The City of Detroit and State of Michigan are at a precarious position as the state looks into the city's finances and talk continues 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, a strategic communications and public affairs plan must accompany any effort to appoint a financial review team or even an emergency financial manager. In addition, just as the Governor is doing now, there must be a plan for engaging the community, but one that must begin very early in in the process. That way, everyone is on board as to what needs to happen and everyone who wants could have input into that process.
A community engagement process, allows the state to explain why it "may" jump in to help the city with its financial situation and what the steps are in the interim. 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 well before a financial review team is appointed.
Then should the Governor appoint an EFM or even keep the financial review team in place, 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 is 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.