Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr speaks at the Detroit Economic Club luncheon Thursday at the MotorCity Casino Hotel in Detroit. (John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)
Detroit — Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr reiterated Thursday that “everything is on the table” regarding assets as he works to repair the financial state of the city.
Orr touched on the issue as the featured speaker during Thursday’s Detroit Economic Club luncheon at the MotorCity Casino Hotel. Detroit News Editor and Publisher Jon Wolman was the presiding officer of the program, “A Conversation With Kevyn Orr.” WDIV-TV (Channel 4) news anchor Carmen Harlan moderated.
But Orr told Harlan that a decision on selling off assets, including artwork from the Detroit Institutes of Art, hasn’t been made.
“I have a fiduciary obligation to account for all of the assets of the city of Detroit. I’ve got to rationalize pensions and health care because of conduct that occurred before I came to this city,” Orr said.
“There’s got to be a balance,” he added, in reference to the potential sale of artwork. “In bankruptcy, everything has to be on the table. It’s very personal.”
Orr went on to say people in the city approach him — some in tears — and occasionally a pensioner will say “ ‘this is all I’ve got,’ ” he said.
Orr added the “hands off” mentality related to city assets contradicts his role here.
“I can’t do this by the basis of ‘don’t change anything,’ ” Orr told Wolman on Thursday.
The speaking engagement before 625 people comes days after Orr and Gov. Rick Snyder announced an agreement has been signed for the lease of Belle Isle.
The deal, which came as a surprise to some Detroit City Council members, was reached after a similar proposal to convert the island to a state park failed to make it to the council table in January, prompting Snyder to withdraw the plan.
The agreement, signed by Orr and state transportation and natural resources directors, calls for a 30-year lease with the option for two 15-year renewals. The contract is expected to save Detroit $4 million to $6 million annually and calls for millions of dollars in upgrades for the park, officials say.
The City Council was divided over the prior plan and members said they were informed of the new lease plan late Monday. The panel now has the chance to agree with the proposal or offer an alternative that would save the same amount of money.
President Saunteel Jenkins, who attended Orr’s speaking event Thursday, said there are other proposals for Belle Isle and the council is reviewing them.
The council, she said, may not make a decision on the Belle Isle deal at its formal session Tuesday, but “I’m confident there will be some tweaks.”
Mayor Dave Bing, who has fought some City Council who are opposed to converting Belle Isle into a state park, said Tuesday that Detroit cannot afford the upkeep of the island and the lease is the city’s best option.
Meanwhile, Bing expressed frustration Thursday over a lack of communication coming from Orr.
“We only talk once a week. It’s a problem,” said Bing after a press conference announcing the kick-off of this year’s Angel’s Night volunteer campaign.
Bing, however, insisted his relationship with Orr isn’t strained, adding “he’s open-minded to listening, but he’s just pulled in so many directions.”
The mayor also said he is concerned about what happens after Orr leaves. Orr is under an 18-month contract that began in March.
“When he’s no longer here, we’ve still got a city to run,” he said. “Just because Kevyn Orr and some consultants make a recommendation, that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.”
Orr on Thursday also touched on his relationship with Bing, calling it “close.”
“I have a great deal of admiration for him,” Orr said. “I try to keep him informed. He brought this city back to a level of honor and dignity.”
Jenkins said Orr has been “responsive to the council and to me.”
Orr also addressed privatization efforts moving forward to upgrade the city’s public lighting and the creation of a land bank. On Thursday, he added, bids for a garbage collection contract will be reviewed beginning today.
Meanwhile Thursday, a dozen protesters from the group Moratorium Now congregated outside the casino at the corner of Brooklyn and Temple, chanting “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Kevyn Orr has got to go,” and “Down with Jones Day,” in reference to Orr’s former law firm that’s being paid millions as a restructuring consultant for the city.
Had protester Abayomi Azikiwe been invited to Thursday’s luncheon, he would have made it a point to demand that Orr account for what he described as deteriorating conditions in city services.
“The buses have gotten worse, the garbage pickup has gotten worse, there are more lights out than ever,” Azikiwe said.
More importantly, he said, the morale of city workers has diminished significantly.
“(Orr) has been here for six months and has done nothing to improve conditions for the people of Detroit,” Azikiwe said. “When are things going to improve?”
The Detroit Economic Club on Thursday said former Detroit Medical Center chief Mike Duggan and Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon will appear Oct. 23 for a forum at Cobo Center for the club's next meeting.