Detroit's emergency manager is upbeat about city's potential

Mar 19, 2013

The following is a summary of the above audio. To hear the full interview, click above.

It's been five days since Governor Snyder presented Kevyn Orr as the emergency manager of Detroit.

Many were quick to comment about Orr’s “introduction” to Michigan and that he seemed well-suited for the job.

He is a U-M law school alumnus, an attorney specializing in bankruptcy law and he helped guide Chrysler through its bankruptcy.

At his introductory press conference last Thursday with Governor Snyder and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, Kevyn Orr certainly seemed ready and willing  to take on the gargantuan task of “fixing” Detroit’s dire financial crisis.

Within the first day of that press conference, it was reported that Orr had some financial troubles of his own. He had liens on his home over unpaid unemployment insurance taxes.

"It is quite embarrassing when something like that comes up, but I took care of that as soon as I could and paid it off," Orr said. "Frankly, I have been too focused on my professional obligations and not as focused enough on my private obligations."

Orr also noted that he is "more resolved than ever and ready to move forward."

There are many questions surrounding Orr’s appointment.

Can he really “fix” Detroit?

Is Detroit really "fixable"?

And just what should we expect now that Michigan’s largest city is under state control?

Orr says his strategy involves a three pronged approach toward solving the city's financial problems.

First, he says he plans to restore and enhance city services to Detroit residents.

Second, he said they have to look at retiree benefits and healthcare benefits.

And third, he said he plans to take a look at the city's current debt obligations.

"People want to feel that they're in a secure environment," Orr said. "In the neighborhoods we need to reach out so the residents feel an immediate sense that were focused on their concerns."

Orr said he wants to sit down with stakeholders to reach some sort of agreement on a number of issues. He believes that process could take him three to nine months.

Since his appointment there has been apprehension about what exactly Orr will be doing with Detroit's finances.

People fear there will be cuts to city services, and that some of the important assets in the city will be lost without any concern for the residents' well-being.

"We have a great partner here with the mayor. He has taken a very courageous step, saying he is going to walk side by side with this process. I have invited the city council to do so as well. So I hope that while were trying to look at the restructuring of the balance sheet, that the people see the status quo is getting better."

Orr hopes that during the process, he will be able to foster positive relationships with both elected members and residents. He says he intends to conduct the process while providing trust and transparency to elected officials and city residents.

"What will the relationship be? One I hope that is a fulfilling one, and engaging. I have offered an olive branch to the city council to come in and work with me.  We still have a democracy. They still have their jobs."

Kevyn Orr has high hopes and expectations for Detroit, and given the city's assets, he believes it can reach its full potential.  He draws comparisons to New York and Philadelphia in the 70's and 80's and the cities of Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the past decade.

"All of those cities were in positions that we are now, and given the resources that Detroit has between the people, commitment and physical resources… there is no reason Detroit can’t reach its unlimited potential."