Few issues and stories in the history of Detroit have garnered more local, national and international attention than the continuous saga surrounding the appointment of Detroit’s first emergency manager (EM) last March.
In an unprecedented move by Gov. Rick Snyder, Kevyn Orr was appointed to usurp the executive powers of Mayor Dave Bing, as well as the legislative powers of the city’s nine-member city council. Bing and the council had been dutifully elected by the people of Detroit to serve as their leaders in a democratic system of local government.
From day one of this historic appointment, which made the Motor City the largest municipality in America to come under the vast powers of an emergency manager, voices of protest and court challenges have been heard in what many viewed as an illegal and unconstitutional procedure against democracy. Among the most vocal has been union activist Robert Davis, who has amassed an impressive history of filing and winning lawsuits under the guise of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that have helped legally front local organizations and politicians for acts that he strongly feels impinge the rights of Detroiters, inclusive of Gov. Snyder’s appointment of the current EM.
Thus was the case recently, when news broke that Wayne County Circuit Judge Maria Oxholm had ruled that the State of Michigan must release the names and résumeés of candidates who made the final cut to become the city’s emergency manager, a job that ultimately went to Orr. Davis was elated to hear of Oxholm’s ruling. He told a local daily newspaper, “Now that we have a ruling from Judge Oxholm, the people can see exactly how involved certain individuals were in this process and who exactly were the final candidates for the position of emergency manager,” Davis said. “Today was a victory for the people.”
Davis, according to the article, wanted to get e-mails released that he believed would show that Detroit mayoral candidate Mike Duggan had been a part of early talks with Gov. Snyder about taking Detroit’s EM job, a claim that Duggan vehemently denies. Dennis Muchmore, Snyder’s chief of staff, also denies the claim.
“Davis says that Duggan was considered for the EM job. That’s not even close to being the case,” said Muchmore. “We never considered Duggan for the city’s EM job. The only thing that we ever talked with him about was the emergency manager position for Detroit Public Schools, a position which he was not interested in. We never approached him, however, about becoming the city’s EM. Duggan has been consistent in saying that he’s not in favor of the EM law. So, we didn’t approach him and he definitely did not approach us. He was never a part of those EM discussions.”
Muchmore admitted that there were a number of candidates the governor met with for consideration, which obviously included Orr. Muchmore understands Judge Oxholm’s ruling that the names must be disclosed. However, any release of the names would come after the appeal process has been exhausted.
“We tossed a lot of names around and we had a lot of people that were recommended to us that we talked with,” Muchmore said. “There were a couple or three serious candidates. We settled on Orr because he was dynamic, had experience in highly complicated issues, was a nationally recognized expert and a lawyer of great renown. We saw him as a first-class intellect.”
Muchmore defended Gov. Snyder’s decision not to disclose the final EM candidates’ names prior to Judge Oxholm’s decision.
“I don’t understand why you can’t do something like this in confidence because you have to give the people that you talk with the security that they are not going to be exposed,” Muchmore said. “I worked for a big search company for six years before I joined the governor and you have to protect the people that you’re talking to. Oftentimes, people just don’t want their names out in the public. When you call someone up to consider a job, you have to give them time for consideration and let them know that their names will be kept in confidence. How many people that are looking for another job and have interviewed would want their names disclosed to their current employer? Not many.”
Muchmore, however, accepts the judge’s ruling and said the governor will comply by turning over names after the appeal process, if the appeal is not in his favor.
“We will see how long it takes to get the appeal process done,” Muchmore said. “If they don’t rule in our favor, we will hand over the list. We will still be a little concerned about releasing the names. However, the governor will comply with the final ruling.”
Furthermore, Muchmore said there’s no truth that taking the city into bankruptcy was the plan all along, even before Orr came on board. Last July, Orr made Detroit the largest city in American history to ever file for court protection under the auspices of bankruptcy.
“No, everybody wanted to try what was possible to stay away from bankruptcy,” Muchmore said. “That’s why we wanted to do the consent agreement. If you go back and look at the consent agreement, I believe there are 27 points that were there to avoid further problems. We did a tremendous amount of work to help the city. Bankruptcy was the last thing on anybody’s list. You don’t do anything like that until all other options have been exhausted.”
In the days ahead, Muchmore knows that beyond this current case, more court proceedings are in store as several other lawsuits have been filed, inclusive of one by the NAACP, to challenge the constitutionality of the EM law, particularly as it applies to the city of Detroit.
“We know there is outstanding litigation that is ongoing, so I probably shouldn’t comment on it at this time,” Muchmore said. “However, there is no question in my mind that we stand on solid ground as it relates to the EM law and the current role of Kevyn Orr in Detroit.”
He added that Detroit is definitely on the rebound. He points to the many new developments that are beginning to happen in Detroit.
“I think there are some great things going on in Detroit,” said Muchmore. “For Detroit to be strong, that means having a strong downtown and strong neighborhoods. I believe if we focus on what will bring us together and not focus on what will keep us apart, things will be good for all Detroiters. I think the next year or so will tell us a lot about the future of Detroit.”