It’s Good to be the King
Published: April 17, 2013
“In general … it is important to note that concerns about the proposed Jones Day contract are not limited to either potential conflicts of interest the firm may have with other clients, or the status of Mr. Orr’s former employment relationship with that firm. Rather the real concern arises out of the combination of Jones Day’s and Mr. Orr’s multiple intersecting, overlapping and complementary roles…”
Those roles, as explained in the analysis, include Jones Day serving as counsel “for both the city and its creditors and other major multinational corporations that may well be able to assert claims or pursue private interests in the vast and complex process of Detroit’s restructuring.” Then there’s Orr’s role as emergency manager, which removes the checks and balances usually found in city government and places both executive and legislative functions in his hands — alone.
“In other words,” Whitaker writes in the analysis provided to council, “evaluating the propriety of the Jones Day contract involves multiple issues, conflicts and public policy concerns arising out of the totality of the combination of the roles they are being asked to play in conjunction with the State and Mr. Orr, as Emergency Manager.”
In other words, it is a sack filled with writhing snakes.
Given the number of goofballs, dimwits and shysters who’ve had seats at the table over the years, beating up on the Detroit City Council has long been fairly easy sport. So it’s not too surprising that the legislative branch of government is being targeted for severe cuts now that an emergency manager is running the city.
Mayor Bing has proposed cutting the council’s $11.2 million annual budget by $4 million. But that 35 percent slash seems almost generous when compared to the $7.6 million reduction being recommended by the private consulting firm Conway Mackenzie. Based in Birmingham, the specialists in financial restructuring are being paid $4.2 million to help Detroit find a way out of its financial mess.
After analyzing city council budgets and duties in a number of other cities, the firm recently issued a report recommending that council be reduced to a part-time body, with drastic reductions to its support staff.
That includes the above-mentioned Research & Analysis Division, as well as the Fiscal Analysis Division.
The Conway Mackenzie report indicates that many of the City Council’s functions are redundant, and therefore can be consolidated or eliminated.
Here’s the thing: A properly functioning City Council is supposed to provide a check and balance to the city’s executive branch. And, in our years of covering city government, the council’s analysts have done just that. Especially when Kwame Kilpatrick was mayor, Irvin Corley Jr. and his crew of fiscal analysts were there exposing the fictitious spending plans Kilpatrick’s administration regularly served up.
The same has long been true of RAD, which consistently provides credible analysis of legal issues facing the city. In a way, with power now consolidated in the hands of emergency manager Orr, that sort of independent insight is more important than ever.
But getting that kind of analysis would be virtually impossible if cuts as draconian as those being proposed by Conway MacKenzie are actually implemented.
“It would be devastating,” David Whitaker said in response to a question from News Hits.
In a way, now that it has been denuded of any real decision-making power, and control of the city has been placed in a single pair of hands, the role of council as watchdog is more important than ever. Whitaker ably makes that point at the conclusion of the Jones Day contract analysis.
“In an effort to preserve and protect some semblance of a democratically elected city government during this process, appropriate public discussions (under the Open Meetings Act) relative to important policy decisions can be held by City Council before plans are executed, to the extent possible,” he writes. “City Council has been, and will continue to be, the public’s route of access to its government. It is important that the independent review and analysis that is vital to open government be maintained going forward. Preserving access and openness may ease the road ahead for the city.”
News Hits is written by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com.
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