During what was his third scheduled summit on the future of Atlantic City on Thursday, Gov. Chris Christie announced his plans to implement an emergency management team for the city through an executive order.During what was his third scheduled summit on the future of Atlantic City on Thursday, Gov. Chris Christie announced his plans to implement an emergency management team for the city through an executive order.
Kevin Lavin, a corporate finance attorney most recently based with FTI Consulting, will take over as the city’s emergency manager and will be supported by Kevyn Orr, the former emergency manager for the city of Detroit, who will serve in an advisory role.
Much to the disdain of some local and state officials at the time, Christie brought up the idea of an emergency manager for the city at a previous summit in November. On Thursday, he said he “can’t wait any longer” to begin fixing the seaside gambling resort’s woes.
“We need more aggressive action and that’s the action I’m taking today,” Christie said.
“This is not the end of the world,” Christie added. “We have problems to fix.”
Christie did not take questions from reporters on Thursday, and Lavin and Orr offered few specifics about how their positions will be structured. It is also currently unclear as to how much each will be paid and where they will be specifically stationed.
“What we’re doing right now is just getting information,” Lavin said.
According to the executive order, Lavin will have 60 days to prepare and recommend a plan for restoring fiscal stability in Atlantic City.
Orr, who managed Detroit through the nation’s largest-ever municipal bankruptcy, did not elaborate on whether the team would have the power to declare bankruptcy in Atlantic City and noted that it was “premature” to comment on the potential for such a move.
He said that his work in Detroit should not be viewed as a framework for what will occur in Atlantic City, adding that each case is inherently unique.
“They are not directly relevant,” Orr said of Detroit and Atlantic City. “It is not a template.”
Christie noted in his opening remarks that the move was “not meant to marginalize or minimize” the roles of Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian or the city council.
“This is not a move in anyway to supplant the mayor’s role here in the city,” Christie said.
Guardian had previously rejected the idea of an emergency manager in the city as he says he had understood it to include mass administrative firings.
Though Guardian has yet to familiarize himself with the details of Christie’s executive order, he said he has told that such drastic moves would not be taken and is optimistic about bringing in additional resources.
Council President Frank Gilliam, Jr. was less diplomatic about the announcement.
“I don’t believe this is necessary,” Gilliam said.
Gilliam added that with just roughly a year on the job, Guardian “hasn’t had enough time” to lead without the state stepping in.
Also unclear at the moment is how the implementation of an emergency management team will affect ongoing legislative efforts to stabilize the city’s tax structure.
Currently, lawmakers are weighing a bill backed by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) that would allow casinos to make payments in lieu of taxes and pay down the city’s debt. Another measure, supported by Assemblyman Chris Brown (R-Linwood), seeks to secure tax freezes for all property owners in Atlantic County.
Area Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-Northfield) issued a statement on Thursday saying that while he does not support the appointment of an emergency manager, he “will work with him and his team in a cooperative manner to fix and reform Atlantic City’s dire property tax situation.”
“Even with the appointment of an emergency manager — and some questions about his powers and what he’s going to be able to accomplish — the need to reform and stabilize the Atlantic City tax structure is still the most pressing fiscal issue facing our region,” Mazzeo said.
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