Emergency managers destroy democracy

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DETROIT - "In Pontiac [the elected officials] laid it out. They said 'we're locked out. We can't serve our people anymore. Our water rates are going up 25 percent. We no longer have a planning and development department. We no longer have a say in our downtown development.'"

"In Benton Harbor, a city with over 40 percent unemployment, they said, 'We have no voice in Benton Harbor.'"

That testimony came from Michigan Forward CEO Brandon Jessup at a Dec. 2 press conference entitled "Stand up for Democracy." Jessup, and others at the press conference, attacked the growing implementation of Public Act 4; the bill passed in March allowing Michigan Republican Gov. Snyder to appoint Emergency Managers to run Michigan's financially distressed communities.

As the examples of Pontiac and Benton Harbor show, when Emergency Managers assume control of local governments, the elected city council loses its power. Labor contracts can also be amended and city assets sold. Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence said, "This is truly about democracy and the right we have to elect and hold accountable our elected officials."

What is now sending shockwaves through the state is that the governor is reviewing Detroit's finances, a step that could lead to his appointing an emergency manager for state's largest city.

"Our cities are under attack from this administration on all ends, and all are holding on by a thread," said Lawrence. She noted the foreclosure crisis and declining property values have resulted in cities having less revenue. As if to add insult to injury, she said, "On top of that, the state cuts our revenue sharing."

On Dec. 1, Gov. Snyder's Emergency Manager appointment for Flint becomes effective. In September, Jessup said, he and others met with officials in Flint who told him "our deficit is only $2 million." Jessup said they asked, "What's the difference between our city and Allen Park or Jackson (cities that are not majority minority like Flint, Pontiac and Benton Harbor) who have a deficit upwards of $100 million, yet they don't live under an Emergency Manager nor the threat of having their public assets sold."

Detroit NAACP President Rev. Wendell Anthony also asked why communities of color are being singled out and suggested it was a violation of the constitution. If Detroit comes under the rule of an emergency manager, close to one-half of all African Americans in the state would live in a municipality ruled by Emergency Managers.

Anthony said the Republican Party is more concerned with an ultra conservative agenda than solving the financial crisis. He indicated that if the issue of the emergency manager is rooted in financial distress, the governor himself would be out of a job as the state of Michigan has its own financial crisis.

He also noted the crisis of government does not stop at the state's borders. "We have a nation in distress, a totally dysfunctional congress more concerned with eliminating the job of one man in the White House then providing jobs for 14 million in our own homes."

More than one speaker said we were asleep at the wheel when Republicans swept state races a year ago. Issuing a call to not to repeat the same mistake in 2012 Lawrence said, "Elections do matter."

Herb Sanders, legal director for AFSCME Employees Council 25 said 161,000 certified signatures are needed to have a statewide vote on Public Act 4. Petitioning has been ongoing for the past several months and the aim is finish the drive over the next two weeks, deliver the petitions to Lansing on Jan. 15, and tell the governor, "This is what democracy looks like."

Photo: John Rummel/PW

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  • @Brabski. An EM will result in austerity, Greek and Irish type cuts for those already living under harsh conditions. Detroit's problems are not the result of mismanagement but have more to do with the downsizing of its auto dependent economy and decisions to move jobs out of the city, state and country.

    I think it is better to ask why cities throughout the country are facing deficits. We are not a poorer nation than we were 30 years ago; in fact we have more money. The problem is, it is all concentrated in the hands of the one percent.

    If we could bail out Wall Street (who did cause their own problems) why not Detroit?

    Posted by John R, 12/09/2011 1:51pm (3 years ago)

  • Public Act 4 is intended to give the powers of a Chapter 9 Bankruptcy to an Emergency Manager without the municipality having to file bankruptcy.

    Cities facing Emergency Managers are in that position because they have been unable to solve the issues internally and have run their city into a brick wall. Absent an Emergency Manager, the city would have to declare bankruptcy to make the necessary structural changes to contracts, benefits, and staffing that are required to get budgets back in balance.

    A Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy will be nothing like the "quick rinse" that GM and Chrysler experienced. Chapter 9 cases are rare and have never been done on the scale of a Detroit. Bankruptcy is an expensive, protracted mess that will cost millions in legal fees and set a city back for a decade. Bankruptcy should be avoided at all costs, and PA 4 gives municipalities the path to avoid it.

    What cities need to do is use the tools given to them by Public Act 4, come up with their own plan to fix the problem, obtain a consent agreement from the state which expands the power of the city to enact changes, and if they hit roadblocks, agree with the state on an emergency manager to even further expand powers and implement the final piece of the plan. The goal of the Emergency Manager is to get in, fix the problem, then leave.

    Unfortunately, what we've seen so far is inaction by city leaders until there is no choice but to name an Emergency Manager or risk running out of money. The Emergency Manager is a last resort before a city has no option but to file for bankruptcy to solve its problems. PA 4 should be viewed as in a positive light and municipalities need to use it for their benefit versus fighting it and creating an even worse problem down the road.

    Posted by Brabski, 12/08/2011 9:26am (3 years ago)

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