Wednesday afternoon Emergency Manager news round-up – 2/15/2012


All the news that’s fit to make you cringe

Lots of news to get to today. Lots more after the jump, too, so make sure you click through.

UPDATE: My article for The Nation magazine on Michigan’s Emergency Manager law will be in the issue that goes to print today and will hit the stands later this week. It may or may not be online unless you are a subscriber. I’ll keep everyone posted when it’s available.

  • Michigan Forward to turn in petition signatures February 29th
    Michigan Forward’s petition drive to repeal Public Act 4 is near its end and they will turn in well over 200,000 signatures on February 29th. They need just over 160,000 valid signatures so this should be enough to put them over the top.
    A coalition seeking to overturn Michigan’s law giving more power to state-appointed emergency managers said Monday it plans to turn in petition signatures at the end of the month to put the law on hold and force a vote on it.

    The Stand Up for Democracy coalition needs to collect roughly 161,300 valid voter signatures to get the issue on the November ballot. It said it has collected more than 200,000 signatures so far and plans to turn them in Feb. 29 for state officials to verify.

    “The fact of the matter is we really can’t wait anymore,” said Brandon Jessup, the chairman of Michigan Forward and a member of the coalition seeking to overturn Public Act 4 of 2011. “We’re doing great with the campaign and we want to move on to the next step.”

  • Mother Jones takes on Michigan’s Emergency Manager situation
    Paul Abowd has written a most-excellent piece for Mother Jones that’s worth your attention. It’s titled “Michigan’s Hostile Takeover” and focuses mainly on Pontiac EM Louis Schimmel. I spoke at length with Paul during his investigation.
  • Highland Park Mayor trying to avoid EM while school district gives up fighting one
    Highland Park Mayor DeAndre Windom is working hard on the city’s Deficit Elimination Plan in order to avoid the imposition of a second Emergency Manager.
    “I will fight this battle until the battle is over. So, I mean, I wake up every day knowing that we’re faced with challenges and knowing that, you know, people just want to come in here and pull the plug on the city,” Windom told WWJ’s Vickie Thomas.

    The city is currently facing a deficit of over $11 million, and Windom said he’s bringing in help.

    “I’m putting together a financial advisory team of qualified, competent individuals who will work to help the city of Highland Park,” said Windom.

    Meanwhile, the school district has given up its fight to appeal the imposition of an EM.

    Highland Park school board members voted unanimously to not appeal the state’s decision to appoint an emergency manager, reversing a previous decision made before the district went into receivership.

    Two board members — including Robert Davis, who earlier this month filed a lawsuit in Ingham County Circuit Court to ward off state intervention — were not present for the vote.

    Emergency manager Jack Martin, who will not sit on the board in his new capacity, attended the Tuesday night meeting. Board members approved two mandates given by Martin: That board members will retain all current salaries and benefits, and that any school closures, consolidations or renovations must be approved with his oversight.

  • Judge voids decisions made by Highland Park and Detroit EM Review Teams
    Ruh-roh, Raggy. this doesn’t look good:
    In a decision that could potentially limit the sweeping powers of Michigan’s new emergency manager law, an Ingham County judge ruled Wednesday decisions made by the financial review teams for Highland Park Public Schools and the city of Detroit are null and void because they have been made in secret.

    The ruling by Ingham County Circuit Court Judge William Collette means emergency manager Jack Martin has no authority in the Highland Park School District, because Gov. Rick Snyder appointed him based on recommendations that are null and void, according to the attorney who filed suit.

    Stay tuned on this…

  • Detroit Police union agreement has wage freeze to avoid Emergency Manager
    In an effort to fend off an Emergency Manager for the city of Detroit, the Police union may agree to a wage freeze:
    Mayor Dave Bing announced Friday that a tentative concessions agreement has been reached with police unions, a key piece of his plan to stave off a state takeover of the city.
    The Bing administration now will turn its attention to the Detroit Fire Fighters Association to work on an agreement similar to the one reached with the uniformed police unions, which still needs to be ratified by union members.

    “The police unions and my administration have negotiated a tentative agreement, which provides much needed savings, but does not sacrifice public safety,” Bing said. […]

    This is what we’re taking to the membership,” [President of the Detroit Police Officers Association Joe] Duncan said. “It’s the best we can do … the bottom line is, we could do nothing and have an emergency financial manager come in, or we could do this.”

  • 48 school districts on ‘watch list’ to receive an Emergency Manager
    Think your school district is safe from getting an Emergency Manager? You might be very wrong:
    Under the watchful eyes of Michigan education officials, more than 40 school districts are battling to control deficits and avoid falling under state control.

    Altogether, 48 districts — their finances battered by rising benefit costs and state aid cuts — are under monthly monitoring by the Michigan Department of Education. The number of school systems in the red has soared over the past decade after bottoming out at 10 in fiscal 2003.

    The department’s watch list of districts in deficit includes two systems under state control — Detroit and Highland Park — and a third, Muskegon Heights, that asked the state for an emergency manager last month to help deal with an $8.5 million deficit.

    The list provides a glimpse of which districts could be next in line for an emergency manager if their deficits balloon into fiscal emergency.

  • Detroit Public Schools EM closes schools, charters others
    Detroit Public Schools EM Roy Roberts is closing, chartering or consolidating 22 schools in the district.
    Twenty schools in the Detroit Public Schools system will be closed, chartered or consolidated into other buildings, DPS emergency manager Roy Roberts announced Wednesday.

    In addition to the schools announced already this week, Roberts confirmed the closings of additional schools due to declining enrollments, deteriorating conditions or low performances. At a later date, Roberts will announce 15 schools to be added to the Educational Achievement Authority, a newly created statewide school district targeting the state’s lowest-performing schools.

    The district currently operates 130 schools. Over the past five years, 125 schools have been closed. About a third of DPS students are affected…

    As Michigan Citizen points out, this means there will be only two public schools in southwest Detroit.

    “It’s like this is some kind of strategic effort to get rid of DPS altogether,” [President of the Local Schools Community Organization (LSCO) at Southwestern High School Cheryl] Elum says. “Every time you close a school you lose more students. Every time they even announce a closure, many parents don’t want to wait for the doors to close before they move. In the corporate world, how long do you follow a bad plan?”

    That’s a great article, by the way. Highly recommended.

    The creation of the Edcuational Achievement Authority will require $35 million for just the first two years alone, according to the Detroit News.

  • Detroit assets at risk due to financial emergency
    Major Detroit landmarks and other assets may be at risk due to the city’s financial emergency:
    Pontiac sold the Silverdome, Wayne County got rid of golf courses, and Dearborn unloaded a senior citizen complex in Florida.

    Now, the city of Detroit’s most venerable assets — from Belle Isle to the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel — could end up on the auction block as the city fights for its financial life.

    Facing mounting debt and the prospect of a state-appointed emergency manager, the city is looking at all options to shed expenses and raise revenue. If city officials can’t come up with a viable budget plan, an emergency manager would have the power to sell assets as part of a financial takeover of Detroit.

    Even the Detroit Institute of Arts is worried:

    [A]s Detroit city officials frantically try to stave off state intervention, whether by consent decree, emergency manager or even municipal bankruptcy, the city’s dire financial situation raises once taboo speculation: Is the city’s timeless art collection immune from the city’s urgent need for cash?

    As the streetlights flicker and the city’s dollars trickle away, the DIA stands alone among the city’s institutions as a trove of treasures. The Detroit Zoo, the Detroit Historical Museum, the Charles M. Wright Museum of African American History, and libraries and parks all can command market value — but lions and tigers or even rare books cannot begin to match the store of riches locked behind the DIA’s grand façade. […]

    “Let them get desperate with something else,” said Tina Bassett, a member of the DIA’s board of directors and chair of its development committee. “It’s something we’re so proud of.”

  • Flint EM shares info with City Council, gets an earful from residents
    Flint EM Michael Brown shared his budget plan with the City Council during a 3-hour meeting last week. The news wasn’t good.
    Brown updated council members on his ongoing projects.

    He said the city has brought on labor counsel to review all of the city’s union contracts for possible renegotiation. He’s also met three times with state police representatives about possibly increasing the police presence in the community.

    “I really do believe they (the state) understand the challenges we’re facing,” he said. “They want to help but what they want is a plan moving forward.”

    He said the city is crafting a public safety plan and will ask Flint Mayor Dayne Walling as well as county officials and others to be a part of the process.

    Brown said the city made changes in retiree healthcare in the areas of co-pays and generic prescription medications that are estimated to save the city $1 million annually.

    At the same meeting, he got an angry earful from Flint residents:

    Several angry residents spoke out against Flint’s emergency manager tonight at the first council meeting that has been held since the state takeover of Flint began Dec. 1.

    “I hate the idea of an emergency manager,” Flint resident Nayyirah Shariff said. “We have someone far removed, Gov. Snyder, who looks at our city and says we are an impoverished city. But impoverished because of policies they help perpetuate.”

    There’s video at the link.

    Brown hired Megan Hunter for a two-year stint to help develop the city’s comprehensive master plan.

    In other Flint news, the fire chief has asked Brown to pink slip half the city’s firefighters.

    It’s being called a bizarre request. Flint firefighters union president Trent Farnsworth has asked Flint’s Emergency Financial Manager Mike Brown to pink slip half of the fire department.

    Farnsworth said he has a good reason for the request. He is trying to renew a federal grant that currently covers the wages of approximately 39 officers. In order for the city to qualify for the SAFER grant, firefighters must be in a “pending layoff situation.”

    The nearly $7 million grant expires in June. The application deadline for renewal is Feb. 24.

    “We could lose a good portion of our personnel,” said Farnsworth.

  • Public Act 4 still being wielded as a cudgel
    As has happened countless times before, Public Act 4 is being used to threaten people. This time in Allen Park.
    Still reeling from a failed multi-million dollar deal with a Hollywood movie producer, Allen Park could face financial ruin and an emergency manager takeover if city leaders don’t take quick action.

    Tuesday night the mayor and council failed to reach a deal on a vote to add a two-year, 4-mill levy to the May ballot. The vote was a 3-3 tie, which means the council must vote again. One member was absent. […]

    The mayor says the state gave him and his administration until the end of the month to outline a plan to stabilize the city’s finances.

    It’s being wielded against the unions, as well, of course:

    The city wants wage and benefit concessions from its police and fire unions and has engaged in a standoff with the groups that could end with the appointment of a state emergency financial manager.

    In a letter sent Wednesday to bargaining groups for 61 police officers and firefighters, Mayor William Matakas, speaking for the City Council, asked for a pair of givebacks.

    The city wants all affected employees to take a 10-percent cut in their base salaries and pay 20 percent of their health and other benefit costs.

  • FCC confirms Joe Harris can’t sell city’s radio broadcast license
    I’ve been reporting on the weird on again, off again eBay sale of Benton Harbor’s radio station equipment by EM Joe Harris. It turns out that, as many suspected, he’s not actually allowed to sell it on eBay which may explain why it was pulled from the listings.
    According to the Federal Communications Commission, The Benton Harbor community radio station license that was on eBay last week cannot be sold in that manner.

    In an email sent to ABC 57 News, an FCC spokeswoman provided this information:

    “The Commission approves the assignment or transfer of all broadcast stations. A low power station can only be assigned or transferred to a local not-for-profit entity.”


    More at The Maddow Blog via Laura Conaway.

I hope you enjoyed that. I must say I didn’t…