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Detroit leaders, Kevyn Orr continue closed-door talks

Sep 24, 2014

Kevyn Orr
Credit Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr has joined private, ongoing talks between Mayor Mike Duggan and the Detroit City Council about his future.

Under Michigan’s emergency manager law, the City Council could vote to remove Orr this week – but only if Duggan and Gov. Rick Snyder agree.

The parties have been meeting in closed session since Tuesday to discuss a transition plan. No one has been willing to speak publicly about those discussions.

While running for mayor, Duggan campaigned against having an emergency manager. He and Council members have repeatedly said they want Orr gone on September 27 –the date that, by law, elected officials can vote him out after 18 months in office under Public Act 436.

However, Duggan has used more cautious language when talking about this recently. Earlier this month, he called the transition “an amazingly complicated legal process” that requires all parties to agree on a course of action.

And even if Orr is dismissed, “I need him as a bankruptcy lawyer until the [Detroit bankruptcy] trial’s over,” Duggan said. “There’s no question about that. He has the most expertise.

“If there had been no emergency manager and I were the mayor, I would have hired Kevyn Orr as my bankruptcy lawyer.”

The private talks began yesterday after a Council session where, in a surprise move, Orr withdrew a plan to transfer some city-owned properties to the Detroit land bank.

The City Council unanimously rejected the plan last week.

It would have moved up to 45,000 tax-foreclosed properties to the land bank. And it would have automatically transferred those properties in the future, bypassing Council approval entirely — something one Council member called “insulting.”

In a memo delivered yesterday, Orr said he withdraw the plan “in light of ongoing discussions” between Council and Mayor Mike Duggan about how to best dispose of those properties.

“I have determined that it is in the best interest of the city that local government devise a long-term strategy for the management and development of the city’s foreclosed properties,” Orr said.

The Council did vote to transfer about 10,000 properties to the land bank as part of the city’s side-lot program. That program aims to let Detroit homeowners buy adjacent vacant lots for as a little as $100.

As emergency manager, Orr could have overruled the Council’s “no” vote on the larger land transfer –though Council had the right to submit an alternative proposal to a state emergency loan board.

But by withdrawing the proposal, Orr took that threat off the table.

Council canceled a Wednesday afternoon committee meeting to carry on talks behind closed doors, which have also drawn mediators involved in Detroit’s bankruptcy case.