It just goes on and on and on and on
Lots of news to cover today. Make sure you click through to the jump page if you’re reading this from the front page of Eclectablog.
- Stand Up For Democracy coalition delivers 226,637 petition signatures
Yesterday, the Stand Up For Democracy coalition and Michigan Forward delivered well over the 160,304 signatures needed to put the repeal of Public Act 4 – Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law – on the November ballot to the Michigan Secretary of State’s office in Lansing.
Here is Michigan Forward’s statement:Today, Michigan Forward, the Stand Up for Democracy Coalition and countless volunteers and supporters representing the labor, civic, and faith based communities from around the State of Michigan submitted 226,637 signatures to repeal the “Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act,” known as Public Act 4 (PA 4). The campaign to repeal PA 4 is a grassroots movement that began in June 2011. Stand Up for Democracy reached a milestone today with the submission of 50 full boxes of repeal petitions to the Office of the Great Seal of Michigan. This campaign was driven by thousands of Michigan voters who sacrificed and volunteered their time to comb their neighborhoods, knock on doors and work on holidays to protect Democracy here in Michigan.
The submission of the petitions is not the end of our fight. Democracy’s opposition resides in Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law. Governor Snyder continues to trample Democracy, transparency and accountability.
Yesterday, while we prepared to deliver our petitions to our state capitol, the radical agents against democracy were hard at work in Detroit and Inkster. The city of Detroit’s financial review team created a subcommittee to continue to circumvent our constitutional rights guaranteed in our state’s Open Meetings Act.
Additionally, Inkster’s elected leadership were asked to sign a consent agreement laced with predatory language that will secure conditions for emergency management, not resurgence. Our voices will remain vigilant against the misinformation and bad public policy continually produced by anti-Democracy agents. These agents in the Michigan House and Senate prefer their cloak of darkness designed to usurp the will of the people. No elected official should consider any legislation designed to circumvent the constitution they are sworn to defend; the constitution that protects the right to petition, representative government and vote. That is not what democracy looks like. This looks like dictatorship designed to disenfranchise voters, dissolve communities and schools and cancel public contracts.
The repeal of PA 4 won’t cause chaos as some ill informed legislators have said nor will PA 72, the previous law, go back into effect. What the residents of communities facing fiscal crisis desire is re-investment and rebuilding. These communities have sacrificed for far too long under the promise of their day will come soon. Michigan’s communities and school districts in fiscal crisis deserve immediate relief. That starts with this egregious policy being removed from our law books.
Our fight has just begun. We echo the sentiments of Congressmen John Conyers, Hansen Clarke and Gary Peters today in communication with the Secretary of State and Bureau of Elections for a lawful process in the counting of the petitions submitted. We are preparing for the next eight months of education, mobilization and demonstration to get Michigan voters out to the polls on November 6, 2012 and vote down Michigan’s Dictator Law.
Today, we sent a message that democracy is not meant only for a select few. What Democracy looks like is the hundreds who created an assembly line today to carry the petitions into the Office of the Great Seal.
The bit about not returning to Public Act 72 if Public Act 4 goes on hold is of interest because Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette issued a statement this week saying just the opposite.Until the petitions are ultimately certified as sufficient by our state election officials, Public Act 4 of 2011 will remain in effect. If the petitioners achieve the proper certification, Public Act 4 will be suspended pending the outcome of the referendum vote in November and the previous state law governing emergency financial managers, Public Act 72 of 1990, will govern in the interim.
It will be interesting to see how this pans out. We’ll have our answer in 60 days or less.
- Congressman John Conyers sends letter to SOS Johnson regarding petitions for repeal of PA 4
Congressman John Conyers sent a letter to Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson asking to be involved in ensuring the integrity of the delivered petitions.
February 29, 2012
Secretary of State Ruth Johnson
Michigan Department of State
Lansing, Michigan 48918
Dear Secretary Johnson:
We write to express our interest in insuring that the filing and verification of more than 200,000 initiative petition signatures being delivered to your office today by Michigan Forward in order to seek repeal the Michigan Emergency Manager Law (Public Act 4 of 2011) are handled in a lawful, appropriate, and transparent manner.
Given that the underlying Michigan Emergency Law raises significant questions under the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act, as Members of Congress, we believe there is a strong federal interest in insuring that the petitions are processed in a proper manner. Many of the underlying federal interests are identified in an Interim Report issued by Rep. Conyers on Tuesday, February 21, 2012. The Interim Report can be accessed at the following website: http://democrats.judiciary.house.gov/sites/democrats.judiciary.house.gov/files/documents/EM_Report120221F.pdf.
It is our understanding based on Director of Elections Chris Thomas’ discussions with Detroit NAACP General Counsel Butch Hollowell, that you will permit as many individuals as are necessary to participate in delivering the petitions. We consider this to be a positive development.
Beyond the delivery of the petitions, we also have a strong interest in guaranteeing that the physical integrity of the signed petitions is maintained at all times during the petition consideration process by your office and by the State Board of Canvassers, and that proper and fully transparent procedures are adhered to during the entire process.
Given the important and time sensitive nature of our request, we would ask that your office and other relevant officials work with us to set up a conference call or meeting this morning to discuss these matters. Please contact Rep. Conyers’ House Judiciary Committee office at 202-225-6504 at your earliest possible convenience so that we may coordinate.
- Michigan House Democrats issue statement in support of the repeal of Public Act 4
The Michigan House Democratic Caucus issued the following statement about the delivery of petitions for the repeal of Public Act 4:The House Democratic caucus today applauded efforts by AFSCME and Stand Up 4 Democracy as they turned in over 220,000 signatures from Michigan residents to put the emergency financial manager law up for a vote by the people. The State Elections Division now has 60 days to review the signatures to determine if 161,305 of the signatures are valid and the issue can be put before the people of the state.
“These signatures are a win for the people of our state to show Legislative Republicans that Michiganders do not tolerate extreme breaches of power by their government,” said House Democratic Leader Richard E. Hammel (D-Mt. Morris Township). “Our caucus has heard numerous complaints about this law from residents and have consistently fought against the seizing of local control by the governor’s administration. It is time to let the people of Michigan decide if these broad reaching powers are something they’d like to give to their government.”
The announcement comes at a time when 48 Michigan school districts are facing deficits this year according to the Michigan Department of Education. Last week, Republicans passed a bill that would institute a new voucher plan in the struggling school district of Highland Park which looks to upend students midway through their school year and place an additional financial burden on the district through the loss of students.
“The governor and legislative Republicans sent a clear message to our struggling schools with the vote last week affecting Highland Park that they will not hesitate to board up the school doors in the middle of an academic year and displace your kids if your district needs help,” said State Representative Woodrow Stanley (D-Flint), who attended an event celebrating the turning in of the signatures to the Secretary of State. “The 47 other districts across this state would not be in such dire financial straits had the governor and Republicans not cut over $1 billion from the School Aid Fund last year to finance their corporate tax break. These aren’t Democratic or Republican schools, these are schools that transcend racial and political boundaries and it is in all of our interest to make sure they succeed.”
- Snyder signs GOP bill into law to help Highland Park students – with caveats
Governor Rick Snyder signed a bill into law this week that gives Highland Park parents up to $4,000 to send their students to other schools. It also allows the school system to be taken over by an outside group, perhaps a private outside group.
Gov. Rick Snyder signed a $4 million emergency funding bill Friday morning to ensure that students in the Highland Park School District continue their studies.
The measure would provide about $4,000 for each Highland Park student to attend a school of his or her choice, though none of the funding would go to the troubled Highland Park system. The legislature passed the bill Thursday.
“The next step is for the bill to be filed, and we’re working on that now,” said Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel.
But not everyone in the district thinks the funding bill is the right solution. Employees faced the prospect of not getting paid Friday, after Snyder said the state would not advance the district any more money.
“There’s still a question about how this will positively impact the district,” said school board secretary Robert Davis, who has fought the appointment of an emergency manager. “The school district as we know it will be dissolved, and that hurts because he’s saying the people there are incompetent.” [...]
The bill Snyder signed would provide money to another school district or charter school operator that accepts Highland Park students. Money for those students that stay in the district can only be used if someone else is brought in to run the schools.
This could obviously mean the end of Highland Park schools.
Meanwhile, Davis calls the move “outrageous” and “illegal”.Davis said a law approved last week by the Legislature to transfer control of the Highland Park district to an outside entity is “outrageous” and “illegal,” but said he would wait to ask the court to intervene until after district employees are paid, possibly later this week.
Davis said the legislation was a ruse to allow Gov. Rick Snyder to hand the district over to his “corporate buddies. He used the children to do what he wanted to do.”
Last week, under pressure from angry parents, the Highland Park school board elected not to fight the second imposition of a Emergency Manager after the first one was deemed illegal due to violations of the Open Meetings Act by the financial review team that recommended his appointment. Teachers are currently working without pay and the superintendent is requesting more state funding to remedy this. Emergency Manager Jack Martin may be back by tomorrow.
On a related note, the state-appointed review team for Highland Park schools formed a subcommittee in an apparent effort to circumvent the Open Meetings Act requirement stipulated by a judge recently.The state-appointed review team charged with examining Detroit’s finances seems poised to keep most of its business behind closed doors, despite a recent court ruling that determined the body must meet in public.
The review team met for less than half an hour Tuesday, long enough to take three comments from the public and establish a subcommittee to do most of its important legal work. That subcommittee will continue to meet in private.
- Muskegon Heights schools offers deficit reduction plan that eviscerates teacher pay
The struggling school district of Muskegon Heights has put out a deficit reduction plan that dramatically slashes teacher pay. For example, starting teachers would make roughly $21,000. That’s about $10/hour, roughly what an assistant manager at McDonald’s makes.
Other details from Michigan Radio:A new plan to eliminate a running deficit at Muskegon Heights Public Schools would close schools and cut teacher pay by 40-percent. That means a teacher with a PhD and 20 years of experience would make around $40,000 a year. New teachers would make around $20,000.
But school leaders admit the plan is still unlikely to work.
Unions haven’t even voted on the concessions. But interim superintendent Dave Sipka had to submit the plan anyway to get the money the district needed from the state in order to make payroll.
“It’s sort of a sad commentary on coming up with a plan that’ll work but in the end I doubt that it really will work,” Sipka said.
For one, Sipka says it’s unlikely the district can retain teachers for that little pay.
- Detroit teachers reach agreement in lawsuit against Emergency Manager Roy Roberts
In a rare victory for teachers, several Detroit teachers unions have reached an agreement with Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts over wage cuts he instituted in 2011.
Detroit Public Schools union employees have settled a suit with DPS emergency manager Roy Roberts and state treasurer Andy Dillon over salary cuts that went into effect last year.
In August, several unions representing teachers, office staff and paraprofessionals filed suit against Roberts and Dillon after Roberts imposed a 10 percent wage cut and asked employees to contribute 20 percent more toward health care costs.
Under the terms of today’s settlement reached in U.S. District Court, a lump-sum payment of 2.5 percent of lost wages from last year will be remanded to staffers.
“We reached a solution that was in the best interest of both sides but most importantly, it is the best for educating 66,902 students and recognizing the critical importance of our teachers and staff. This is a great example of diligent work by both sides to resolve a thorny issue,” Roberts said in a news release.
More details on the settlement and some history on the situation can be found at the Detroit Free Press.
- Detroit gets a one-month repreive from the imposition of an Emergency Manager
The city of Detroit was given an extra month to work out its financial emergency.
The determination of Detroit’s fiscal future and whether an emergency manager will be appointed will be delayed at least one month while city officials scramble to implement a financial rescue plan and avoid insolvency.
Still, the extra time does little to help the city’s cash-flow crisis. In the latest city-generated cash-flow forecast, Detroit is projected to have a general fund budget shortfall of $9.5 million by May. It was previously projected that the city would run out of money in April.
As first reported on freep.com, Terry Stanton, a state Treasury spokesman, confirmed that a one-month extension has been granted to a state-appointed financial review team whose task it is to recommend whether an emergency manager should take over Detroit’s budget.
“The state’s financial review team is working through their process, but today’s extension doesn’t affect the city’s efforts to continue to implement our financial restructuring plan,” Chris Brown, Mayor Dave Bing’s chief operating officer, said Friday in a statement.
Considering that Public Act 4 may actually be put on hold during that time, there’s no telling where this will end up.“I view it as a good thing,” Snyder said, suggesting the extension will allow local leaders more time to finalize union contracts and resolve the crisis themselves. “The city is still working hard on coming up with a solution, because the better answer is to get a consent agreement. I don’t want to appoint an emergency manager in Detroit if I can help it.“
- Inkster may avoid an Emergency Manager for now
Things are looking better for staving off an Emergency Manager for Inkster. This week, the review team looking at their situation accepted a consent agreement proposed by city government officials.
A state review team has voted to accept a consent agreement with Inkster, which will likely help the city avoid an emergency manager.
Under the consent agreement, city leaders can stay in charge as long as they meet certain conditions and financial goals.
- Sugar Law Center fulfills filing requirement set by State Supreme Court
As I wrote last fall, the Sugar Law Center won a victory over the Snyder administration that was trying to bypass the normal judicial process and have the Michigan Supreme Court rule directly on their lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Public Act 4.
Back in August, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder sought to bypass the normal court process and asked the Michigan Supreme Court to make a decision on the lawsuit challenging Public Act 4, the so-called Emergency Manager Law. (Details on the lawsuit filed by the Sugar Law Center and the Center for Constitutional Rights can be found HERE.)
Sugar Law Center proceeded to file a response challenging that request in September.
Today the Supreme Court spoke and the news, once again, is not good for the Governor. (I say “once again” because the Supreme Court already smacked down Governor Snyder just last week.) Instead of accepting Governor Snyder’s request to bypass the normal judicial process, they have asked both parties to submit briefs in support of their positions regarding the Governor’s request.
On Wednesday this week, Sugar Law Center fulfilled the Court’s request:The Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice reported on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011, that the Legislature must not attempt to further degrade democracy for Michigan citizens, including the 28 plaintiffs it represents who are challenging Michigan’s controversial emergency manager law. Republican legislators recently suggested they might pass a new emergency manager law if a petition drive succeeds in gathering enough signatures to suspend the current law and submit it to a citizens’ referendum on the November 2012 ballot.
“Citizens are working to remove this unconstitutional law through time-honored tools of our democracy,” said John Philo, Sugar Law’s Legal Director. “Our court system and the referendum process, which enables the public to repeal laws directly,are established democratic means of eliminating bad law. Any effort by legislators to short-circuit those processes without removing the provisions that violate citizens’ rights and enable Lansing to take over local communities only affirms that the original intent of PA 4 was not to truly help communities. The Legislature must not create new ways to circumvent democracy before the courts and the citizens have even weighed in on the constitutionality of P.A. 4.”
Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration asked the Michigan Supreme Court to take the legal challenge out of the Ingham County Circuit Court, where the case was filed, and make its own ruling on the constitutionality of the emergency manager law. Such a fast-track move is highly unusual and relies on a court rule that has only been invoked a few times over recent decades.
On Wednesday, Sugar Law fulfilled the Supreme Court’s request that both it and the Snyder administration submit briefs addressing the state’s request for immediate review at the Supreme Court level and clarifying issues of the law’s constitutionality. Sugar Law contends that if the case is taken directly by the Supreme Court, the short-circuited process will omit essential considerations of how the law actually impacts citizens and their communities.
In an update yesterday, Sugar Law explained that Governor Snyder is also balking at providing them with essential and important information about how Public Act 4 is being applied.The Sugar Law Center team and plaintiffs are waiting to hear from the Michigan Supreme Court about whether they will take up the suit. The Governor requested that the Michigan Supreme Court take the case and skip going the the Circuit. At the same time, the Circuit Court handling the suit is going forward. In the discovery process, we are seeking information from the state about how the law is being applied. The state has argued that they should not be obligated to provide this information. Because the Circuit Court judge ruled in our favor about the state’s obligation to provide documents and information, the state has appealed her ruling and so the case is also in a third venue, the Michigan Appeals Court. That court will rule on whether the state is allowed to withhold the information sought by the plaintiffs.
If the Snyder administration wants to convince Michigan voters that Public Act 4 is somehow in their interest, it occurs to me that violating the Open Meetings Act, forming review team subcommittees to thwart the Open Meetings Act and keeping secret vital information about the implementation of Public Act 4 may not be the best way to do it. To resurrect something from the Eclectablog past:
I’m just sayin’…
Y’all are welcome ;^)