By now, everybody’s probably heard of how thousands of homes in Detroit who were behind on their water bills have had their water shut off. If you follow us, you’re probably more informed than most on the matter, as we’ve run three pieces recently on the DWSD and how the shutoffs are impacting Detroit residents.
As we explained in our most recent piece on the subject, under the Local Financial Stability and Choice Act, Michigan Governor Tom Snyder may appoint an Emergency Manager, who is essentially a de jure dictator of a local government and/or school district during a fiscal crisis. He appointed Kevyn Orr to be Detroit’s Emergency Manager. On Tuesday, Orr announced that Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan will now have control of the water department. According to the Detroit Free Press, Orr made a statement saying: “This order ensures a common focus on customer service and sound management practices that reflects the city’s commitment to refocusing its efforts to help DWSD [Detroit Water and Sewage Department] customers get and remain current on their water bills,”
For his part, Duggan said on Tuesday; “I welcome the Emergency Manager’s order this morning giving me the responsibility for dealing with the water department issues. We need to change a number of things in the way we have approached the delinquent payment issues and I expect us to have a new plan shortly. There are funds available to support those who cannot afford their bills. We need to do a much better job in community outreach to tell our residents how to access those funds.”
He went on to say: “I’ve heard complaints from many Detroiters who are trying to make payment arrangements, but who have faced long waits on the telephone or long lines at the DWSD offices. We’ve got to do a much better job of supporting those who are trying to do the right thing in making those payment arrangements.”
Shea Howell of the Boggs Center and Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management said in a statement that the shift in management of the water department back to an elected official is a welcome change. He went on to say that; “It is obvious that the emergency manager is unable to respond in a humane, fair, swift, and effective way in the face of a mounting human crisis and international embarrassment.”
However, Howell also says he’s uncertain if the mayor will be able to address the situation any better than the emergency manager had. “Thus far his responses have been disappointing and do not show any understanding of the dimensions of the human suffering that is going on nor of the systemic collapse of the efforts to see water as a revenue source, not a human right,”
He went on to say: “His most egregious comments continue to make it sound as though this crisis is the result of a few people who are choosing not to pay their bills, He is attempting to turn one Detroiter against another at the very moment when public leaders should be encouraging turning to each other for support and sustenance and safety.”
We’d like to think that Mayor Duggan will be able to bring this horrible situation to an end, and that this all isn’t just a play to shift blame away from the Emergency Manager’s office. Only time will tell.