Detroit is moving closer to exiting bankruptcy which means the state financial review commission will have a role in monitoring the city’s operations. WDET’s Sandra Svoboda talked with City Council Member James Tate about what that arrangement means for Detroit. Here’s the interview, with a full transcript below.
JAMES TATE: The role of the city council post bankruptcy is really the same role we had pre bankruptcy. We’re the stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars. Now as a result of the bankruptcy and restructuring those billions of dollars, it has given us some cushion. Not cushion to have and play and have a great time with. But really to put toward those services that have been so desperately diminished over the years.
SANDRA SVOBODA: You’re going to have plenty of eyes on you as you proceed, specifically the Financial Review Commission that was part of the state legislation. Tell me about how that group will interact with the city council.
TATE: The financial review group, they’re going to basically provide that oversight. They’re not over the day-to-day operations as I mentioned previously, as the mayor and the city council, we’re still in charge of the city but we’re going to have to make sure we provide them with reports. Those reports are going to have to be vetted. That’s why it’s important to have – and I know it became somewhat of an issue with the judge — it’s important to have council president as well as the mayor on that team because they’re able to advocate and express clearly so there’s no ambiguity as to what those plans are and what we have in those budgets. If it were my choice, would we not have the group there? Absolutely. You want to be able to govern freely without having someone peeking over your shoulder. But ultimately we’re looking at this as making the best of the situation that we’re in.
SVOBODA: Do your colleagues on city council hold generally that opinion or is there more of a spectrum of support or opposition for the financial review commission or more opposition than you seem to have?
TATE: We really haven’t had that conversation, if others feel the same way as I do. When you start looking at the actions of this particular city council, this group is very realistic about looking at the situation that we’re in. We can scream and moan and complain about the fact that there is a financial review commission there. That won’t result in much but a lot of noise being made but I don’t think you’re going to have a lot of complaints about the situation because the reality is they’re here and I think the goal is to do everything we can to get the commission to no longer be here.
SVOBODA: Characterize for me what the bankruptcy process was able to change relative to the city council’s role that will prevent another financial crisis from happening.
TATE: It’s hard to say because there wasn’t one thing that created our financial burden that we were under, our financial stress, financial burden, financial crisis. It was a number of different things that took place. Ultimately the argument can be held that there are several layers of oversight that will ensure that not just city council but the city as a whole that the decision makers will not make those detrimental financial deals that will drag down the city.
SVOBODA: Do we have an exit date for Kevyn Orr and what will be the biggest change in the atmosphere or environment on that day?
TATE: I don’t have that date. I’m not sure what it is. We built into the final order that he would only be here to work on the bankruptcy. Now that we’re winding that down, he is no longer effectively running the city. I will say Kevyn Orr has been definitely a lot less heavy handed than many of the other emergency managers around the country. When he came in there was a big fear that he was going be like some of the others, I mean the state, excuse, he was going to be like some of the others where he would say “OK city government, move aside. I’ll take this.” I will say to his credit that he did work with us. He did not have the expertise when it came to the city as a whole. But I don’t think that we’re going to see very much in the way the city operates and functions. We’re here now. It’s the new normal. What you see today is a government that is focused on service, ensuring that our financial challenges no longer exist in the way as they did in the past. Not to say that because of the national economy, if it changes, even the state as well because we are at the bottom end of that totem pole. But I think with Kevyn Orr exiting, you won’t see much of a difference from where we are today.