As a Detroit Piston, Dave Bing was a leader and a key contributor. As Detroit's mayor, he's been riding the pine behind Kevyn Orr. (Fred H. Jewel / AP)
NBA Hall of Famers who have been named to the league’s list of best 50 players are not accustomed to being benched.
That’s what’s happened, however, to Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, the former Pistons great, as the city moves through bankruptcy under the guidance of Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, a rookie general manager, if you will.
Frustrated at being increasingly snubbed in the management of city operations, Bing said, among other things, that Orr is “not doing a competent job” of restructuring city operations.
The big concern for the mayor is Orr’s increasing assumption of power, well beyond the role for which he was originally hired, which was to restructure the city’s finances.
Bing aired his laundry list of complaints on my WJR radio show, and they ranged from personnel changes to Orr’s unilateral hiring of a new police chief to Orr’s work schedule, which includes only three or four days a week in the city, according to the mayor.
Orr has been unapologetic about the execution of his job, believing the personnel moves have been necessary to change the culture of a city government that he believes had come to accept Detroit’s decline under the strong influence of the city’s labor movement — like the UAW — which even represents lawyers in the corporation counsel’s office.
Unhappy with the quality of some of the city’s department heads and key employees, the EM has been proactive in making changes without regard to whose toes are being stomped on.
As a result, Orr’s efforts have been aimed at replacing the roster he inherited with his own free agents and draft choices. The man most impacted by all the change is the most visible veteran in the city, Dave Bing.
The biggest problem for Orr is that he came into a city whose leaders did not completely accept the consent agreement they had signed with the state of Michigan to make changes to avoid an EM and bankruptcy.
In short, things were a lot worse than he expected.
One of the biggest, and most vocal, skeptics of the state agreement was Kriss Andrews, the program management director who was brought in to oversee Detroit’s reform effort by enforcing the 21 articles of the city’s consent agreement with the state.
Orr is to testify in the bankruptcy case next week, and it would not come as a surprise to hear him say that none of the conditions had been met before he arrived.
While such a lack of production might have been accepted under a business-as-usual mentality in the past, Orr entered with an expectation of urgency because he had only 18 months to complete his unenviable task, a tenure which has only 11 months remaining.
Given his impatience, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that he forced out Andrews and replaced top officers in departments ranging from the pension boards, to human services, to the building department and well beyond.
It’s no surprise that Bing would bristle at all the turmoil involving many of his appointees.
The mayor is a proud man who believes he never had a chance to complete the true turnaround he envisioned for Detroit because he had to deal with a recalcitrant City Council and a poorly written charter that gave the city’s top lawyer as much power as him, impediments Orr never had to face given the powers of an emergency manager.
Such conflict was bound to occur and neither Bing nor Orr is wrong in assessing the conditions that have led to their discord.
Detroiters ought to be pleased at having a lame duck mayor who hasn’t mailed it in for the final months of his term and an EM who is determined to quickly change the city’s wasteful culture.
Police response times are improving, more streetlights are operating again and city vendors are beginning to be paid on time instead of having to wait six months to a year for their money.
There may be disharmony between Detroit’s star player and its new GM but the fans – Detroiters, in this case – have to be encouraged that the war of words isn’t preventing their city from enjoying a few more victories.
Frank Beckmann is host of “The Frank Beckmann Show” on WJR-AM (760).