The article below was posted to my Face Book page by Dianna Jancek, manager of Sweetwater Market, who has spent a great deal of time in Benton Harbor. The story is chilling -- for both Benton Harbor and our state. Editorial comments on the bottom are my own.
The story of Benton Harbor is complex. But one fact is simple: Benton Harbor is a black majority community with most folks living at the poverty level or very modest means.
The elected City Commission is an all black commission. Wealthy white developers from St. Joseph, fueled with Whirlpool corporate cash, formed several development schemes and decided that what the City of Benton Harbor REALLY needed was to give up their beautiful Jean Klock Park on Lake Michigan in order that they (the developers) might build a Jack Nicklaus golf course. Bit by bit they have taken that property.
No one seems to have noticed who introduced this EFM Emergency Financial Manager bill. It was Rep Al Pscholka, who represents the cities of St. Joseph and Benton Harbor. Please keep these dates in mind:
--April of 2010. Governor Granholm assigns an EFM to Benton Harbor. The EFM draws up a plan that, if followed, would have eliminated the City Manager and elected officials.
--January 4, 2011. The City Commission of Benton Harbor votes to "take back the power given to them by the voters" and passes a resolution stripping the EFM of his authority.
--January 5, 2011. Rep Al Pscholka sends a letter to now Governor Snyder requesting that the EFM be restored to Benton Harbor, saying the elected officials had no authority to do what they did. Apparently, it was realized that the regulations governing how and what an EFM can do were not sufficient, because
--on February 8, 2011, Rep Al Pscholka introduced the new EFM legislation, which was passed quickly through the Michigan House and Senate, with all the Republicans supporting it. When signed by the governor, it gives the EFM the authority to dissolve elected commissions.
Yes, you read that correctly. The EFM can now come back, get rid of the city council, and take what rightfully belongs to Benton Harbor.
The fight now is over what's left of Jean Klock Park and what it is sitting on it: a very valuable artesian water system owned by the city of Benton Harbor. Who will get to decide the fate of Benton Harbor? Its rightful owners -- or Governor Snyder?
As alarming as this story is, it is simply an illustration of what this bill can lead to. Any one of our cities could lose a valuable piece of property to the state. Please spread this story just as far and wide as you can. People need to understand what is at stake here. The citizens of Benton Harbor acted responsibly and according to the law; they rallied around and elected people who would stand up for them. When this bill passes into law, it appears as though the state will just be able to come in and take what rightfully belongs to the citizens of Benton Harbor. Republicans run on the principle of local control, then vote to take property away from local communities. Chilling.