• How the EM and the Mayor learned to get along

    In The Detroit News today, Darren A. Nichols reports on a “work in progress”: the professional relationship between Mayor Mike Duggan and Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr.

    As Orr focuses on the city’s finances and restructuring plan (to be submitted to the bankruptcy court this week) and Duggan leads most of the city’s daily operations, the two men have reached what they say is a productive relationship based on mutual respect.

    “We’ve actually had some frank conversations, but they usually end up with a consensus being built in some way,”” Orr told The Detroit News. “It’s a level of confidence and almost a sense of earnestness that when an agreement is reached, that’s what’s gonna be done. You don’t have to come back and revisit it.”

    By in Uncategorized
  • What’s it like at Mayor Duggan’s City Hall?

    A Wayne State University Law School audience was privy to a few insights about Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration from the city’s corporation counsel, Melvin “Butch” Hollowell.

    _MG_9200For example:

    Mayor Mike Duggan’s cabinet meetings are Wednesdays, and everyone there is evaluated each week. A White House representative is at the table.

    The mayor and his staff have “great relations” with the new Detroit City Council as well as the emergency manager’s key staff.

    The memo of understanding between Duggan and Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr “isn’t perfect, but it was a pretty good deal.” (The city’s police chief and top financial officer report to Orr, but Duggan oversees the rest of the city’s departments.)

    In response to a question about the quasi-public groups involvement in the city, Hollowell said the mayor “is going to take control and has taken control of the economic development for the city. Tom Lewand is on his staff for that reason.” (Lewand is the group executive, jobs and economic growth.) “It’s not like we’re going to have rouge economic development around the city. It ain’t happening,” Hollowell said.

    Good Governance-9

    Photo courtesy Wayne State University Law School

    Appearing at the school’s “Good Governance Lecture Series” with Portia Roberson, group executive of human rights and ethics at the city, Hollowell offered frank, if overwhelmingly positive, answers to questions about the current city operations and how the new mayor is working with the emergency manager.

    “We don’t agree on everything,” Hollowell said. “We don’t want to be where we are just butting heads on everything because we’ve got work to do. From the very beginning we’ve tried to structure a cooperative relationship with the emergency manager.”

    Hollowell was assistant Wayne County executive from 1985 to 1991, overlapping tenure in that office with Duggan, who was deputy executive from 1987 to 2000. Hollowell also served as general counsel for the Detroit branch of the NAACP and worked for Duggan’s campaign as chief legal counsel before being named to the city administration.

    He predicted a busy year with many challenges, including the planned three-year budget that will be part of the bankruptcy restructuring process.

    “It’s intense on the 11th floor,” he told the friendly audience. “Make no mistake about it, it is not for the fainthearted.”

    -By WDET’s Sandra Svoboda

    @WDETSandra and nextchapter@wdet.org


    By in Uncategorized, WDET
  • Court Complaint: See the updated challenge to Michigan’s EM law

    Amended Complaint Challenging EM Law 2.12.2014

    To the plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of emergency managers, the state law providing for such municipal oversight violates some basic principles of U.S. law: the First Amendment-guaranteed rights of free speech and the ability to petition the government.

    Michigan’s Public Act 436, the law providing for emergency managers, also prevents the due process right for citizens to elect government officials and to enjoy equal protection under the law, according to a lawsuit re-filed in federal court Feb. 12.

    “Public Act 436 unconstitutionally strips local voters of their right to a republican form of government by transferring governance, including but not limited to legislative powers, from local elected officials to one unelected emergency manager,” the suit reads. “In each of these communities, citizens will have effectively lost their right to vote for elected officials or had that right diluted so as to render it an exercise in form without substance.”

    Originally filed 11 months ago, the suit is proceeding in U.S. District Court in Detroit. Attorneys re-filed the suit after a status conference last week with Judge George Caram Steeh, who ordered the suit could proceed. The plaintiffs removed claims that the EM law violates the right to collective bargaining. The suit does not directly challenge the city of Detroit’s bankruptcy proceedings.

    The amended complaint includes 25 plaintiffs, many from the 11 Michigan communities with emergency managers helming municipal government or school districts. Some plaintiffs are members of Detroit’s library commission or school board and the Pontiac, Flint and Benton Harbor city councils. They name Gov. Rick Snyder and former state Treasurer Andy Dillon as defendants.

    In part, the suit claims the Michigan Emergency Manager law “establishes a new form of local government, previously unknown within the United States or the State of Michigan, where the people within local municipalities may be governed by an unelected official who establishes local law by decree.”

    Next Chapter Detroit published a previous report about the case and an interview by WDET’s Quinn Klinefelter with one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, John Philo, of the Sugar Law Center.

    One of the most provocative points of the suit is that 52 percent of Michigan’s African-American population lives in a city that has had an emergency manager or been under consent decree. WDET’s Detroit Journalism Cooperative partner Bridge Magazine explored this dynamic in a Jan. 22 article.

    We’ll follow this dispute as it unfolds in U.S. District Court over the next several months.

    -By WDET’s Sandra Svoboda

    @WDETSandra and nextchapter@wdet.org

  • MiWeek: Updates on DWSD, Snyder’s budget proposal and more

    On the weekly DPTV MiWeek program, audiences are brought up to speed about Gov. Snyder’s proposed budget and explains what it means for Detroit. The team also discusses the downtown arena and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department negotiations.



  • Legal Questions: Suit challenges Michigan’s Emergency Managers

    A federal judge is allowing a lawsuit to proceed that challenges the constitutionality of Michigan’s emergency manager law. The suit – filed by the Sugar Law Center on behalf of 21 plaintiffs — was put on hold when Detroit began bankruptcy proceedings. Sugar Law Attorney John Philo  tells WDET’s Quinn Klinefelter that the suit argues the emergency manager law violates voting rights by taking away authority from elected officials…and unfairly targets African Americans.

    [sc_embed_player fileurl="http://www.nextchapterdetroit.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Sugar-Law-EM-suit.mp3"] Play Interview

    NextChapter Detroit had an earlier post about the lawsuit with the legal documents available for viewing.

    By in Uncategorized, WDET
  • Light up the water (and sewerage department)

    understanding-dwsd-01As plans are leaking about the future operation and management of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, a group of Michigan environmental groups are calling on Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr to be more forthcoming with the public.

    “It is unclear about what has actually been proposed and whether the concerns of ratepayers are being addressed,” says Nick Schroeck, executive director of The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center and author of the letter to Orr. “It’s crazy to think that you have one of the largest municipal water and sewage departments in the country, and with the stroke of a pen, completely change its operation.”

    Orr’s spokesman, Bill Nowling, told Next Chapter over the weekend, that the negotiations are required to be private.

    “Right now, all parties – counties, city and state – are under a federal judge’s order not to disclose the details of the mediated discussions or negotiations, under with the DWSD discussions are taking place,” he wrote in an email. “If there is an agreement on forming a new authority, the memo of understanding between the parties will be made public.”

    Before any county board, city council or federal bankruptcy court approves the transfer, Nowling said, “the public also will have a chance to examine and weigh in on any proposed deal.”

    Forty percent of Michigan’s population and more than 1,000 square miles of area are served by DWSD. In addition, the department is, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the largest producer of phosphorus that ends up in Lake Erie.

    DWSD is estimated to be responsible for about 5 percent of the total in the lake’s western basin, according to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Phosphorous, found in fertilizer, is a major cause of the algae blooms that have been impacting the lake, including killing fish.

    “Potential cuts to DWSD and failure to reduce combine sewer overflows and the associated pollution in the Detroit and Rouge rivers should not be allowed to happen,” Schroeck says.

    But without a look at any potential DWSD deal, no one knows how any reorganization or restructuring might affect such outputs. Twelve environmental groups, including the law center, are asking for the business to be done in a more illuminating fashion.

    “DWSD is responsible not only for providing safe drinking water and effective sanitation services, it is also responsible for helping to ensure that the area’s water resources are conserved and protected,” the letter reads. “For these reasons, it is imperative that the public be kept fully informed of the details of any reorganization of DWSD.”

    Nowling says when there is “an agreement in principle,” the city will post it online for public review. It will also be available through bankruptcy court records.

    “I would think that all the counties that sign on to any agreement also would post it or otherwise make it available to the public,” he says.

    DWSD Orr Letter 1.30.14

    The environmental groups involved are:

    Alliance for the Great Lakes

    American Rivers

    Detroit Riverkeeper

    Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice

    Food & Water Watch

    Great Lakes Environmental Law Center

    Michigan Clean Water Action

    Michigan Environmental Council

    Michigan Welfare Rights Organization

    People’s Water Board Coalition

    Rosa Parks Institute

    Sierra Club

    Michigan Sierra Club

    -By WDET’s Sandra Svoboda

    @WDETSandra and nextchapter@wdet.org

    By in Uncategorized