Will Ronald L. Thompson Be Detroit’s Emergency Manger?

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    From highly placed sources comes word that an emergency manager for Detroit is already on stand by, as Gov. Rick Snyder talks to various candidates. That is no surprise to those watching the process closely and others who are resigned to the notion that it is only a matter of time.

    But for now the only issue in the naming of this official, which will mark a seismic shift for the city’s governance structure, is the conclusion of the city’s financial report officially expected to be turned in to Gov. Rick Snyder on Feb. 19.
    Following a thorough review of that report, if it fails to address the city’s fiscal cliff, the governor will then take the next step, which is the appointment of an emergency manager.

    For anyone with knowledge of how the city has done business, it’s safe to conclude that the financial report will not only escalate the crisis but also underscore how dire things are in Detroit government, where the wings of change are fighting culture and bureaucracy.

    Therefore, who is willing to accept serving as an emergency manager for Detroit?

    Ronald L. Thompson, a distinguished African American executive who serves on the Board of Directors of Chrysler LLC as lead director, is the latest name to come up in these wild cards of names for Detroit emergency manager.

    Thompson, who is currently based in Ohio, is a native Detroiter and retains strong family ties to the city. He created one of the largest minority owned automotive companies as a supplier before rising to the level of being a member of the Chrysler Board of Directors.

    Thompson, 62, married for 41 years with children and grandchildren, has served on many boards including the McDonnell Douglas Corporation, National Association of Manufacturers, and Interstate Bakeries Corporation among others. He is one of two African Americans on the board of Chrysler, joining Ruth J. Simmons, former president of Brown University.

    A graduate of the University of Michigan, Thompson, is currently the chairman of the Board of Trustees of Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association, a for-profit life insurance company that serves the retirement and financial needs of faculty and employees of colleges and universities, hospitals, cultural institutions and other non-profit organizations. He also serves on the Board of Trustees for Washington University in St. Louis and as a member of the Advisory Board of Plymouth Venture Partners Fund.

    During a sit-down interview with Gov. Snyder Monday afternoon at the MGM Grand Hotel, he would not divulge information about an emergency manager when I tried to pin him down on the issue. He laughed off my inquiry, saying he can only offer more when the city’s financial report from the Detroit Review Team is submitted to the state next week.

    But if historical precedence is any indicator to go by, given how Roy Roberts, a former General Motors executive, was brought in to run the Detroit Public Schools, it is not difficult to see how Thompson, another auto executive, fits into this equation.

    They both had distinguished careers in the manufacturing world becoming pioneers in their respected fields for African Americans and now coming out of retirement to tackle intractable financial issues with the public bodies.

    But it also shows how Snyder, if he chooses Thompson, is digging deep into an industry — the manufacturing industry — that once had financial issues of its own to find answers to.

    A Thompson appointment would address major big issue — someone who is a Detroit native selected to handle the city’s finances for the time being. It would be hard to be critical Thompson as an outsider given that he is from Detroit and would now be returning to his home in a different capacity than when he left.

    Thompson’s selection would also show another distinct quality that is typical in the Snyder formula: bringing in former or current corporate executives to the world of government and public policy.

    Anthony Williams, the former mayor of Washington, DC, has been mentioned as a strong choice for the job. Charlie Beckham, former municipal executive and veteran of the Coleman Young administration, has also been cited as a potential candidate. Curtis Ivery, chancellor of Wayne County Community College District, is also a name that has come up.

    Yet, the seemingly most logical choice in all of this given what Snyder has done in the past with Roberts’ appointment as emergency manager of the Detroit Public Schools, is Ronald L. Thompson.

    Certainly the successful revamp of Chrysler and General Motors in the wake of their financial crisis is a plus since Thompson sits on the board of the global automotive company.

    Bankole Thompson is editor of the Michigan Chronicle and the author of the forthcoming book “Rising From the Ashes: Engaging Detroit’s Future With Courage.” His book “Obama and Black Loyalty,” published in 2010, follows his recent book, “Obama and Christian Loyalty” with an epilogue by Bob Weiner, former White House spokesman. Thompson is a political news analyst at WDET-101.9FM (NPR affiliate) and a member of the weekly “Obama Watch” Sunday evening roundtable on WLIB-1190AM New York and simulcast in New Jersey and Connecticut. E-mail bthompson@michronicle.com or visit his personal page at www.bankolethompson.com.

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