DETROIT – Mayor-elect Mike Duggan said Thursday that he and Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr will share some of the duties of running the cash-strapped city but the bulk of the financial responsibilities will remain under Orr’s control.
Duggan revealed details of his role during a news conference that Orr did not attend. Under the deal he reached with Orr, he has been given control over blight removal, public lighting and the Fire Department. Orr still will oversee the Police Department.
The move to more clearly define Duggan’s responsibilities under state oversight as he takes over the top elected office in January follows negotiations between the two men. It appears to signal better communication between Orr and City Hall, and the chance for Orr to put more of his efforts into steering Detroit through the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.
Only time will tell, however, if the men’s relationship will be collaborative — or strained like Orr’s dealings with outgoing Mayor Dave Bing, who said he would work with the emergency manager early on but soon complained that their dealings had soured. There was no clear division of duties between Orr and Bing, who did not seek re-election to a second term.
“Difficult problems are easier to solve if they are shared,” said James McTevia, a turnaround expert and managing member of McTevia & Associates in suburban Detroit.
Orr’s main focus will be on restructuring a plan for moving the city forward through bankruptcy and after bankruptcy. He has said it will be ready in early January.
“Kevyn Orr has got enormous responsibility in handling this bankruptcy litigation,” Duggan, who was elected in November, told reporters Thursday. “He’s responsible for submitting a plan of adjustment which demonstrates to the court that in order for Detroit to come out of bankruptcy that there is a long-term prospect for the city to be solvent. And it’s obviously critical that the mayor who is dealing with operations not do anything that undercuts the plan of adjustment.
“I think you’ll see us work in a way that we do not interfere with each other’s areas.”
Approval of a plan could have come even if the men hadn’t come up with a way to share duties, said bankruptcy attorney Michael Sweet with Fox-Rothschild’s San Francisco office.
“However, the fact that the emergency manager and mayor-elect have reached an agreement on how they will work together would reduce the chance that there is discord between the two when it comes time to put the plan in front of the court,” Sweet said. “With all of the people who are likely to be critical of Orr’s plan, it is good for him to eliminate the possibility that there would be attacks from within City Hall.”
The agreement, which Duggan and Orr have signed, is two pages long and titled “Delegations of Authority and Transition Protocols.” An organizational chart released Thursday showed a box with “emergency manager” printed in it, and below it was the “mayor” box.
“You will not hear me publicly criticizing the emergency manager,” said Duggan, former chief executive of the Detroit Medical Center.
Orr was appointed in March by Gov. Rick Snyder under Michigan’s emergency manager law and filed for bankruptcy protection in July. A federal judge on Dec. 3 approved Orr’s petition.
Orr says the city’s debt is at least $18 billion.
“There is one goal in Detroit and that is to create a strong, vibrant and solvent city and this agreement will help us achieve that,” Orr said in a statement Thursday, referring to his arrangement with Duggan. “Mayor-Elect Duggan and I have come up with a way to manage day-to-day operations and the financial restructuring in a collaborative fashion that puts the best interests of all of its 700,000 residents first.”
Another responsibility of Duggan’s will be to oversee financial matters relating to the day-to-day function of city government. He will appoint all non-civil service positions within his office, but they have to be approved by Orr.
Duggan said he is disappointed that he will not get to manage the police force — a job he had on his wish list.
“I don’t know that I had expectations,” he said. “But I have a very clear idea of the areas of this city where we need to improve the quality of life, and I have clear ideas on how to do that.”
Still, he promised to start right away on the issues he and Orr agreed he would tackle, including demolishing thousands of abandoned houses in the city, clearing vacant lots, getting broken street lights back on and improving Fire Department operations.
“You’re going to see a lot of activity, even in the next two weeks,” Duggan said. “And I expect in all of those areas the citizens of the city of Detroit will see real results in 2014.”