Does Detroit Already Have Emergency Financial Managers?

Aside from right-to-work, perhaps the most heated debate in Michigan last year was over the controversial emergency manager legislation.

Essentially, as opponents of the legislation fervently argue, an emergency manager siphons power from locally elected leaders and an appointed one starts calling the shots on how and where money is spent (and not spent) within an affected city.

Detroit, despite threats, has been able to doge an the infamous EFM (so far anyway).

But in many ways the city has, by default, come under a different type of financial management.

The city, it its compromised financial state, has been increasingly reliant on outside donors, big-ticket foundation gifts, to help keep city projects afloat. It’s been a much less heated debate, but it still exists in the undercurrent of city politics and grassroots movements.

A prime example of this came to a head in 2011, when the Kresge Foundation cut funding to Detroit Works project after a disagreement with the Bing administration over the role of outside decision-makers planning the fate of the city.

As pointed out at the time

Investors like Rapson weren’t elected by the people of Detroit. He came to Detroit a few years ago from the McKinght Foundation in Minneapolis. He lives in some fancy suburb outside Troy. But as the Wall Street Journal points out, private individuals like Mr. Rapson are wielding a lot of power in Detroit. They are threatening to dictate the terms of a project that will nonetheless be funded 4-1 by public money.



Since 2011 Bing and Rapson have mended fances and are not on the the same page. News came yesterday taht Kresge plans to donate $150 million tot he Detroit Works projects, that is “every single dollar” that Kresge spends in Detroit over the next 5 years Rapson says.

Rapson is of the opinion that Detroit needs outside voices and ideas to get it on a new path. And he’s partialy right, making the issue more complex than the stale outsider v. Detroit standoff. 

From the Wall Street Journal:

 Mr. Rapson counters that more outside voices are needed in Detroit to help local leaders who, he suggests, aren’t up to the challenge of remapping the city. “The idea that the folks who have been trained a certain way for the last 20 years and who have never had the opportunity to apply that training in another community could figure all that out de novo seems crazy,” he said in an interview.


But city leaders say mapping out the city’s future—including deciding which neighborhoods will survive Mr. Bing’s consolidation effort and which ones won’t—is a task for local leaders and voters. “People want to know that their interests are being represented,” says Marja Winters, the city’s deputy planning chief and co-leader of Detroit Works. “Someone who doesn’t live here can’t accurately represent their interests.”



So, in a way, the city is under a financial direction from people who have not been elected. But we have to ask ourselves: is that such a bad thing? 

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