Kevyn Orr, a bankruptcy attorney and turnaround specialist who represented automaker Chrysler LLC during its successful restructuring, met with Mayor Dave Bing and at least two City Council members Monday as he began an 18-month term as emergency manager. Detroit is the nation's largest city ever put under state control.
"I want to offer a sincere olive branch and an opportunity for us to work together," Orr said Monday morning during a brief impromptu news conference with Bing.
Outside City Hall about 150 protesters argued that Orr's presence takes away residents' voting rights.
"Anybody who believes the right to vote is sacred, ought to stand with us," the Rev. Alexander Bullock told the growing crowd. "This is about a (governor's) administration trying to destroy democracy. While we fight for democracy on foreign soil we are being shackled at home."
Some on the council also have fiercely opposed an emergency manager coming to Detroit, despite the city's $327 million budget deficit and more than $14 billion in long-term debt. By late Monday morning, Orr had met privately in his new office on the 11th floor of City Hall with Councilman James Tate and Council President Charles Pugh.
Orr's spokesman, Bill Nowling, declined to reveal specifics from those conversations but called them "generally positive."
"He wants to make the initial overture that this is a problem that we need everybody in the city working on," Nowling said.
Tate told The Associated Press that he and Orr discussed where the councilman stood on the state's emergency manager law and cooperating with Orr on some financial issues.
"If his actions are in line with his words, we do have a major opportunity to succeed," Tate said. "If he's successful in terms of addressing the financial challenges, we all succeed."
Orr was hired earlier this month after a national search by Gov. Rick Snyder, who along with a review board determined Detroit is in a financial emergency and has no adequate plan to address it.
State law allows emergency managers to negotiate labor contracts and deals with vendors. He can sell off city assets to raise money and cut the salaries of elected officials to save bucks. In some cities with emergency managers, elected leaders have been moved out of decisions involving municipal finances.
Benton Harbor, Flint, Pontiac, Ecorse and Allen Park are other cities with emergency managers. Public school districts in Muskegon Heights, Highland Park and Detroit also have managers.
"I think they are taking away our right to vote and govern ourselves," protester Brenda Nuamah said of the state's emergency manager law. "I don't see the emergency financial managers anywhere in this state making a difference."
Another group of protesters from Detroit demonstrated Monday outside the Cleveland offices of the international Jones Day law firm. Orr resigned as a partner in the firm after taking the emergency manager's job in Detroit.