On Thursday evening, September 25, democracy was permitted to return to Detroit when City Council members voted unanimously to restore full power to the city’s elected leaders, removing Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr from his 18-month Governor-appointed tenure as the unelected King of Detroit – but re-instating him with lesser powers to oversee the ongoing bankruptcy process.
Although Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and City Councilmembers are publicly celebrating the occasion, which ostensibly gives them permission, courtesy of PA 436, to cease bending over for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder after 18 months and resume standing upright to perform the civic duties they were elected to do by Detroit residents, the uncomfortable question still hangs in the air of whether we are really, truly free to enjoy our (supposedly) constitutionally protected voting rights. Just as a refresher for those who may not recall, PA 436 is the Emergency Manager law that was forced down the throat of the Michigan electorate under cover of darkness during a lame duck session of the Michigan Legislature in December 2012 by our very own Governor Snyder, who did not approve of how the majority of his constituents went against his wishes in November and voted to repeal the Emergency Manager Law. So he had one of his legislative flunkies write up a virtually identical law to replace the one the voters repealed. Not surprisingly, this case is currently waiting to be heard in Federal Court.
But now 18 months are up, Detroit’s new mayor is in place, and we’d like to cheer the fact that Orr is no longer calling all the shots. Which is good. Only problem is, well, we still have years to endure of living under the oversight of a state-appointed board. According to the Detroit Free Press:
Even if Orr departs as EM and Duggan and the council gain full operational control over the city, Detroit’s elected officials face years of state oversight.
Under terms of the bankruptcy grand bargain to ease pension cuts and spare the Detroit Institute of Arts from selling its assets, lawmakers required a state-appointed board be created to oversee Detroit’s financial affairs for 13 years to prevent the city from backtracking post-bankruptcy. The board, similar to one that oversaw financial decisions in New York and Washington, D.C., after financial crises in those cities, will have significant say-so over contracts, spending and borrowing matters city leaders have traditionally decided.
Never quite understood how State-appointed somehow equals better than locally appointed, especially when it’s no secret of the hostile relationship between Detroit and much of the rest of the state. The Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature’s contempt for Detroit virtually runneth over. And none of this even begins to address all the ongoing mess with the Detroit Public Schools, also being overseen by an Emergency Manager who never should have been allowed in the first place, just as Orr never should have been allowed. But unlike Orr, who at least now has to step aside and relinquish the majority of his power and turn everything back over to the city’s elected leaders, DPS Emergency Manager Jack Martin seems poised to maintain power at least several months beyond when his 18-month term is supposed to end at the end of September. DPS has been under emergency management since 2009. Once again from the Detroit Free Press:
Some board members believe Jack Martin’s tenure should end in late September, a year-and-a-half after the current emergency manager law took effect. They’ve asked a judge to declare that they can immediately remove him. A hearing is set for Oct. 1 in Ingham County Circuit Court.
Attorneys representing Martin, meanwhile, argue that the board is misinterpreting the law.
The law, PA 436, says if an emergency manager has served for at least 18 months after being appointed, a governing body can remove the manager by a two-thirds vote. The dispute centers on whether that period started when the law took effect in March 2013, or when Martin was appointed four months later.
School board attorney Herb Sanders said PA 436 was never intended to give each new manager 18 months on the job.
Otherwise, “the governor could then continually appoint EMs within the DPS as long as he removed or replaced each appointment prior to the expiration of the 18 months,” Sanders wrote.
Sooooo…free at last? I think not.
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.