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Campaign to repeal Michigan’s Emergency Manager law kicks off

Mahuringavel-courtroom-door_877.jpg
Mahuringavel-courtroom-door_877.jpg

The Detroit-based non-profit Michigan Forward, a think tank focused on progressive policies for the state’s urban centers, has filed petition language with the State Board of Canvassers for a referendum on the Emergency Manager law that allows the governor appoint people to rule local governments.

Emergency Managers are already in place in Pontiac, Benton Harbor, Ecorse and the Detroit Public Schools.

With the expanded powers granted by the new Emergency Manager law — Public Act 4 — these appointees may fire local officials, cancel contracts, sell off community assets and even dissolve whole towns. In the case of schools systems the Emergency Managers can take over decisions about academics as well as financial matters.

In Benton Harbor Emergency Manager Joe Harris has barred the city commission from all decision-making. Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Robert Bobb has issued layoff noticed to all teachers and is taking bids to turn 45 city schools into charter schools.

Cuts to state local revenue sharing and to schools, proposed by Gov. Snyder, are expected to drive many local governments and schools into insolvency or financial distress and put them at risk of takeover.

“The best way to handle this legislation is to suspend it,” said Michigan Forward Chairman and CEO Brandon Jessup, “and a referendum will allow us to do that.”

“We are calling on all registered voters in Michigan to join with us in protecting democracy,“ he said. “We will not surrender our cities and schools to the governor.”

If the group can gather 161,305 valid petition signatures the emergency manager law will be suspended until people can vote on it in the next election.

Michigan Forward is working with the RAINBOW PUSH Coalition, the Traverse City group Reject Emergency Managers and the Highland Park NAACP on the referendum effort.

This Saturday the group will hold coordinating events in Detroit and Traverse City and future events are planned for Flint, Saginaw, Battle Creek/Kalamzaoo, Benton Harbor, Highland Park, Saginaw, and Grand Rapids.

Jessup is encouraging people who want to be involved to contact Michigan Forward through its website.

Signature gathering is expected to begin in June.

According to the group the plan is to gather 250,000 signatures to ensure that the more than enough valid signatures are submitted.

The deadline for submitting signatures is 90 days after the final adjournment of the legislative session on December 31, 2012. Jessup said that his group hopes to get the signatures verified and submitted well before this deadline.

Because each petition that circulates is required to have a full copy of the law that is to be repealed, copying expenses are expected to be significant. Jessup said that the group is “feverishly” fundraising in order to cover printing expenses.

Traverse City Public Schools Superintendent Stephen Cousins said he supports repeal of the law. “The Emergency Manger law goes too far in taking away local control from school districts,” he said.

In Traverse City, where the citizens group Repeal Emergency Managers has held teach-ins and rallies about the law, hundreds have already signed up to support the repeal campaign.

The campaign will kick off with a May 12 town hall meeting held in conjunction with the Pontiac City Council at the Council Chambers at 41450 Woodward beginning at 6pm.

Council Member Kermit Williams said he believes Pontiac residents will be very interested in efforts to repeal the law that has given Emergency Manager Michael Stampfler virtually total control over that city.

The effort to repeal the law is not about fighting any individual, Williams said, the message is that it is not appropriate to concentrate so much power in one person. Though the intentions behind the law may have been good, he said, it is putting poor communities at risk rather than helping them.

“We have a waste water treatment facility that is worth $300 million dollars, our real goal as a council is to protect that,“ Williams said. “The first Emergency Manager sold the Silver Dome for $500,000 though the city paid $55 million to have it built in 1975. The citizens paid for that out of tax dollars. We are scared that the same thing could happen to our sewage treatment facility.”

“At least in a bankruptcy court we would have a judge that would be impartial,” he said. The current Emergency Manager law does not protect against conflict of interest by Emergency Managers and contractors.

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