The Two Sides of Emergency Management

On Wednesday, January 27, 2015, in a speech to the Detroit Economic Club at Cobo Hall, former Detroit Emergency Manager, Kevyn Orr, blamed the water crisis on 3 activists with cameras taking pictures at an angle to create the perception there were 200 people. The activists he blamed are called the Detroit Water Brigade (DWB). DWB has been delivering water to thousands of Detroiters throughout the crisis. DWB co-founder, Meeko Williams, issues a response to his comments:

meeko1Emergency Management has two faces. It certainly has made the city better for some. It made the city better for Mike Illitch, because he received $424 million dollars of tax dollars intended for Detroit Public Schools from the Emergency Manager to build a hockey stadium. If you are a hockey fan, or want to boat on the riverfront, certainly the downtown and midtown areas look better. To him, Detroit is slated for a comeback.

Emergency Management created a better Detroit for banks and corporations, who received city assets for pennies on the dollar. For years, many residents begged to fix up abandoned buildings, own businesses and beautify their neighborhoods, only to be turned away. This, in favor of giving private contractors millions of dollars to do same work with little or no results.

Emergency Management swept in, cancelled all union contracts and took thousands of jobs from the people of Detroit while handing millions of dollars to their newly contracted allies. In a 2011, Jones Day white paper, two attorneys explained how a bankruptcy was a perfect way to break pensions. They accomplished their goal.

However, Emergency Management was not better for everyone. Last summer thousands of people around the country, of every race and religion, urban, suburban, and rural came to Detroit to rally with us for those people Emergency Management hurt. These are the people Kevyn Orr and Governor Snyder ignored. They are not bankers. They are not billionaires. They don’t own corporations that gave generously to anyone’s campaign. They are just people. For all the fancy accounting this bankruptcy attorney can do, public safety and running a municipality is not his strong suit.

The United Nations condemned Detroit’s Emergency Management for violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The largest nurses union in the country, declared Detroit in a “public health emergency” with an infant mortality rate higher than Mexico. The Irish Parliament brought us to Dublin to testify. This is what Kevyn Orr’s austerity looks like.

On September 11, 2013, the weather was 98 degrees outside. Kevyn Orr ordered the electricity turned off without warning. This impacted courts, traffic lights, and fire stations. An pregnant woman in her 8th month was stuck in an elevator on the 13th floor at City Hall. His reasoning was that he wanted to send Detroit a strong message: He was in charge.

A month later he hired Jim Bonsall, as the Chief Financial Officer of the City. Bonsall, when asked to participate in Detroit’s annual Angel’s Night activities, asked city employees if he could shoot black kids in hoodies for Halloween. He instantly resigned. Kevin Orr disrespected city residents at his 1st pubic meeting in June of 2013 when he said to Detroiters, “I’m a trial attorney. I can cut somebody’s throat and leave them to bleed out in the gutter with the best of them.” Orr further called residents dumb, lazy happy and rich. He compared Governor Snyder to Martin Luther King. Comments of that nature do not represent leadership or improve the situation of Detroit’s plight. He clearly has no heart for Detroit.

Over 30,000 families were disconnected from water services in 2014. In testimony, before City Council in June of 2014, the water department acknowledged they had no plan to monitor the wellbeing of those remaining residents. An austerity supporter, Sheila Cockrel, told these Detroiters if they wanted water for sanitation and drinking, to go to the river with a bucket.

During Orr’s watch, without access to sanitation and clean water, bacterial infections rose. Michigan lead the country in both e. coli and salmonella cases. We found ourselves running into people with heart conditions who couldn’t take medication without clean drinking water and visiting folks who needed water for sleep apnea and dialysis machines to run.

Deaths and hospitalizations from asthma, pneumonia and bacterial infections skyrocketed. Detroit does not have a health department, as it was closed and outsourced to the private health care organization Institute for Population Health. The asthma rate for Detroit’s children was recorded at 3 times the national average.

During Snyder and Orr’s austerity, fire stations were browned out at night. Engines on one side of town took over 29 minutes to arrive to the other side of town only to find multiple homes burned to the ground. The Fire Chief stated, that his men should let fires burn rather than going into dwellings without proper breathing equipment. Angry fire fighters shouted him down at a town hall meeting, but went back to work the next day committed to saving lives.

Federal funding has been made available, but Orr did not bother to apply for the funding, instead giving it to Snyder’s Friends & Family Plan.

Lucky corporations acquired buildings, like the Griswold Arms, at 10 cents on the dollar. Many residents of those newly refurbished buildings, found themselves suddenly homeless. Snyder’s Housing Director, Scott Woosley spent thousands of dollars on filet mignon, escargot, foie gras and pricey rum. Records show Woosley, was given a grant for his private real estate company, as a homeless Tent City emerged downtown just blocks from the Renaissance Center, in April of 2014.

When the city went through the final proceedings of bankruptcy, Kevin Orr had set up financial boards and procedures to be sure elected city officials did not have full power for governing the city’s finances and business affairs. This is an excessive oversight for the State of Michigan to regulate affairs for the city of Detroit.

During much this time, the people of Detroit had no local elected official to turn to for help. Gradually, through negotiation, Kevyn Orr gave the newly elected Mayor, Mike Duggan, power over various departments. The City of Detroit is owned by the State of Michigan with no democracy or self-determination of our own city.

We understand, Mr. Orr will be consulting in New Jersey with Governor Christie. We understand he has deals on the table to take over more cities and to reward more bankers and corporations with tax payer dollars. So, Kevyn Orr wants to reassure you, that all the people who died, were hospitalized, made homeless, or simply stressed in an elevator on a hot day, were simply a mirage fabricated through clever camera angles from 3 activists in the Detroit Water Brigade. If you believe that, New Jersey… I have a bridge to sell you.

Meeko Williams is the Co-Founder and Political Director of the Detroit Water Brigade. Contact him at demeeko@detroitwaterbrigade.org

Demeeko Williams, Detroit Water Brigade

Demeeko Williams, Detroit Water Brigade