Detroit Mayor Dave Bing says Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr is not competent at restructuring city operations. (Max Ortiz / The Detroit News)
Detroit — Mayor Dave Bing testified this week that his department heads are “frustrated as hell” by the consultants who have taken over City Hall and said he agreed with an assessment that Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr is “not doing a competent job” restructuring city operations.
“My big concern there is at some point in time we will come out of bankruptcy, and if you don’t have the people internally that know the system and you have all these consultants doing the job that city employees ought to be doing, when Kevyn leaves ... you haven’t developed anybody to run the city on a day-to-day basis,” Bing said.
Bing made the statements during a deposition related to the bankruptcy filing, a draft copy of which was obtained Tuesday by The Detroit News.
“That’s my biggest concern. We don’t even have a line item in our budget for training. Somebody’s got to get trained to do these jobs on a long-going basis.”
Bing testified that Orr has a good grasp of Detroit’s long-term financial needs but has failed to carry out key reforms to city operations. He said he agreed with a critical assessment of Orr by Detroit’s former state-appointed program manager, Kriss Andrews, who was removed from his post in July.
Anthony Ullman, an attorney representing a committee of Detroit retirees, asked Bing about a July 10 email from Andrews that gave Orr high marks for addressing Detroit’s long-term liabilities but blasted the emergency manager for failing to change how the city operates.
“Mr. Andrews’ conclusion is that the emergency manager, and I quote, threw away the head start we gave him, he frankly is not competent at all,” Ullman said. “In fact, he’s embarrassingly incompetent and only listened to his equally incompetent staff and (does) not well exercise the added powers he had. So Mr. Andrews gives him an A in long-term liabilities and an F in operations.”
Bing responded: “I’m not going to give (Orr) a grade from A to F in either one of those areas, but I would agree that his strength was in dealing with the long-term liabilities and not operations.”
Ullman added: “Mr. Andrews’ view is that he’s not doing a competent job in the restructuring aspect and the operational aspect. Did you agree with that?”
“Yes, I would,” Bing said.
As an example, Bing testified, his administration was pushing for a management change in the Detroit Department of Transportation, but “Kevyn stopped that process and ultimately, maybe three months later, chose the same company that we recommended. So we think we lost time.”
Orr’s spokesman, Bill Nowling, declined to comment Tuesday, saying “we don’t comment on depositions.”
Andrews told The News on Tuesday that his point to Bing in the email was he wanted Orr to focus on city’s finances and allow a team of consultants, as well as city officials, to handle operations.
More than anything else, “the city is a mess and it needed a continuity of operations,” said Andrews, who now runs a Southfield-based management consulting firm. He said he thought Bing and other elected officials needed to run the city, and “if they don’t do well,” Orr has the authority to step in.
“I like Kevyn, but Kevyn doesn’t know how to run the city,” Andrews said. “Get the best people in every aspect of running the city. People need to swim in their lane and do what they were good at. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t let the mayor run the city.”
Andrews said people shouldn’t attack Orr for his role, however.
“Trying not to cooperate ... is counterproductive,” Andrews said. “(But) people have been elected and what (the city) needs to do is get a good team in there for an extended period of time and not have constant turnover. How can that (turnover) be good?”
The deposition appeared to underscore the chilly relationship that developed between Bing and Orr after the emergency manager was appointed in March. Union attorneys also have deposed Gov. Rick Snyder, state Treasurer Andy Dillon and others in an attempt to elicit more detail about the run-up to the historic bankruptcy filing.
Bing testified that he had a “very good” working relationship with Andrews, and that Andrews had suggested an emergency manager candidate who would be a good fit for the mayor’s agenda — but would not likely be accepted by the state. The name of the candidate did not come up in Bing’s deposition.
Bing said he became aware that Orr was the state’s choice for emergency manager in late January or early February. He testified that he was asked to fly to Washington to meet Orr in February. He said he hoped to retain his existing management team, including Andrews, but that didn’t happen. “I had no input at all” on Orr’s appointments, Bing said.
“I didn’t want to see a lot of turnover, additional turnover,” Bing testified. “With an emergency manager coming in, if we started losing some of our key players that have been there with me to put a plan together and then try to execute the plan, relieving or dismissing any of those people I thought would be a negative, would take us backwards and not forward.”
Bing testified some members of his team were let go in favor of people with less experience, including former City Council President Pro Tem Gary Brown.
“Kriss (Andrews) was replaced by Gary Brown, who was a ... city councilman who has never run anything, much less 11 different departments reporting to him,” Bing said. “He was a police officer before he became a city councilman and he took Kriss’ place.”
Brown could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Bing also testified that he and Orr discussed the need to deal with the city’s pension obligations, but he didn’t discuss bankruptcy in detail with Orr, with whom he said he meets with a few times a week.
“Any discussions with Mr. Orr at all regarding the possibility of a Chapter 9 filing?” Bing was asked.
“No,” Bing responded.
“So I take it the Chapter 9 filing a complete surprise to you?”
“Yes, it was,” Bing said.
Staff writers Christine Ferretti and Rob Snell contributed