Wednesday morning Michigan Emergency Manager news round-up – 2/22/2012

The never-ending story…

  • Muskegon Heights EM review team still hasn’t met – 3 weeks later
    MLive reports that the financial review team for Muskegon Heights schools still hasn’t met three weeks after it was formed.

    The review team assigned to determine whether Muskegon Heights Public Schools needs an emergency manager has yet to meet three weeks after it was appointed.

    “We’re really concerned about the fact that they’re not moving,” said Dave Sipka, interim superintendent of Muskegon Heights Public Schools.

    The eight-member team was appointed Jan. 31 and has until March 1 to make a recommendation to Gov. Rick Snyder about the need for an emergency manager to oversee the school district. The Muskegon Heights school board, facing a deficit estimated at between $12 million and $14 million by the end of this school year, asked for an emergency manager in early December.

    Sort of puts a new spin on the term “EMERGENCY”, doesn’t it?

  • Michigan Forward to submit nearly a quarter million signatures to repeal PA 4
    On February 29th, Michigan Forward will turn in almost 250,000 signatures to put the repeal of Public Act 4 on the November ballot.
    Organizers of a statewide campaign to repeal Michigan’s controversial emergency manager law say they have collected close to 250,000 signatures from voters who want to see the issue on the November ballot.

    Michigan Forward chairman Brandon Jessup says the Stand Up for Democracy coalition plans to present the signatures to Secretary of State Ruth Johnson next week in Lansing.

    While the group needs roughly 161,300 valid signatures to get the referendum on the ballot, Jessup says the coalition passed 200,000 signatures weeks ago and will continue to collect through February 28.

    “We need a mandate,” Jessup told MLive.com Monday night at a forum in Highland Park. “We know there are forces all around the state that don’t want to see this thing get on the ballot. We know the opposition is going to fight us hard on every signature.”

    “But I assure you we don’t have any Mickey Mouses on our petitions. We got a great verification. Over ninety percent of the signatures we’ve analyzed are solid. We’re confident, and we just want to make this a mandate.”

    Remember that, once the signatures have been validated, Public Act 4 is suspended until the election. You can participate in the signature delivery and an associated rally on February 29th. More information at their Facebook page.

  • Congressman Conyers, Peters and Clark hold PA 4 public forum
    Last night, three Michigan Congressmen, John Conyers, Gary Peters and Hansen Clark, held a public forum in Highland Park. Unfortunately, due to travel for work, I was unable to attend. However, you can read details of the event at the Detroit Free Press.

    At the event, Congressman Conyers submitted an interim report from the US House Judiciary Committee on the EM law which you can read HERE (pdf). It has determined the law violates the US Constitution.

    Here’s an excerpt from the Executive Summary:

    In terms of factual findings, first, we find that the EM Law is clearly unconstitutional by virtue of the fact that it violates the Contracts Clause of the U.S. Constitution. It does so because it fails the test set forth by the Supreme Court in 1934 in Home Building & Loan Assn. v. Blaisdell that a state may only “substantially” impair a contract, such as a collective bargaining agreement Where, the law serves a demonstrated and legitimate public purpose, and the means chosen to impair the contract are “reasonable and necessary.” In the case of the EM Law, the mere fact of the state-declared “financial emergency” does not justify the unfettered power to reject contracts, particularly when other far more reasonable options are available. As UCLA Law Professor Kenneth Klee has written, “as currently drafted, the [Michigan EM Law] is violative of the Contracts Clause No prior legislature has had the audacity to legislate the unilateral termination, rejection, or modification of a collective bargaining agreement.”

    Second, We find that other provisions of the EM Law impacting minority voting rights
    and representative form of government; provisions in possible violation ofthe state constitution; implementation in violation of the Michigan Open Meetings Act; and consideration of a possible “stop-gap” legislative fix designed to thwart the voter initiative process are all controversial and largely untested in the courts due to the extreme and unprecedented nature ofthe EM Law. Resolution of these legal disputes could take years to resolve, potentially leading to financial disarray and gridlock.

    Benton Harbor EM Joe Harris submitted a lengthy justification of PA 4 which you can read HERE (pdf). In it, he gives interesting historical information about municipal bankruptcies in our state. I found his explanation of the improvements he’s made other than to balance the books a bit unconvincing, I must say.

  • Highland Parks schools EM “deactivated”
    After a ruling by a judge declaring violations of the Open Meetings Act rendered actions by the Highland Park schools financial review team violated the Open Meetings Act, Governor Snyder has deactivated the EM there and took other steps:
    The governor will ask the Legislature to pass emergency measures by the end of the week to allow Highland Park students and state aid payments to switch to another district or a charter school.

    The governor challenged the Highland Park school board to offer its own solution or ask for a hearing this week that could wind up with the governor re-appointing an emergency manager.

    Efficiency!

  • Former Ann Arbor administrator Roger Fraser speaks about his role in PA 4 administration
    Roger Fraser, the former Ann Arbor City administrator, gave an interview to AnnArbor.com about his role in administering PA 4 for the State Treasury Department. I won’t go into great detail but I found this comment of his to be typical of the derision and lack of professional behavior by many involved in the administration of PA 4, including some of the Emergency Managers themselves:
    Now I understand, and if I were in the position of organized labor, I’d be whining about this, too,” Fraser admitted. “It’s clearly a threat to the kind of control and the kind of ability that labor unions have had. On the other hand, there are units of government that just simply cannot be successful living with the terms that they agreed to in better times.”

    When you describe the outcry against how Emergencies Managers work as “whining”, that sort of patronizing and demeaning talk only serves to prove that you not only have little concern or compassion for those you are impacting, but that you truly see unions as the cause of the problems. Which, of course, they are not. Please don’t tell me a big part of PA 4 is all about crushing public employee unions, not with that kind of language.

  • Conan Smith gets pushback on his comments about PA 4
    I commend your attention to a post by Mark Maynard at MarkMaynard.com titled “Washtenaw County Commissioner Conan Smith clarifies his stance on Emergency Financial Managers”. In it, he highlights comments made by Washtenaw County Commission Chair Conan Smith and pushback he got for those comments.

That’s it. Off to work I go.

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