On Tuesday, Kevyn Orr, the emergency manager of Detroit, transferred control of the city’s water and sewage board to the elected mayor, Mike Duggan. In his statement, Orr wrote, “As the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department works to operate more efficiently and communicate more effectively with customers, it is important to ensure there are clear lines of management and accountability.” Orr’s actions are a result of sustained and heroic activism by Detroit citizens, and a concomitant international outcry. Still, any victory they may be tempted to claim remains tenuous. Clause 6 of the order reads, “The EM may modify, amend, rescind, replace, supplement, or otherwise revise this Order at any time.” So, for example, Orr remains in control of any decision about eventual privatization of the utility. Nevertheless, Orr’s provisional move of transferring authority back to an elected official is a step in the direction of recognizing the wisdom of our founding fathers.
In “Federalist No. 10,” James Madison addressed the “dangerous vice” of faction, the “common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” Madison rejected appointing unelected experts to solve the problems raised by factions, and offered, as the best solution to the thorny difficulty of competing interests, the idea of representative government as a way of “controlling its effects.” Madison’s solution to the problem of factionalism is a government of representatives, who are accountable to the people via the mechanism of elections.