Emergency Manager ready to ‘set the table’

By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers

LINCOLN PARK — Brad Coulter preferred to take a slow-and-steady approach in his first week as the city’s state-appointed Emergency Manager.

On Monday Coulter cancelled that evening’s regular meeting of the city council in order to focus on introductions and information gathering. The next meeting — Monday July 21 — will be held as scheduled, as will expected “town hall” meetings with residents.

“We’ll keep that, make introductions and talk to whatever residents come,” Coulter said. “We’ll schedule a town hall meeting soon, but I want to have stuff to talk about before I set that meeting.”

Those discussions, he knows, will include more than a few concerns about the city’s future. Coulter’s appointment as Emergency Manager was made official on Thursday, July 3, and has been anticipated since city council rejected, in May, a consent agreement under which the state would oversee but not manage the city’s finances.

Few options were left after a review team — which Coulter had been part of — reviewed the city’s budget and management issues earlier this year and confirmed that a “financial emergency” existed. A consent agreement was one of four options which included bankruptcy; its rejection assured the placement of an Emergency Manager.

Earlier this year Coulter reviewed the city’s financial picture, and will focus during his first few weeks on a broader overview of city hall.

“We’re getting into more of the operations versus just the financial side,” Coulter said. “Staffing issues, the conditions of parks and roads, what everyone’s facing.”

Public safety, Coulter said, remains a top priority and concern for both city staff and residents.

“Number one is we’ve got to keep this a safe city and keep a lid on crime,” Coulter said. “If that gets out of hand people leave and won’t be replaced. I recognize public safety as issue number one in terms of maintaining services.”

Coulter began last week an anticipated 18-month tenure, during which he hopes to return municipal authority back to elected officials.

“My approach — and what the state wants — is that citizens, elected officials and city council have to buy into whatever we do,” Coulter said. “The game plan for any Emergency Manager jumping in is that everything reports to me, initially, and over time we re-delegate powers to the council.”

The city’s fiscal crisis has been long in the making, with declining property values and a shrinking population balanced against increased personnel costs. Recent administrations have trimmed budgets wherever possible, and Coulter said that additional cuts may be possible, but the solutions will be found with increased revenues and new business.

“I think there’s maybe one more round of cost-cutting that can be done,” Coulter said. “But after that we have to stabilize property values.”

Coulter said that elected officials will be asked to take the lead on revitalizing downtown activity.

“I really want to talk to the council about having them focus on stimulating business,” Coulter said. “How can we do something positive to at least sustain the tax revenue if not grow it. That’s not a one-year fix, but I at least want to set the table so it will continue after I leave.”

(James Mitchell can be reached at jmitchell@bewickpublications.com.)