Council needs to step up, keep Orr on

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Detroit City Council has done some notoriously dumb things in its history, making self-destructive decisions detrimental to the well being of the city, its residents and the body's own reputation.

But this is supposed to be a new and better day in Detroit, with leaders who say they are capable of governing in a responsible manner, able to place the best interests of the community ahead of special interests, and committed to pragmatism over pandering.

Now is a good time for the council to prove that true.

Members are locked in a fierce debate over the fate of Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. State law allows the City Council to vote as early as Saturday to give Orr the boot. Members are split on whether to end his tenure immediately or allow him to stick around long enough to complete the bankruptcy process.

The pressure to send off Orr is understandably hard to resist. Residents, even those who support the reforms Orr put in place and recognize the progress Detroit has made under his guidance, bristle at the loss of representative government and want a return to democracy at the earliest possible moment.

Effective leaders sometimes have to resist popular sentiment and make decisions based on the long-term benefit of their constituents.

It would be reckless for Detroit to make such a substantive change at a point when the bankruptcy process appears to be wrapping up, and in a much neater package than anyone could have anticipated 18 months ago when Orr took over.

All but one of the major creditors have settled their claims with the city. If that last piece falls in place and U.S. bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes approves the final plan, continuing the bankruptcy trial will be unnecessary and the case could close in a matter of weeks.

A city that has been under state control for a year and a half surely can endure another few weeks, if it means a smoother finale to this chapter in its history. Inserting a new quarterback this late in the game risks disruptions and delays to the end goal — returning Detroit to elected leadership.

And in truth, as objectionable as emergency management has been for many residents, Orr has hardly been a tyrant.

Since January, he has worked closely with the newly elected mayor, Mike Duggan, and has been as deferential as possible to council, even to the point of increasing its budget. He's also listened to the concerns of residents.

Conditions in Detroit could have deteriorated during the bankruptcy. But Orr has prioritized services to residents. Street lights are coming back on, more resources are being devoted to public safety, blighted buildings are coming down and City Hall is operating more efficiently.

Orr and Duggan have worked closely on the anticipated hand-off from emergency manager. The mayor has said while he does not want Orr to stick around any longer than necessary, it's important to keep him in place long enough to assure a smooth transition.

That should be City Council's goal as well. They can reach back into the past and pander to the loudest voices, or they can confirm a different future for Detroit.