My friend Chris Savage at Eclectablog has been making a compelling case against Governor Rick Snyder’s Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) law, Public Act 4 of 2011, which allows Snyder to install dictators in Michigan cities to nullify contracts, fire elected officials, reverse agreements with unions, sell off or privatize community assets and otherwise kill representative democracy.
In his latest post, Chris makes the case that “emergency managers do not solve the systemic problems that bring cities and school districts to the crisis point. They are simply a band-aid on a gaping wound, temporarily staunching the flow while private businesses reap profits and anti-union forces play out a long-awaited plan to rid the state of public employee unions.”
The Detroit Public Schools and the cities of Flint, Pontiac and Benton Harbor already have state-appointed EFMs. Snyder administration officials have threatened to appoint one to run Detroit – which faces an accumulated deficit of more than $200 million and a $45 million cash shortfall by April – and the city’s mayor, multimillionaire Dave Bing, has stated publicly that he wouldn’t mind if Snyder appointed him to the post.
I’ve opposed Snyder’s power grab from the beginning. Snyder administration officials love to point out that they’ve only strengthened something that was originally signed into law by Governor Jim Blanchard back in 1988. And they claim that contrary to media and Internet claims, Snyder doesn’t have the authority to remove local elected officials at will – an EFM fact sheet put out by the state insists that “local officials can only be removed from office if they refuse to provide information or assistance.”
I’d laugh if this weren’t so serious.
Earlier this month, Congressman John Conyers (D-Detroit) asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to review the law’s constitutionality in an attempt to block the governor from installing a manager in the D. And Conyers – who thinks the law is “being applied in a discriminatory fashion” in Michigan municipalities with large African-American populations – appeared at a press conference with celebrity activist Jesse Jackson to promise civil disobedience and protests against Public Act 4.
My friend Tom Watkins, who served as state superintendent of public schools from 2001 to 2005 and is now an education and business consultant, thinks the EFM law is responsible leadership, not a power grab by the state.
In a Facebook exchange, when I objected to embracing the EFM law at the expense of representative democracy, Tom told me that “doing the same thing and ignoring the problems is crazy” and said “having a thoughtful debate on alternatives makes sense.” He pointed out that the people of Detroit pay some of the highest taxes and get little in return, and they deserve better.
So what do you think? If Tom is right and just saying “no” to EFMs is irresponsible, how should local fiscal problems be addressed?
Sources: Detroit Free Press, Washington Post, Detroit News, Michigan Forward.