March 29, 2012 at 1:00 am

Laura Berman

Some Detroiters not convinced city needs emergency manager

Chimika Harris serves up a carry out at Cutter’s Bar & Grill in Eastern Market on Wednesday. Harris said she’s not sure an emergency manager is the right person to fix Detroit’s financial problems. (Robin Buckson The Detroit News)

Let the city's elected officials do their jobs.

That's the succinct message that a dozen Detroiters delivered Wednesday in interviews conducted on sidewalks, in an Eastern Market bar and at a Midtown coffee shop.

Though the governor could appoint an emergency manager, residents appear less than convinced that the city requires direct intervention — other than an infusion of cash.

"I want to feel safe. I want the city to improve, but I don't know that an emergency manager is necessarily the one to do that," said Chimika Harris, who tends bar at Cutter's Bar & Grill in the city's meatpacking district. "How do you know that will be a change for the better?"

Harris, who takes pride in the homemade soup she prepares at Cutter's, urges the governor to "give the City Council and the mayor a little more time to fix the problem. They're the people I elected. That's who I want to solve the problem."

Claude Harper, who owns a Detroit landscaping business, described problems that date back "probably 80 years — and now they want to appoint a financial manager?" That route is by definition "undemocratic," he said, and won't automatically create change for the better.

That uncertainty haunts residents and taxpayers: Why would a citizen trust an emergency manager to be a benevolent and constructive financial power?

"I'm really not sure how I feel," said Dean Taylor, who was interviewed at Mack and Woodward. Taylor, a retired school counselor, described the weight of history, and the civil rights movement, on any decision the governor makes.

"People have died for the right to vote," he said. "You have to accommodate that history. It's complicated."

Taylor, a photographer "by avocation," said the governor can't escape the city's racial dynamic: "This is one of the most polarized areas in the country, maybe the most," he said, describing the racial divide and history of de facto segregation. "There has to be sensitivity to that."

He, and others, expressed skepticism at the notion that the state can't grant the city an infusion of cash. "They can work something out," he said.

At Cutter's Bar, owner Chuck Nolen said he's about to dramatically expand the bar, which dates back decades, as he invests "half a million" in the business he's owned for eight years. But he, too, urges caution.

The threat of an emergency manager may be forcing the City Council and mayor to work together, but it's not necessarily the final answer, he said.

"If that's what it takes, that's fine, that's good," said Nolen, who lives in Romulus. "But I don't think anyone in Detroit wants to see an emergency financial manager here."

Jim Reynolds, a retired teacher and business owner, described the city's politics as "the blind leading the blind."

Reynolds, who lives in a Detroit condominium on the east side, was on his way to work out at a gym in Dearborn. At 74, he said, he's philosophical. "My needs are simple at this point," he said. "It would be fine if they could turn it over to somebody who could do the job."

Outside the Glory Market on Woodward in Highland Park, Detroit resident Johnny Williams took a few minutes to talk before returning a bag of empty cans and bottles.

Williams, who spends his nights at a Detroit shelter for the homeless, said he's not concerned about the city's future or the state's possible intervention. "I'm having a hard time," he said. "That's not really on my mind." or (313) 222-2032.

Laura Berman’s column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

Chuck Nolen, owner of Cutter’s Bar and Grill, said he doesn’t believe ...
More Laura Berman