It’s hardly a surprise that U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes declared on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2013, that Detroit is eligible for bankruptcy. Nobody could possibly be surprised by this. We’ve known for a long time that the city is flat broke and has no way of paying its bills just to stay afloat, let alone repay the legions of creditors that have been pounding on the doors for years. Bankruptcy was pretty much inevitable.
But it is the way in which this bankruptcy came about that was unforgivable and which is likely to have extremely damaging long-term consequences nationwide far beyond the fact that Detroit is the largest municipal bankruptcy in history. Sure, the sheer size of it all will have an effect. But the fact that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was permitted to get away with a theft of democracy in broad daylight from the people he was elected to represent is nothing short of a crime. It should have been the city’s elected leaders who made that call. The people we elected to represent us should have been allowed to do exactly that.
One more time, for those who still may not be aware; the people of Michigan voted to repeal the Emergency Manager law of 2011 (Public Act 4) in November of 2012. Within weeks Gov. Snyder was working with the Republican legislature to craft a new Emergency Manager law virtually identical to the one his constituents had just repealed. The law – Public Act 436 – was passed in December 2012 during a lame duck session. It went into effect in March 2013. The new law allowed Snyder to appoint Kevyn Orr as Emergency Manager over Detroit, giving him virtual supreme power because he only reports to the governor as an unelected official and is not obligated to respect any union contracts and can essentially shove the duly elected mayor and city council to the sidelines and ignore them at will. Outgoing Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is on record as saying that’s exactly what Orr did, despite earlier promises to do the opposite.
It is the Emergency Manager law that gave Snyder the power to appoint Kevyn Orr. It is the EM law that gave Orr the power to file for municipal bankruptcy on behalf of Detroit. The glaring illegitimacy of the EM law and how Snyder snubbed his nose at democracy was the reason behind a federal lawsuit that was filed challenging the legality of that law. But then the petition for bankruptcy was filed and all lawsuits against the city got put on hold/under Judge Rhodes’ control while the judge heard testimony from both sides and figured out what to do about the bankruptcy petition. Keep in mind this is the same bankruptcy petition filed by an illegitimate Emergency Manager who was put in place courtesy of an illegitimate law created by a crooked Republican governor.
So, naturally when it came time for the judge to render his decision there was no way he could rule that the Emergency Manager law was illegitimate because then he couldn’t approve the bankruptcy. And if he didn’t approve the bankruptcy then the creditors were free to cannibalize Detroit’s carcass, which could have sunk Detroit even further into the muck. So the only way to shoo the vultures away was for Rhodes to turn a blind eye to Gov. Snyder’s theft of democracy – even though he himself questioned the legitimacy of the law in his own courtroom during these very same proceedings – and call it something other than what it was, namely OK.
So Snyder got away with it. Time will tell what this means for Detroit – and the rest of the country. And democracy.
Keith Owens (AKA Black Liberal Boomer) is a Detroit-based writer who has worked for The Detroit Free Press, Detroit’s alternative newsweekly the Metro Times, the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, and other newspapers. He was also a nationally syndicated columnist with Universal Press Syndicate for three years beginning in 1993.