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Detroit city council votes to remove emergency manager

By a unanimous vote, the city council has decided that Kevyn Orr should no longer be emergency manager of Detroit.
Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr speaks with the media after a press conference at the Detroit Institute of Arts June 9, 2014 in Detroit, Mich.
Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr speaks with the media after a press conference at the Detroit Institute of Arts June 9, 2014 in Detroit, Mich.

Detroit's city council unanimously voted to remove the city's Emergency Manager (EM) from his post on Thursday, ending an 18-month period during which the city's mayor and legislature had virtually no formal governing authority. Gov. Rick Snyder, a Michigan Republican, appointed Kevyn Orr as Detroit's EM in September 2013 so he could manage the city's troubled finances. Orr, a bankruptcy attorney, has shepherded the city through its bankruptcy proceedings up to this point.

"As the City approaches the end of its historic bankruptcy proceedings, it is absolutely imperative that the next steps continue to move the city towards an expedient emergence from bankruptcy," Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit City Council said in a joint statement Thursday night. "For that reason, Detroit City Council approved a resolution to remove Kevyn Orr upon the effective date of the Plan of Adjustment and remove the City from receivership."

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Under Michigan law, emergency managers are state-appointed officials who possess all the power and authority normally reserved for the mayor and city council, as well as the ability to unilaterally tear up public sector union contracts. When a city or school district is considered to be in the midst of an financial emergency, the state government can respond by appointing an EM. However, after a fixed term of 18 months, a municipality's city council may vote to remove the city's EM by a two-thirds vote.

Orr will not lose all his authority right away. On Twitter, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said the effective date of removal would be the day when Detroit's plan of adjustment is approved as part of bankruptcy proceedings. But in the meantime, the mayor and city council will begin to assume some of their old authority.

Gov. Snyder had urged Detroit to keep Orr in full control. Yet many residents of the city have grown angry at Orr over the past 18 months because of his approach to the city's finances. His support for pension cuts and the city's recent wave of household water shutoffs helped to inflame local protests.

Detroit is not the only Michigan city to have received a controversial EM. In recent years, EMs across the state have laid off public sector workers in droves, rewritten union contracts, slashed budgets, and sold off city property.