Detroit Mayor Dave Bing suggested that the beleaguered city could need a state-appointed emergency manager to address its yawning budget deficit, drawing swift criticism from city officials whose authority would be eclipsed by an emergency manager.
Responding to a recent report indicating that Detroit could fall another $20 million short on top of an existing deficit of some $200 million, Bing renewed a call for cost-saving concessions on healthare and pensions from the city's unions. An emergency manager would be able to nullify union contracts without input from the unions, and although Bing said in a statement that the last thing I want is for Detroit to be run by an emergency financial manager, he left open the possibility that such a move could be necessary and could entail the state selecting him for the role. Bing has previously denied claims that he sought the position.
I was voted in as mayor, not an emergency manager, Bing told the Detroit Free Press. I don't want to be an emergency manager, but I came here to help the city, and if I was asked, I would consider taking the job.
Trying to Avoid Emergency Manager Condition
A spokesperson for the state's Treasury Department, which oversees the appointment of emergency managers, said that no predetermination on Detroit's financial status or next steps and added that for local governments the first and foremost goal is (to) avoid the need for emergency managers.
Earlier this year, Michigan passed controversial legislation granting emergency managers broad powers to dismiss elected local officials or overrule union contracts after they have seized control over a city or school system's finances. The legislation passed on a party-line vote, with Democrats arguing that the measure would erode the power of elected leaders and unions. Republican state Sen. Jack Brandenburg said at the time that emergency managers would be used in areas that needed financial martial law.
Bieda: Emergency Manager A 'Draconian Measure
Removing elected officials and overturning local ordinances shows no respect for the will or the rights of the voters, Joe Bieda, a Democratic senator, said after the legislation passed. This draconian measure gives authority to an individual with no responsibility to the citizens of the community.
Detroit City Council members denounced Bing's suggestion that an emergency manager could be needed as a power play intended to bypass elected officials.
We're not going to stand in the way of any draconian measures that need to be taken to resolve our budget crisis, City Council President Charles Pugh told The New York Times. He's sending the message that we're not capable of that. Not only are we capable, but we want to do it.
Unions also reacted with scorn. Joe Valenti, president of Teamsters Local 204, told the Detroit News that it made no sense to elevate Bing to emergency manager given his record so far.
Let's assume he can't do the job [as mayor], Valenti said. What would he do differently?
The sweeping powers of emergency managers have been on display in other distressed Michigan cities. An emergency manager appointed to oversee the city of Ecorse embraced her authority by dissolving the fire fighter union's contract, writing in a letter to the union of the disconnect between the financial reality that the City faces and the demands that for some time you have made. In Pontiac, emergency manager Louis Schimmel fired several department heads and indicated that he he might transfer their duties to private companies.
I like to think of it as a restructuring and bring my own people on board, Schimmel told the Detroit News. But some people were let go because they didn't fit the combined roles I need filled and others because they were not competent.