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KILLING DEMOCRACY? Michigan's Emergency Manager Law Under Fire

Idea That Feds Should Take Over Flint Would Replicate EM Anarchy

May 11, 2016       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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After publishing a blockbuster 20-page review of the Flint Water Crisis last Sunday, MLive Media group today called for the federal government to take over management of the debacle.

So, the feds would in effect be emergency managers, taking decision-making out of the hands of local officials -- like Gov. Rick Snyder who is bravely trying to live through his own personal crisis of political viability.

We do not see that as a good move. Haven't we had enough of emergency managers?

To Republicans, many of whom who seem to consider the federal government the Devil Incarnate, such a takeover would be akin to stabbing them in the heart politically.

Mayor Deirdre Waterman of Pontiac, whose city was led by an emergency manager until shortly before her election in 2013, called the method an "artificial disruption of democracy" that should be used only sparingly.

Michigan Public Radio commented last February: "The most controversial change made to PA 436 (Emergency Manager Law) was that it stipulated that the public could not repeal it."

In 2013, State Senator Jim Ananich, Flint Democrat, told the New York Times the law allowing emergency managers should be "reviewed and repealed quickly."

"It's been a failed project," he said. "There's absolutely no accountability with the government. They are trying to circumvent local democracy and say, 'This one individual knows best.'"

The Detroit Chapter of the NAACP also filed suit in 2013, charging the EM law targets communities of color and violates citizens' rights to vote.

"It's fundamentally about our right to vote, and our right, as constitutionally guaranteed, to select and elect our own publicly elected officials," said Detroit branch President Rev. Wendell Anthony.

The suit also claims the state applies the law selectively to communities of color since white communities in similar states of financial distress have avoided emergency managers.

The checkered history of the Emergency Manager Law is that it doesn't work very well and, some of the managers have turned out to be incompetent and/or corrupt.

Yes, the law is absolutely undemocratic -- probably unconstitutional, if the matter were to be tested in court.

Well, it is in court. See Phillips, et al, vs. Snyder, filed in Federal Court March 27, 2013. The suit alleges the EM law violates Plaintiffs' rights under the United States Constitution, including:

a. A due process right to engage in collective bargaining.

b. A due process right to an elected, republican form of government;

c. A right to freedom of speech.

d. A right to petition local government.

e. A right to equal protection of laws granting Michigan citizens the right to vote in local elections and to remove emergency managers.

Proposal 1 repealing PA-4, the Emergency Manager Law, in the November 2012 referendum had 2,182,504 "no" votes and 1,983,228 "yes" votes. The 52-48 percent margin compelled news organization to declare the measure dead.

The measure's defeat marked the lone political loss for Gov. Rick Snyder, who had crisscrossed the state urging voters to say "Yes on 1, no on the rest." The other five proposals were defeated.

But the "dead" PA-4 law was revived when Snyder's administration obstinately brought it back, against public wishes, with even more jagged teeth, as PA 436.

Political scientist Joshua Sapotichne said the Flint crisis reveals a deeper issue with Michigan's policies toward its municipalities.

Sapotichne and economist Eric Scorsone, founding director of the MSU Extension Center for Local Government Finance and Policy, have conducted extensive research into state takeovers of financially beleaguered cities such as Flint and Detroit.

"Flint's crisis shows the risks of Michigan's pressure-cooker policies for dealing with financially troubled municipalities," Sapotichne said. "Michigan has created an environment in which the state tightens the screws on local governments -- by choosing at nearly every turn to use the stick instead of the carrot." He said the consequence of the "stick approach" puts local governments, even well-managed ones, at risk of a financial crisis, especially in the face of severe economic declines like in 2008-09.

So, let's be sure to get this straight: the state creates the crisis in cities and school districts, blames the local governing boards for the crisis and wipes out the democratic structure we have so nobly protected since the British boarded their ships and sailed away in 1781.

Sounds almost like fascism, doesn't it?

The Sugar Law Center in Detroit summarizes the law:

After the repeal of Public Act 4 by voters in November, the lame duck legislature passed a new law -- Public Act 436, which retains the emergency manager model as found in PA4. Notable objectionable features of the new law include:

The emergency manager acts in the place of the governing body and local government unit -- setting aside the structure of local government and all separation of powers established by local electors in municipal charters.

The emergency manager not only assumes all the power and authority of all the local elected officials, but also assumes markedly greater power -- the power to, in his or her sole discretion, enact local law by decree (literally) and to disregard existing local law as contained in municipal charters and ordinances.

An emergency manager has the power to terminate collective bargaining agreements and contracts;

An emergency manager can unilaterally privatize services regardless of existing ordinances and charter provisions prohibiting privatization of certain departments and services.

An emergency manager can even dissolve the local municipality with approval of the state Governor and Treasurer.

The emergency manager is granted virtually unlimited governing power over all matters of municipal concern, including subject matters wholly unrelated to the city's financial condition.

How can a law itself be the essence of anarchy? You just read how. We don't have to tell you what to do about it, do we?

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Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
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