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Benton Harbor emergency manager “not surprised” at state’s review of Detroit's finances

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
Benton Harbor Emergency Manager Joe Harris explains parts of Michigan's emergency manager law at a monthly town hall meeting earlier this year.

A former long-time auditor for the City of Detroit says he’s not surprised the city is running out of cash. “I was a Detroiter, still am at heart, for 49 years,” Harris said. Joe Harris also served as Detroit’s auditor general from 1995 to 2005. He’s been the state-appointed emergency manager in Benton Harbor since March 2010.

I spoke with Harris briefly about Detroit’s finances before one of his monthly town hall meetings in Benton Harbor Wednesday evening.

Harris says he tried to get officials in Detroit to make big changes in 1996, with few results. He says he was disappointed when one administration after another borrowed money instead; including current Mayor Dave Bing. “That doesn’t solve the problem,” Harris said, “(Bing and City Council) need to change the way we’re doing business and I see no sign that that’s happening.”

But Harris stopped short of saying the city needs an emergency manager to accomplish that.

Some suggest Harris would be a leading candidate if a state review team decides the city needs an emergency manager. “That doesn’t surprise me,” Harris said. So I asked him if he’d consider it.

“The governor and the treasurer have to make a decision and I sure as heck do not want to go on record as saying ‘Joe Harris wants that job’. There’s no way that I would even want that out there because it just creates controversy. I like going in and solving problems. And (Benton Harbor) has been a joy because I’ve had the freedom to come in and make the changes needed.”

Harris says his approach is to start with an absolutely clean slate; not thinking about how business is done currently. Then he says he lays out objectives and how best to achieve them.

Harris is making progress in turning Benton Harbor’s finances around. He expects to leave his position there as early as this spring. 

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Radio’s Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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