The MT interview with Krystal Crittendon
Published: July 24, 2013
Crittendon: I think that bankruptcy would be preferred to emergency management. And he’s made these investors a deal that he knew that they were going to refuse, I guess. I think they would feel better in bankruptcy than the deal that he put on the table.
MT:Is it too simplistic to say the choice facing the new mayor and other elected officials is, “Do we cooperate with the emergency manager, or don’t we?”
Crittendon: If I thought he was here legally, then I’d be saying I’m cooperating with him. But I do believe that Public Act 436 [the current emergency manager law] is unconstitutional and illegal. You can prove that something’s constitutional in two ways: either on its face, the plain terms of the law are violating the constitution, or the way it’s being applied. And the way the emergency manager laws have been applied here in Michigan have deprived people of color in this state, more than half of them, of the right to have someone who they’ve elected represent them — have power to represent them.
MT:So you believe that it is incumbent on who is elected mayor to support the challenge to the emergency management law?
Crittendon: I think that, unless and until the courts have ruled that he is here legally, it is a breach of your obligation, if you believe that he’s not here legally, a breach of your oath of office and your obligation to the residents here for you to say you’re going to work with this.
Some of the other candidates are saying, “Well he’s here now we’ve got to learn to live with him.” The analogy that I’m giving is it’s like saying that you go on vacation, somebody breaks into your house and takes up residence as a squatter. You don’t come back and say, “They’re here now. I might as well live with them.” You do everything that you can to get these people who are illegally occupying your home out of your home, because if you don’t and you sit there — they will sell off all your good china and your family heirlooms. But with an emergency manager they have the ability to go further and that is to take your pipes out of your house and your plumbing and your fixtures, and when they leave, you have just a shell of a home left. You have no government.
MT:What skills do you bring to the mayor’s job that would help the city?
Crittendon: As the lawyer for the city, you don’t just provide legal advice. Now you don’t have the ability to make policy. There are some things that, as a lawyer, I might have philosophically disagreed with. My job, however, is just to make sure that it is legal, and I might tell mayor or city council or police chief, however, I don’t think it’s a good idea but my opinion about whether it’s a good idea is not relevant. And so I have had to have knowledge not just of the legalities of those specific contracts or projects, but I have to know all of the inner workings. I have to know how it’s going to affect HUD dollars, what federal regulations are impacted. So there is not going to be any learning curve because as corporation counsel, and even before I was corporation counsel, I was a staff attorney for 14 years. I was not going to sign my name to any document unless I fully understood it, and fully vetted it to make sure that it was not only legal on its face but that it would not be illegal or impact any other deals, projects, systems, anything within city government. So the learning curve is something you’re not going to have to deal with if I’m elected mayor.
MT:Despite your experience, going from managing a department to being mayor and overseeing multiple departments, it’s still new territory.
Crittendon: What you have to do is you have to be able to identify people who are skilled in every aspect of the department that you’re contemplating appointing them over. If anyone thinks that the mayor is going to be running the police department, the fire department, the buildings and safety and DOT, he or she is mistaken. You have to have competent people in those departments. We’ve had people who’ve been career politicians be mayor, we’ve had people who’ve not, and it’s a crapshoot in terms of whether you think one or the other is better. What we need is someone in that office who is bright, someone who understands city government, somebody who’s ethical, somebody who knows how to motivate other people, and somebody who knows how to identify talent. I will say, however, that out of all the candidates that are out there, none of them have been in the position that you just described, where they have supervised people in every department. I’ve, at least, worked with people in every department.
MT:What are some of the weaknesses that you have to overcome to be successful?
Crittendon: My biggest weakness is that I always have problems answering this question, and I’ve been asked it before. I do need to learn to delegate authority better, I will say that.
I know how to pick competent people to do what I’ve done in respect to supervisors in the department. We’ve been under budget. Even though our budget has been cut tremendously in the law department every year, so we’ve made the most that we can out of not being sufficiently resourced. But even though I delegate it, I do it when I stay on top of what the person is doing. So I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older to trust more the people that I’ve put into position and not let them catch me supervising them.
MT:Let’s talk about the interest rate swaps, which are costing the city hundreds of millions of dollars? Is that something you think could, should be investigated?
Crittendon: Absolutely. And those swaps were always a bad idea.
MT:But you were at the table when those agreements were being made, weren’t you?
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