Emergency Manager Law, Rick Snyder — December 16, 2011 at 11:20 am

Michigan Republicans pass bill to ensure cities under Emergency Mgrs remain under state control


In the increasingly likely event that Michigan Forward and Stand Up For Democracy secure enough petition signatures for the referendum to repeal Public Act 4, the law immediately goes on hold. This leaves the question “what now?” Will the previous law go back into effect or, because PA 4 replaced that law, will there simply be no law allowing for Emergency Managers for nearly-bankrupt cities?

Yesterday, in what they are calling a move to allow for a “soft landing” for cities and school districts after the departure of an Emergency Manger (EM), Senate Republicans passed SB 865. As I have written before, this bill has the following features:

The bill would create a new act to do the following, with respect to a local government (a municipal government or a school district) for which an emergency manager had been appointed under the Local Government and School District Financial Accountability Act:

  • Authorize the Governor to remove the local government from receivership or appoint a receivership transition advisory board, if the local government’s financial emergency had been rectified.
  • Allow the Governor, before removing the local government from receivership, to appoint a receivership transition advisory board to monitor the affairs of the local government.
  • Specify the powers of a receivership transition advisory board.
  • Authorize the Governor to appoint a new emergency manager if the local government’s financial conditions had not been corrected in a sustainable fashion.

The impact of this bill is to ensure that any schools or cities currently under the control of an Emergency Manager will remain under the control of the state in the event that PA 4 goes on hold due to the referendum petition drive. While this is being described by some as making the petition drive “moot”, this is not entirely true. The petition drive can still continue and the citizens of Michigan will still have a chance to vote to repeal the Emergency Manager law if enough valid signatures are gathered. A successful petition drive also prevents any further EMs from being appointed. However, if SB 865 becomes law, it does ensure that existing EMs (or a receivership transition advisory board or a new EM) will continue to run the show.

This does not preclude Republicans from writing and passing a new EM law if the petition drive is successful and they have given every indication that this is exactly what they will do. House Speaker Bolger assures us that Republicans will not put an appropriation into any such bill (thereby making it referendum-proof) but, given their level of veracity these days, many remain skeptical that they are being honest about this.

At a press conference on Wednesday, activists from Michigan Forward and Stand Up For Democracy decried the passage of SB 865.

“Lansing’s approach to addressing voter discontent with the emergency manager law is to simply deny people the opportunity to vote on the issue,” said spokesman Brit Satchwell. “This a naked power grab by state politicians. It will not stand. It cannot be allowed to stand.”

Michigan Democrats are speaking out about it as well including a piece at HuffPo Detroit by 10th District Representative Harvey Santana. Santana’s frustrations appear to be getting the better of him and yesterday, he was nearly in a fistfight on the floor of the House with a fellow Democrat.

The Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice issued the following statement and update on their legal challenge to the constitutionality of PA 4:

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 P.A. 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.

The citizens’ lawsuit says the emergency manager law, P.A. 4, violates the Michigan Constitution by:

  • Suspending home rule, by giving state-appointed managers power to repeal local laws, ordinances, charters and collectively bargained contracts
  • Effectively eliminating citizens’ rights to vote for and petition local government on matters of local concern
  • Violating the separation of powers, by allowing the executive branch and its agencies to exercise legislative duties; and
  • Allowing the Legislature to enact unfunded mandates, by using local taxpayer dollars for such purposes as managers’ salaries and staff.

The Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice is serving as the lead counsel for the 28 citizens. Sugar Law is joined by attorneys with the Center for Constitutional Rights, The Sanders Law Firm, Miller Cohen PLC, and Goodman & Hurwitz PC on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild, Michigan chapter.

Finally, Michigan’s EM law and its anti-democratic impacts are beginning to receive national and even international attention. Yesterday at The Nation, liberal pundit and broadcast journalist Laura Flanders compared what is happening in Michigan to the anti-democratic actions in Europe in her piece “Depression and Autocracy From Merkel to Michigan”:

In the United States, “German stability culture” looks mild to some living in Michigan. In the name of fiscal responsibility, Governor Rick Snyder has taken the power to appoint unelected “financial managers” to take over cities that are struggling with deficits and debts. Four Michigan cities are already controlled by Snyder’s overseers. The have the power to fire city councils, nullify union contracts, end collective bargaining and privatize whatever’s left to be privatized.

Governor Snyder has already announced his intention to review the city of Detroit for possible “emergency management.” That would put 49.7 percent of the state’s African-American residents under leaders cirtics are comparing to plantation overlords. And just today, Michigan’s state Senate passed a bill that would help the process along. For a summary of the bill, visit the invaluable Chris Savage at Electabog [sic].

Suffice to say, it doesn’t take a Hungarian neo-Nazi to establish authoritarian rule under a paper-thin veneer of democracy. It doesn’t even require a veneer.