City begins post-emergency phase under close watch

By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers

LINCOLN PARK – Although no longer a physical presence, supervision by an emergency manager will remain the guiding factor in municipal decisions for the foreseeable future.

“This the next phase of us getting out from under the position we’re in,” Mayor Thomas Karnes said.

During the first city council meeting of the New Year Jan. 4, elected officials received final orders from Emergency Manager Brad Coulter, who in late December announced his resignation. Coulter was appointed by state treasury officials in 2014 to oversee the city’s management.

Most of the authority that Coulter was granted by the state will, Karnes said, fall under the office of City Manager Matthew Coppler, who was appointed in October. Council members last week reviewed a series of final orders that delegated authority for the next phase of the city’s financial management.

“The city manager’s going to be a busy fellow,” Karnes said.

Under the terms of the final stipulations – the last of 60 orders Coulter issued regarding city financial management – city officials will now report to a state-appointed Receivership Transition Advisory Board.

Karnes said that panel is scheduled to meet monthly to review reports from Coppler, and that the city will be required to satisfy a number of provisions en route to restored autonomy.

“There’s quite a litany of things spelled out in the last order,” Karnes said. “Some we can easily accomplish, others we’ll have to work hard at.”

The final, 18-page order lists requirements for both short- and long-term plans that the city must enact and maintain. The annual budget must continue the progress that was shown in the past 18 months; last year the city approved the first positive fund balance seen in years.

“We’ve made a lot of progress,” Karnes said. “I think we can come out of this in about two years if we work at it.”

While the city manager will operate with more authority than the position had previously held, Karnes said the council must continue making progress to improve the financial bottom line. Through government grants, the city is working to restore about 80 foreclosed homes, which in turn has brought potential investors to revitalize the Fort Street business district.

Karnes said the period of emergency management hadn’t been unexpected – and perhaps could have been avoided had council approved a consent agreement early in the process – and city officials entered the supervised period ready to do whatever was needed.

“We’d worked to prepare for the emergency manger when we knew it was coming,” Karnes said. “We worked with him while he was here to whatever extent possible. It wasn’t an adversarial relationship.”

Gains that were made should continue for the next phase, which Karnes said should last no longer than two years. Community outreach and involvement has increased, a summer concert schedule for a refurbished Memorial Park Bandshell will soon be announced, and more than a few formerly vacant storefronts have been replaced by active businesses.

“There are a lot of positive things going on,” Karnes said. “There’s a different feel in the city. We just have to get past this point before we’re on our own again.”

More information on the RTAB and the final orders of emergency management go to www.lincolnpark.govoffice.com.

(James Mitchell can be reached at james.a.mitchell37@gmail.com.)