to take hold of the financial reins of cities in desperate financial trouble marks a dispiriting omen for proud towns around our state.
They’ve triggered passionate criticism on the grounds that they dismantle locally elected democratic institutions.
But they’ve also been met with reluctant acceptance by those who realize that there currently simply no other way to cure cities where the Great Recession, incompetence, corruption denial and half measures have almost destroyed the fabric of urban life.
There is, however, an important back story behind our concern for distressed Michigan cities. Perhaps it’s best told by Rip Rapson, president of the Kresge Foundation, which has invested almost $500 million in the Detroit tri-county region over the past 20 years:
“The Emergency Financial Manager’s appointment is a single component in a larger suite of activities through which the city is accelerating its transformation. The manager’s efforts will stand alongside a robust and multifaceted machinery of investment and engagement that is expanding opportunities and supporting the continued emergency of a vibrant and essential Detroit unimaginable to some outside observers,” he said.