Democracy 'On the Chopping Block' Under Michigan's 'Emergency Management'

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder prepares to deliver his State of the State address to a joint session of the House and Senate in Lansing. (Carlos Osorio/AP)

Democracy 'On the Chopping Block' Under Michigan's 'Emergency Management'

A small victory for transparency in Michigan today has again put focus on the state's implementation of 'emergency management' provisions as a County Circuit judge blocked 'state financial review teams' that had been meeting behind close doors in violation of the state's 'Open Meeting' laws.

According to Michigan Live:

Judge William Collette last week issued a temporary injunction ordering the Detroit review team to comply with the Open Meetings Act. WDIV reports Collette ruled today that all work by the team is null and void.

Collette also voided the work of the Highland Park schools review team, according to The Detroit News, including the recommendation of an emergency manager.

Today's ruling came in response to lawsuits filed by Robert Davis, a Highland Park school board member, union activist and vocal critic of Public Act 4, Michigan's controversial emergency manager law.

Gov. Rick Sndyer appointed the Detroit review team in late December after a preliminary examination revealed "probable financial stress" in Detroit, and he appointed Emergency Manager Jack Martin to run the Highland Park schools last month.

'Emergency management' schemes, already operating in several other Michigan cities, strip local governments of their authority and put municipal decisions under the direct control of un-elected 'managers' who can slash budgets, sell of public property, and unilaterally renegotiate (or simply jettison) public contracts.

The first foundation "of this society is that we have an open government," Collette said today in a hearing. "To meet in private is to meet in private."

According to the Detroit Free Press:

Highland Park Schools Board Member Robert Davis, who filed both the lawsuits, said the judge's decision was "monumental...a victory for democracy." Davis and his attorney said the ruling also calls into question the legitimacy of emergency managers appointed earlier by Govs. Snyder and Jennifer Granholm, since each of them was the product of an illegal process.


Michigan's budget crisis puts democracy on the chopping block

An in-depth report by the Center for Public Integrity today details the program in Michigan:

Appointed managers can nullify labor contracts, sell public utilities and dismiss elected officials. Michigan cities Benton Harbor, Ecorse, Flint, Pontiac, and two school districts are under emergency management. Detroit, the state's largest city, is under financial review by the state.

Michigan is one of 23 states where the GOP has control of both houses and the governor's mansion since the 2010 election. With the help of free-market think tanks, the state legislature used its one-party rule to pass a flurry of legislation aimed at the state's prolonged great recession marked by auto industry flight and compounded by the 2007 housing market crash.

The emergency law, an unprecedented austerity measure, is the centerpiece of their strategy. Gov. Snyder's supporters say Public Act 4 allows a more efficient and nimble response to the budget crisis than local governments have been able to muster. Critics have filed suit and begun a petition campaign to repeal what they call a power grab that obstructs voting rights. Labor officials say the law is part of a nationwide effort by right-wing think tanks and their corporate backers to break up public sector unions.

"We haven't seen anything this severe anywhere else in the country," said Charles Monaco, spokesman for the Progressive States Network. "There's been nothing in other states where a budget measure overturns the democratic vote."

The report also look at how the relationship between Michigan's influential Mackinac Center, a rightwing think tank, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) helped shape the 'emergency management' regime:

[ALEC] convenes national conferences with state legislators and corporate representatives to draft model legislation. Elected officials in ALEC pay a minimal fee to join the group, while corporations pay up to $100,000.

Michigan's Mackinac Center attends ALEC events, as well. James Hohman, a center analyst, was one of 40 private sector representatives at a December 2010 conference on state fiscal policy, months before Michigan passed Public Act 4.

According to minutes from the closed-door meeting, legislators, corporate representatives and think tanks including Mackinac hammered out new model laws to align public and private sector pay and restructure state pensions.

Since 2010, ALEC member Rep. McMillin has introduced several bills taken right from the playbook. One resolution encouraging privatization of public services draws directly from ALEC's model laws, hundreds of which were leaked to the Center for Media and Democracy last summer.

The model bills have matched up with language found in Arizona's immigration law and informed Ohio and Wisconsin's collective bargaining laws.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.