You are hereVIEWPOINT: Emergency manager law threatens Michigan's future

VIEWPOINT: Emergency manager law threatens Michigan's future


By Nan Melke - Posted on 06 June 2011

By Mary Valentine

On March 16, just 75 days into his administration, Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law PA4, legislation that can deprive local governments of all authority. Yes, you read that correctly. This bill can take away the rights of your legally elected representatives — and your rights as well.

Michigan has had emergency financial managers for many years. They would go into a city struggling with financial challenges and work with all parties involved to find solutions. The bill signed into law on March 16 changed all that. The person representing the state is now an emergency manager and has total control.

When you wade through all the verbiage of PA4, note that once a financial emergency is declared, not one local person has any say in what will happen to that village, city, township, county or school district. State officials have the authority to make all decisions, via the emergency manager. Yes. Democracy can be legally stripped from our hands. This is accomplished at the whim of the state treasurer — or the state superintendent in the case of a school district.

What can an emergency manager do? Strip local elected officials of all authority. Reject, modify or terminate the terms and conditions of an existing contract. Lock elected or appointed officials out of their offices. Terminate the terms and conditions of an existing collective bargaining agreement. Apply for a loan. Order millage elections. Consolidate or eliminate departments. Sell off assets.

The EM can go so far as to dissolve the municipal government — and more — without the input of any local official or citizen. Should this happen in your community; your voice will be silenced.

Who pays this EM? The local unit of government. How much do they cost? There is no limit. Detroit Public School's EM costs $400,000 a year. Benton Harbor must pay their EM $11,000 a month. The average income of the residents of Benton Harbor is $10,000 a year.

The emergency manager law is a 34-page public act. I simply cannot cover it in this limited space. Be assured, though, that this law has the potential to strip local control from every unit of government in this state.

Our elected officials who supported this bill have given a wide variety of excuses. They have told us it will only be used in the direst of circumstance. Why, then has the state trained over 400 emergency managers?

They have told us not to worry because there are 18 checkpoints. They fail to mention that only one of those checkpoints is necessary to trigger the process. And the last checkpoint: “The existence of other facts or circumstances that in the sole discretion of the state treasurer (or state superintendent in the case of a school system) indicate financial stress.”

Our legislators have indicated this is meant to help our communities. At the cost of depriving us of our democracy?

I know this is very hard to believe. Please, read the bill for yourself and come to your own conclusions. Go to Michigan.gov and follow the links.

The city council in Benton Harbor has already had its power stripped by its emergency manager, Joe Harris. Even a member of the planning commission was stripped of her legal authority.  

Here is what Mr. Harris had to say: “The fact is that the city manager is now gone. I am now the city manager. I replaced the financial manager. I am now the city manager and the financial manager. I am the city manager, the financial manager, the mayor and the city commissioners and I don’t need them.”

There you have it.  Michigan’s new future.

(Mary Valentine, a former state representative, lives in Norton Shores)