Politics & Prejudices
An Emergency Manager could be what Detroit needs
Maybe we should stop worrying and welcome the EM
Published: November 23, 2011
There are risks, of course. Nobody will say this on the record, but some are worried about the possibility of civil unrest.
Sadly, that probably means that it would be a bad idea to name an emergency manager who was not African-American. Naming Lou Schimmel, a white accountant from Waterford, wouldn't work here.
Schimmel is now the EM in Pontiac, anyway. Nor would it be a good idea to name Dave Bing to the job. That would set a terrible precedent. He has already announced he intends to run for re-election in two years. Every mayor in the country probably has had a fantasy of not having to worry about the council or the unions and having absolute power; helping them fulfill it would in no way be healthy.
The best person I can think of as an emergency manager for Detroit is Joe Harris, now the EM in Benton Harbor. He was Detroit's auditor for a decade, and knows how the city's finances work.
There may, however, be better people. It needs to be said that it is possible, even likely, that the whole process will get put on hold. A group called Stand Up for Democracy is now collecting signatures to put a measure on the November 2012 ballot asking voters if they want to repeal Snyder's Emergency Manager law.
They only need 161,308 valid signatures to do that, and the odds are good that they'll collect enough, perhaps by the end of the year. If so, the law will be put on hold once the signatures are certified, a process that can take up to two months.
What would happen to emergency managers named before that? A spokesman for the Michigan Secretary of State's office says nobody knows, but I think it is likely they'd stay in place till the election. It also could be that the earlier, somewhat weaker emergency financial manager law would remain in force.
Nobody knows how this will play out, but it would be hard to exaggerate the size of the crisis Detroit faces. A few layoffs and begging the state to give revenue sharing money back aren't going to fix it. You can expect this story to be with us for many years to come.
> Email Jack Lessenberry