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Detroit’s EM should surround himself with fresh faces, fresh thinking

RIGHT MIND-SET: Emergency manager Kevyn Orr, far right, and Mayor Dave Bing flank Gov. Rick Snyder at a press conference to discuss the city’s financial straits. (courtesy photo/city of Detroit)

RIGHT MIND-SET: Emergency manager Kevyn Orr, far right, and Mayor Dave Bing flank Gov. Rick Snyder at a press conference to discuss the city’s financial straits. (courtesy photo/city of Detroit)

Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr came in with an impressive resume and a seemingly razor-sharp focus and determination to right the city’s finances. He is an “outsider” who was viewed as independent and detached enough to make decisions independent of the political ramifications, one way or the other. He was our chance to make good, solid decisions and correct our city’s long standing wrongs.

But with his recent appointment of former city councilman Gary Brown as his chief compliance officer to oversee department restructuring – a role that was supposed to be occupied by William “Kriss” Andrews – Orr has proven that not much has changed. Now, this isn’t about Gary and whether he is nice or deserving of this position; those conversations are endless, and empty. Instead, this is about a missed opportunity for Detroit to put someone in a key position to make strategic and organizationally sound decisions for the long-term benefit of the city.

At $225,000, the salary for this position is looked upon as high, but it isn’t – if you have a person whose credentials, experience, expertise and track record are commensurate. But we don’t. Instead, we have a person with a record of being a civil servant in a long-dysfunctional city and department. Having received a payout (for settlement of his lawsuit against the city during the Kilpatrick administration), a pension and now a generous paycheck, I question what skill set and perspective are now at the table where reform should occupy the head seat. How can you expect someone who has and continues to benefit from a broken system to help repair it?

Rather than choosing a Detroit insider, Orr should have checked his Rolodex of restructuring experts from around the country. Somewhere in his network is a young, educated and experienced professional with the qualifications and expertise, the vision and commitment, to help position Detroit to realize its maximum potential.

Gary Brown served in the Detroit Police Department, but does that qualify him to be Kevyn Orr’s chief compliance officer?

Gary Brown served in the Detroit Police Department, but does that qualify him to be Kevyn Orr’s chief compliance officer?

Instead, Brown is brought to the bigger table to do what he and his former council colleagues are still being paid (but not really allowed) to do. If this were a corporate environment or a city flourishing with residents, businesses, educated citizens and opportunities for all, then it would appear like a cunning move of self-benefit. But, we aren’t, and so this isn’t.

In spite of our pockets of hope – Whole Foods, Dan Gilbert, the promise (again) of a new sports arena – Detroit’s population continues to dwindle; the school system is struggling to emerge from decades of decline; the blight in Detroit is a more synonymous visual than any skyline shot; crime is out of hand. Fueling this are antiquated municipal operations that all but eliminate quality city services, while running an expense column as though we are making money … but we are not.

The city of Detroit has had very few opportunities to make things better, or right. Whether you agreed with Orr’s presence or not, he still represented the chance to re-do what should have changed long ago. The chance to fill the seat of a restructuring expert should have been filled with just that and nothing and no one less.

Karen Dumas is a PR/communications strategist and former chief of communications for the city of Detroit. A native Detroiter, she leads her own firm, Images & Ideas, Inc. She spends brunch hours with a cup of tea, planning the week ahead. The views and assertions of guest columnists do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan.

2 comments from Bridge readers.Add mine!

  1. William Valentine

    Ms. Dumas was part of the 2 most recent elected mayoral adminsitrations that failed miserably. She has all the answers now that she is no longer in a position to effectuate change. It would have been nice if she and her colleagues had done what was necessary so an emergency manager would not have been needed. That was obviously more than they could handle. So predictably, she joins the many “experts” who worked for failed mayoral administrations and who now have all the answers. Sad.


      Mr Valentine, she was the Cities communications director, a position where she had no influence over policy and she did not hold an elected position therefore she had no constituents.

      Given your thoughts you should be supportive of her view as she states that Mr Orr should not use Detroit’s retread politicians in key positions but should seek new ideas. I believe her suggestion has merit.

      Perhaps your problem with Ms Dumas is not based on policy but is personal?

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