DETROIT (AP) — The newly appointed emergency manager charged with getting Detroit's finances back on track said Wednesday that public safety needs are a top priority for the city.
Kevyn Orr, a bankruptcy expert who represented automaker Chrysler LLC during its successful restructuring, told The Associated Press in an interview that his first task will be to start "meeting with folks" — including City Council members who strongly resisted the appointment of a manager.
Orr has said Mayor Dave Bing has "pledged to be a partner" in the turnaround effort and that he planned to meet with him and some of the council members when he begins his new job on Monday.
Bing has said his administration will offer Orr any help he needs in getting set up and up to speed on Detroit's dire fiscal condition. Many on the nine-member City Council apparently have given up their opposition to an emergency manager and have said they plan to have a continued role running the city of 700,000 people alongside Orr.
Detroit became the largest city in the country to fall under state oversight after Gov. Rick Snyder agreed the city needed the independent overseer to help correct its financial mess — including a $327 million budget deficit and more than $14 billion in long-term debt.
Orr said he has spent time with various foundation and business leaders and others in the city.
"It seems very clear that the top-level priority is public safety, whether it's lighting, whether it's getting to our police force, and perhaps providing some assistance for them as soon as possible," Orr said. "Fire, EMS, and quite frankly I want to reach out to them as soon as possible, too. I feel it's time that they get a little respect and love for the hard work and difficult jobs they have."
Detroit has one of the highest violent crime rates in the country, and homicides have increased in recent years.
In an effort to cut costs, Bing and the city's police chief have moved dozens of officers from desk and other duties to street patrols.
Orr, 54, stepped away from his role as a partner in the Cleveland-based Jones Day international law firm after the state hired him as emergency manager.
Emergency managers have wide-ranging authority to mend the city's budget, including renegotiating labor contracts, selling off assets and even suspending elected officials' salaries.
Benton Harbor, Pontiac, Flint, Ecorse and Allen Park are other cities currently under state oversight. In addition to Detroit's public schools, districts in Highland Park and Muskegon Heights also have emergency managers.
It's unlikely Orr, who lives in the Washington, D.C. area, will start work quietly in Detroit. While there will be little, if any, fanfare, there are bound to be protests to his presence in City Hall.
Civil rights activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson has called for mass demonstrations against Orr's appointment and Michigan's emergency manager law, which he says takes away voting rights from residents.