Pontiac in the crosshairs — Emergency Manager Lou Schimmel shares his wisdom


Pontiac – we build excitement?

There’s a pretty well-written, well-researched and fair piece about Michigan’s Emergency Manager crisis written by Ryan Holeywell at Governing.com. It focuses heavily on Pontiac and their history with Emergency Managers including their current one, Louis Schimmler.

There wasn’t a lot in the article that I didn’t already know but there were two things that caught my attention.

The first thing was this statement:

Regardless of the outcome, some believe the debate is moot: Pontiac residents elected a mayor and council to run the city. The state gave them Schimmel instead. Schimmel isn’t accountable to anybody in Pontiac. He answers to the governor and an appointed state treasurer. Yet Schimmel disputes the premise that democracy has been subverted in Pontiac. “The law I’m operating under was passed under a democracy,” Schimmel says. “It wasn’t a law handed down by a king. It was passed by a legislature.”

This is, of course, absurd. None of the Republicans currently in power ever mentioned supporting anything even remotely close to Public Act 4 (PA4), Michigan’s Emergency Manager law. This exists due largely to the hard work done by the Mackinac Center, a group that Schimmel was an employee of until they recently scrubbed him from their site. In fact, PA 4 is largely the result of Schimmel’s work there.

In 2005, Schimmel wrote a piece for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, an influential conservative think tank in Michigan, that detailed reform he thought the state should make to its existing emergency management law, which he believed lacked the tools needed to enact a serious municipal turnaround. He recommended that emergency managers be given immunity from lawsuits, the authority to assume powers held by the mayor and city commission, and the ability to cancel labor contracts. All those provisions made it into PA4, and today Schimmel is able to take full advantage of them.

For him to suggest that PA 4 is in any way the product of a democratic process is beyond laughable. If he believes this, he’s delusional. If he doesn’t, he is a liar.

The other part that struck me was this:

Th e greatest criticism of Michigan’s law is that it does little to ensure a long-term turnaround of the state’s most troubled cities. The problem, say local officials in Pontiac and elsewhere, is that the state has failed to build up business and encourage urban renewal. Schimmel is candid that his primary concern is not economic development. That duty, he says, is “beyond my purview.”

I guess that I should be gratified that he’s admitting something that I have been saying all along: Emergency Managers do not solve and are not interested in solving the core problems that brought the cities under their control to the point of crisis.

But I’m not gratified. I’m mortified.

We have put these people in charge of failing cities and given them only chainsaws and axes with which to solve their problems. There is no way to build up our cities using these tools of destruction; no way to prepare them for a better future or to encourage them to grow and flourish.

And THAT is the crux of our problem.

Meanwhile, back in Pontiac, their school system is now headed for an Emergency Manager.

And so it goes.

[Image credit: City of Pontiac]