Benton Harbor Emergency Manager Joe Harris handed stunning defeat at polls

As I have written about in the past, Emergency Manager Joe Harris by-passed the normal process simply decreed that seven proposals be placed on the ballot for last Tuesday’s elections. These proposals would have altered the Benton Harbor city charter to reduce the number of City Commissioners and eliminated the ward system. In addition to the three I previously wrote about, he also included proposals to shift the responsibility for interactions with Department of Finance and Law from the City Commission to the City Manager, allow the City Manager to hire and fire the City Clerk , City Attorney, City Assessor, and City Treasurer. A description of the seven proposals is HERE (pdf).

Every single one of his proposals were defeated.

In other news, Benton Harbor mayor Wilce Cook was defeated by Commissioner James Hightower by only 8 votes, 681-673. Matthew Bradley received only 8 votes and Commissioner Dennis Knowles received 21. Hightower has been less anti-Harris in the past than other Commissioners and recently expressed his willingness to work with Harris and saying he trusts Harris.

It’s a symptom of a larger problem in Benton Harbor, I think, that they chose their mayor with only 1,383 votes, about 12% of the population.

I’d like to reiterate what I said about this in my previous post:

This may come as a complete surprise to many of you, but I am totally in agreement with what he is proposing. First of all, he’s putting the two changes on the ballot for the citizens of Benton Harbor to vote on, not just implementing it outright. Second, the structure of the Benton Harbor City Commission is in need of change. A town of just over 11,000 people doesn’t need wards, particularly when some ward officials are getting elected with less than 100 votes. Also, nine city commissioners is too many. It’s a recipe for getting nothing accomplished.

But I’ll tell you this: it should not be possible for him to be able to do this. Normally it takes the gathering of petition signatures to put something on a ballot. You can’t just put things up for a vote by declaring it so. However, Emergency Managers are truly “czars”. They can do what they want with nearly no limitations and that is why the repeal of Public Act 4 is so critical.

So, while I applaud these moves, I’m aghast that he can just declare them on the ballot and will still do whatever I can to make sure the Emergency Manager law is repealed for good.

Other results from Tuesday, via the Herald Palladium:

The top vote getters for the two open at-large commission seats were MaryAlice Adams at 631 and incumbent David Shaw at 601, beating incumbent Bryan Joseph, at 592, and former commissioner Ruthie Haralson, at 352.

In the 1st Ward, Sharon Henderson, new to city government, beat longtime incumbent Eddie Marshall 225 to 157.

In the 2nd Ward, Trenton Bowens, another newcomer, beat Garry Guild 157 to 86.

In other Benton Harbor news, the City Commission passed two resolutions asking for an investigation into city water rates and into what they claim are unpaid taxes by the Cornerstone Alliance development company.

The Benton Harbor City Commission wants an investigation into agreements over city property between Cornerstone Alliance and Emergency Manager Joseph Harris.

The commission unanimously passed two resolutions Monday night – one that asked for an investigation of Cornerstone Alliance by the U.S. Attorney General, Michigan Attorney General and the FBI, and a second that asked for an investigation by the Michigan Attorney General, the U.S. Attorney General and the IRS into the city’s water rates. [...]

Harris has said the city’s water rates will increase by 50 percent, and could increase by up to 100 percent.

The commissioners questioned the legality of raising rates by that much.

[Commissioner Marcus] Muhammad read from a list of 87 Cornerstone Alliance-owned properties that he said the organization is not paying taxes on. About 70 of the properties are in Benton Harbor, while the remaining on the list are in Benton Township and St. Joseph. [...]

Muhammad said Cornerstone Alliance has gotten millions of dollars in developer fees for its role in the Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2 while paying $1 for property.

“What kind of corruption and organized crime is that?” Muhammad asked.

These efforts will, of course, go nowhere since Harris has declared any actions by the City Commission that he doesn’t personally endorse to be null and void under his “Order prohibiting all action by all city boards, commissions and authorities except as authorized by the Emergency Manager” (pdf).

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