The City of Detroit and State of Michigan are at a precarious position as the state looks into the city's finances and talkcontinues about the potential of having an emergency financial manager appointed.
As the talk continues the mood in Detroit has taken a sudden turn back to the "us vs. them" mentality that "only Detroiters can solve Detroit's problems". To avoid creating an environment that will get in the way of progress and to help build political capital for the Mayor and the Governor, I strongly suggest that as part of the process for triggering a state review of a government's finances, a strategic communications plan and community engagement process should begin simultaneously to create a positive environment to make the necessary changes. I recently wrote an article on how companies can preserve their reputation in a wake of bankruptcy. The same strategy applies for a public entity.
For example, before an EFM is appointed or even before the triggers are pulled to start the process, the Governor and his team should be mobilized to the City of Detroit to meet with key stakeholders, such as:
- Business organizations;
- Community development organizations;
- The faith-based community;
- Detroit-based CEOs; and,
- Urban media
To explain why the state "may" jump in to help the city with its financial situation. This is to set the tone and set the record straight as to why we have this process, the steps we have taken thus far (including regular meetings with the Mayor) and what the next steps will be. It also will help maintain relationships and create open channels of discussion and dialogue.
The Governor should also find third party supporters, such as members of the clergy and business leaders, to validate the process to Detroiters so that they know that this is the right choice both the City and the State are making.
Then should the Governor appoint an EFM, along with that appointment, a person that is familiar with the media and political landscape should also be appointed to help the EFM navigate the local political environment and serve as the liaison to the community, as well as be the one to respond to the media and help represent the EFM at various community events.
Community engagement should be a part of the EFM process under the Act. Then having someone outside the Treasury Department respond to the media also can go along way in maintaining relationships in the city's EFMs operate.
Finally, having an EFM come into a community should be seen as an opportunity for a city to experience a fresh start and a new beginning. As a result, while the EFM works to make a public entity financially stable and secure, the communities chamber of commerce, DDA or other community groups should create a strategy to enhance the city's image. That way, when an EFM's work is completed and the Mayor or Superintendent are given the responsibility once again to manage the public entity, their image will not just be maintained, it will be enhanced due to a strategic communications plan.
Daniel Cherrin is an attorney specializing in protecting and enhancing the reputation of people and organizations and practices in the areas of public affairs, strategic communications, public policy dispute resolution and crisis management, with Fraser Trebilcock. He is the former Communications Director for the City of Detroit and Press Secretary to Mayor Kenneth V. Cockrel, Jr. Daniel also serves as the spokesperson for Mackinac Island and The Ann Arbor Art Fairs.