Detroit, Emergency Manager Law, Rick Snyder — March 22, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Congressmen Conyers, Clarke, and Peters request answers from Governor Snyder regarding their proposed Detroit Consent Agreement


In a comprehensive and sternly-worded letter to Governor Rick Snyder (pdf), Congressmen John Conyers, Jr., Hansen Clarke, and Gary Peters are asking for some answers regarding his administration’s proposed Detroit Consent Agreement.

The letter focuses on seven key areas:

  1. Failure of State to Provide Any Financial Assistance
    Governor Snyder is asked to explain why, unlike in other struggling cities across the country, they “will not consider the same types of financial partnership approaches utilized for cities such as New York, Cleveland, and Philadelphia”.
  2. Unconstitutional Limitation on Collective Bargaining
    During a legal forum held by Rep. Conyers last month, Kenneth Klee, a renowned expert on constitutional issues relating to bankruptcy testified:
    “[A]s currently drafted, the [Michigan EM Law] is violative of the Contracts Clause .. No prior legislature had the audacity to legislate unilateral termination, rejection or modification of a collective bargaining agreement.”

    Klee’s remarks are contained in the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s Staff Minority Report, “Democracy for Sale: Subverting Voting Rights, Collective Bargaining and Accountability under Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law” (pdf). (My writing, incidentally, is referenced twice in that document along with the chart I created showing the disparate impact of PA 4 on African American Michiganders. One of the quotes, however, is mistakenly attributed to Jonathan Mahler of the New York Times Magazine.)

  3. Preventing Outside Parties from Protecting their Legal Rights in Court
    Governor Snyder is asked to explain why his administration thinks that repealing PA 4 means that PA 72 (which PA 4 repealed) would go back into effect and why their proposed Consent Agreement with Detroit uses the threat of the imposition of an Emergency Manager to prevent any involved parties (including unions) from enforcing their rights in court. This section is interesting because it references Michigan Compiled Law § 8.4 which explicitly states “Whenever a statute, or any part thereof shall be repealed by a subsequent statute, such statute, or any part thereof, so repealed, shall not be revived by the repeal of such subsequent repealing statute.”
  4. Excessive State Control
    Here they ask if they have considered giving the Mayor and City Council of Detroit “a more robust role” and a “more reasoned process for the termination of the consent decrees could be developed”. This is based on the fact that Gov. Snyder gets to appoint six of the nine Financial Advisory Board members and gives Treasurer Andy Dillon full veto authority over their decisions if their proposed Consent Agreement is executed.
  5. Compliance with Open Meetings Act
    Here the Congressmen ask the governor why he “is opposed to insuring full accountability of the proposed Financial Advisory Board’s actions or those by any other entity by insuring that subcommittee meetings occur in public.” Good question.
  6. Voting Rights Act
    Here the letter says “Implementation of the Emergency Manager Law may violate the Voting Rights Act with respect to its impact on minority voting rights, particularly given the fact that some 50% of African American voters in the State have already lost some form of their ability to elect leaders of their choice because of Emergency Manager appointments.” If you’re talking only about cities, the 50% statistic comes into play only IF Detroit gets an Emergency Manager. However, I am told by Congressional staff that they included the Detroit School District in this figure and they are, of course, elected officials. Consideration of the Voting Rights Act is particularly important becuase, as the Executive Summary of the Consent Agreement acknowledges, 372 out of 638 Michigan municipalities and school districts are considered in jeopardy of entering or being in a financial emergency.

    This is an important section because, in it, they ask for “(1) a description of all jurisdictions for which Emergency Managers and/or consent decrees have been considered over the past ten years; (2) an explanation as to why some jurisdictions were ultimately selected and others were not; and (3) any and all relevant internal or public memos, emails, correspondence, analyses, and notes (collectively, “Documents”) relating to the same.”

  7. Controls Regarding Abuse, Mismanagement and Conflict of Interest
    Under this section, the Congressman address the screw ups and issues that have already occurred with Emergency Managers, specifically referencing Arthur Blackwell, the Emergency Manager of Highland Park that had to pay back over a quarter million dollars he had inappropriately paid himself, and this mismanagement of funds by Pontiac’s Emergency Manager that nearly lost the city $1.4 million in federal funding. As with the previous section, they ask for “Documents”: (1) an itemization of any controls you have in place to protect against abuse, mismanagement and conflict of interest by Emergency Managers; and (2) any and all financial and other reports the State has received over the last ten year, and any and all Documents relating to the same.

This is an aggressive, unprecedented and important letter. It shows that our U.S. Representatives are paying attention and are working to protect Michigan residents from overreach by the administration of Governor Rick Snyder. Coupled with the multiple court rulings going against them, it is time for the governor to reassess his approach and begin to work in ways that foster better partnerships and aren’t acting above the law.

The letter finishes with this (emphasis mine):

We have spent considerable time and attention to the problems facing Michigan cities. This is why we wrote to you on December 15, 2011, requesting a meeting to discuss implementation of the EM law; why we participated in a forum concerning the EM law in Highland Park on February 21, 2012; and why your Administration was invited to testify at that forum. The House Judiciary Committee Democratic Staff also issued a Report on February 21, 2012, recommending that a more workable and reasonable statutory model for financial review be developed, comparable to those used in other states. The Report also recommended greater oversight and that the cities, state and federal government act cooperatively to respond to the problems caused by massive job loss and other urban problems.

This letter from key members of the southeastern Michigan Democratic Congressional Caucus is a powerful statement and a bold move. I suspect it will cause some intense heartburn for Governor Snyder and his administration.

Adding…I am really happy to see Reps. Peters and Clarke working together on this, considering that they will face each other in the Democratic primary this year. Just goes to show what terrific leaders they both truly are.