Democracy Fights Back as Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law Gets Suspended

Last updated on February 8th, 2013 at 06:07 pm

Remember the Emergency Manager Law in Michigan enacted March 16, 2011 that quite literally stole democracy from the citizens, rendering their votes irrelevant? Next week that law is going to be suspended pending the November election, where it will, irony of ironies, be put on the ballot for all You People to vote on.

But it gets better.

After hundreds of thousands of citizens signed petitions to overturn Michigan’s “Emergency Manager Law”, yesterday the Michigan Supreme Court ruled to put The Emergency Manager Law (Public Act 4) on the ballot this November, with a 4-3 decision.

Unilateral action like PA4 often creates chaos when finally democracy puts her toe in the road. In this case, Michigan already had Emergency Manager Laws before Republican Governor Snyder, but he expanded powers in order to effectively remove democracy from some areas of the state and granted the managers the right to unilaterally alter or kill collective bargaining agreements, echoing Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Furthermore, opponents say PA4 imposed substantial costs and expenses upon local municipalities without providing new revenue.

Governor Snyder doesn’t seem to be able to adjust to this whole democracy idea, so after hearing about the court’s decision, he announced that all of his emergency managers’ decisions would stand (he so wants to be King), even though the law has been suspended.

Here’s a list of ways Snyder has used PA4, including shutting down a radio station that was critical of him, courtesy of Rachel Maddow:

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Right after he (Synder) signed it, high started using it in Benton Harbor. The emergency manager there used his new power to essentially fire the entire elected city council and the elected mayor. He bothered to use his new powers to cancel a symbolic constitution week declared by the city council since the elected city council, he said, had no right to vote to have constitution week. He used his new powers to sell off Benton Harbor’s publicly owned radio station, which had been used to criticize him. He used his new power to mistakenly sell off land that had been set aside as a small park despite the land having a sign in front of it saying it was public land. Whoops on that. The emergency manager of the Detroit public schools uses his new power to shut down the Katherine Ferguson academy for young moms, which he had not been able to do in the old law. They got arrested as a sit-in in their school, and this saved their school from the new law. Katherine Ferguson academy is open. This was graduation this year. But they only just barely saved it. One newly appointed manager joked and called himself the tyrant. He does have nearly a dictator’s authority.

The AFT (American Federation of Teachers) doesn’t see it the same way as Governor Snyder either. The AFT announced today that their members “look forward to beginning contract negotiations with the Emergency Managers in Detroit and Highland Park Public Schools as soon as the Board of Canvassers certifies the petition next week.”

I’ll bet they do. The Board of Detroit Public Schools is also refusing to acknowledge the power of Snyder’s appointed EM. The plan for Detroit schools under the EM was to transfer certain schools to a (tell me if this name wouldn’t terrify Glenn Beck and Michele Bachmann) statewide “Education Achievement Authority”.

Sounds like something out of Nineteen Eighty-Four, but then nothing says small government like taking the power out of the local government and giving it to the state.

Detroit has had enough of being stepped on, along with the other areas laboring under the dictatorial rule of appointed officials, which are also predominantly African American areas: Flint, Ecorse, Benton Harbor and Pontiac. Detroit Public Schools are under EM, and Detroit itself is perilously close. So, Detroit school board president LaMar Lemmons II announced that if there is no emergency manager law, there are no emergency managers in charge of Detroit schools.

Of course, Roy Roberts, Detroit public school financial manager, doesn’t want to cede that cushy, high paying job wherein he gets to crush all hopes of equal education or even semi-equal education (e.g., Roberts was pushing to put 62 students in each Detroit Public School classroom), so Roberts directed his minions to announce how things would be. Mr. Robert’s minion wrote in a letter to his “employees”, in bold with capital letters (Michigan Republicans seem obsessed with fonts):

Mr. Roberts has directed that all staff continue with your duties without interruption in conduct of the affairs of this district unless and until directed by him otherwise. The board of education has no authority to direct DPS personnel to take any actions to the contrary.

Do it because Roberts and Snyder said to do it.

Synder also had a neat arrangement where he could override decisions made by the city council, and granted his appointees the right to impose employment terms at will, because everyone knows that the real problem with this economy is You People making $30,000 a year.

Synder expressed how much he values your thoughts, if not your actual vote, “While I fully support the right of all citizens to express their views, suspension may adversely affect Michigan communities and school districts mired in financial emergencies.”

While Snyder might respect the right of expression of those whose font can withstand Republican activists’ scrutiny, his generosity does not extend to supporting the right to have your vote counted. You may speak in Michigan, if you use the Republican approved font size, but you don’t get to vote because You People can’t handle the power.

According to Stand up for Democracy, Snyder’s expansion of powers includes:

The Emergency Manager law allows the governor to declare a local government or school district in financial distress and appoint an emergency manager to take control. Emergency managers are unelected bureaucrats are unaccountable to local taxpayers and have unchecked, unprecedented power. Under this law, they can:

— seize and sell assets owned by the city, such as buildings or parks, without the approval of voters or local elected officials
— add to local debt, by putting property tax hikes on the ballot with confusing wording that hides the real cost of the tax hike
— outsource to private and out of state companies
— lay off thousands of public employees including teachers, police and firefighters
— change or terminate the contract of city or school district employees
— suspend contracts and collective bargaining agreements
— eliminate collective bargaining rights for up to 5 years
— fire elected officials, and
— dissolve or merge whole cities, counties and school districts

Prior to the court’s ruling, Republicans in Michigan refused to acknowledge the 200,000 signatures on a petition to repeal the Emergency Manager Law over the font size of the ballot initiative. The State Board of Canvassers voted 2-2 along party lines to kill the referendum over the font size.

The “Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility” led the charge in fontgate, because nothing says fiscal responsibility like ordering cities to pay private contractors appointed by the Governor hundreds of thousands of dollars a year while at the same time, using “budget concerns” as a justification for defunding their ability to hold an election.

The bad news is after months of font fighting, Stand up for Democracy has had little time to make Michigan voters aware of the issue. Rachel Maddow pointed out that a new poll shows the repeal effort trailing by ten points.

This isn’t about fiscal responsibility, it’s about democracy — it’s about whether or not your vote should count, or if your governor should have the right to override your vote at will. Justifying tyranny (as one EM jokingly referred to his position) in the name of a supposed greater good is as Orwellian as it gets. There is no legitimate reason why Michigan can’t address its fiscal challenges without stealing basic liberty from the people. They already had financial managers prior to Synder; they just couldn’t kill collective bargaining city by city or take public property.

After all, no one can explain why Snyder needs the right to impose employment terms on the serfs of Michigan or the right to kill democracy. Plenty of other states that are suffering have managed to make changes within the existing framework of democracy. Also, if Snyder really wants to be fiscally responsible, he can try taxing certain corporations instead of claiming that because the cities are broke, they also lose their rights as American citizens, as granted to them under the Constitution by far wiser men than Governor Rick Snyder. Snyder said the EMs would be temporary, but never mentioned that under the law as he envisioned it, their decisions hold for two years after they leave, and so far, none of them have left or reduced their powers until the Supreme Court decision took it from them.

In the meantime, chaos will reign and the courts will fill as folks try to sort through the suspension of the law. The state will waste millions fighting and defending Snyder’s reversal of democracy, in the name of fiscal belt tightening for You People, even as the self-appointed kings let their belts out from gluttony.

If you want to get more involved, contact Stand up for Democracy at 1-866-306-5168 or email

Sarah Jones

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