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 (EFMs) for many years. They could 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 is essentially a dictator.
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 ripped out of our hands. When you wade through all the verbiage, this can essentially be done at the whim of the State Treasurer -- or the State Superintendent for a school district.
What can an Emergency Manager do? Lots. He or she can strip local elected officials of all authority (Section 15 (4) ), reject, modify or terminate one or more terms and conditions of an existing contract (Section19, (j) ), lock elected or appointed officials out of their offices (Section 17 (2)), terminate one or more terms and conditions of an existing collective bargaining agreement (Section 19 (k), apply for a loan, (Section 19 (s) )order mileage elections (Section 19 (t), borrow money (Section 19 (u) consolidate or eliminate departments (Section 19 (n) ), sell off assets (Section 19 r ). He/she can even go so far as to dissolve the municipal government. (Section 19 (cc). He/she can do all this -- plus much more -- without input from any local official. Should this happen in your community, your voice will be silenced.
“Who pays this EM?” you might ask. The local unit of government. How much do they cost? There is no limit. Detroit’s EM costs Detroit $400,000. a year. Benton Harbor must pay their EM $11,000 a month. Oh, and by the way, the average income of the residents of Benton Harbor is $10,000 -- a year!
This 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. Read it for yourself.
Our elected officials who supported this bill gave a wide variety of excuses. “Oh, this will only be used in the direst of circumstances.”
“Oh, and why then have they trained 400 of these managers?” I asked. No answer.
“Don’t worry,” some legislators say, “there are 18 check points.” They forget to mention that only one of those 18 points is needed. And the last check point? “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.”
“Oh, this is just to help our communities,” said another legislator. Really?? Extortion now helps our communities? You do what we want, or we deprive you of your Democracy? Un-american.
This bill could easily lead to selling off communities’ assets. Will an EM come in to Muskegon Heights and sell off Mona Lake Park to the highest bidder? Will an EM come in and sell off their state of the art high school to a charter school? There is nothing in law to prevent them from doing that. Will they want to sell off Pere Marquette a few years from now? There would be nothing we could do to stop them.
The city council in Benton Harbor, Michigan, has already had its power stripped by its Emergency Manager, Joe Harris. 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.
(We simply cannot sit by idly and allow this to happen. In my next post, I will talk about actions we can take.)
To read this law for yourself:
Go to Michigan.gov
Click on Michigan Government tab
Click on Michigan Compiled Laws (on the right side)
Click on Public Acts (left side of screen)
Put Public Act 4 in the appropriate place
Click on the square next to Public Act