Cross-posted at Eclectablog.com.
As you probably know, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder recently signed legislation passed by the Republican-dominated House and Senate that gives State-appointed Emergency Financial Managers (EFMs) historically broad and sweeping powers. These new powers allow the EFM to cancel or modify contracts (including with unions) and even to fire the municipality’s government.
Today, for the first time, a EFM did just that. According to a press release from the Michigan AFL-CIO, Joseph L. Harris, EFM for Benton Harbor, Michigan issued “an order prohibiting all action by all city boards, commissions, authorities and other entities, except as authorized by the emergency manager.”
Here is the press release in total:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Benton Harbor Emergency Manager Takes First Step to Strip Away Rights
Joseph L. Harris issues an order prohibiting all action by all city boards, commissions, authorities and other entities, except as authorized by the emergency manager
CONTACT: Jesse Sipe 517-515-3242
In the wake of a bill that was signed into law with high objection from the people, as it was a bill that threatened local communities, schools, townships, and municipalities, the first order has been officially issued in Benton Harbor. Joseph L. Harris has used his emergency manager powers to “exercise any power or authority of any office, employee, department, board, commission, or similar entity of the City, whether elected or appointed.” In addition, the Emergency Manager has the power to supersede any officer or entity and the power to act on behalf of the city.
“This is sad news for democracy in Michigan. It comes after the announcement of Robert Bobb in Detroit ordering layoff of every single public school teacher in the Detroit Public School system,” says Mark Gaffney, President of Michigan AFL-CIO. “With the stripping of all power of duly elected officials in Benton harbor and the attack on Detroit school teachers, we can now see the true nature of the Emergency Manager system.”
This is a real life instance of taking away our fundamental rights. In fact, the only thing City Boards, Commissions, Authorities or other entities may do without the approval of an Emergency Manager is to:
1) Call a meeting to order
2) Approve of meeting minutes
3) Adjourn a meeting
Everything else is under the Emergency Manager’s control. These new powers are taking away the will and voice of the people by stripping away the rights of public officials elected by Michiganders. By exploiting the current crisis situation, these emergency managers are able to ascertain unreasonable rules to completely control a city. This is a true case of political over-reach, and will simply add to the hardships of an already suffering populace in Michigan.
Harris’s order can be viewed HERE (pdf).
This is a complete disenfranchisement of an entire community, an entire large city in my state. The voters are now denied the ability to be governed by the people they elected in a democratic election.
This is nothing short of an abridgment of democracy in raw form.
I will have more as this develops. I can only assume a lawsuit will be forthcoming. The news is so fresh it has not yet hit the major news outlets.
I’m just sayin’…
Updated by Eclectablog at Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 11:41 PM EDT
UPDATE: the ACLU is investigating.
DETROIT — The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan, April 7, filed 13 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests seeking records regarding Public Acts 4-9, the new emergency manager law passed in March.
In a press release, ACLU Director Kate Moss observed news reports that estimated over 100 local governments are potentially in a state of ‘fiscal watch’ and 40 school districts or charter schools are in deficit while another 150 are in danger of going into deficit.
Moss says the implications for the state are potentially enormous and questioned the passing of the law.
“Our elected officials have painted the issue with broad brush strokes and these FOIA requests seek the details,” she said.
Interesting statistic: Benton Harbor is 92.4% African American with an annual median household income of $17,471 with 42.6% of the population below the poverty line. St. Joseph, the next city south of Benton Harbor on the shores of Lake Michigan is 90.3% white with an annual median household income of $37,032.