29 Jan 2016

Gov. Rick Snyder has appointed more than a dozen "emergency managers" to replace democratically elected leaders in Michigan, most of them in majority black cities

the spring of 2013, Detroit was groaning under the weight of its troubles. It had accumulated billions in debt, was riddled with crime and had seen much of its affluent tax base disappear. A former mayor, Kwame M. Kilpatrick, was convicted of racketeering and fraud.
Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, swept in with a rescue plan: the appointment of an emergency manager, Kevyn D. Orr, who was charged with saving a city in fiscal despair. Many Detroiters were furious that Mr. Orr, then a high-profile bankruptcy lawyer from Chevy Chase, Md., had been given a role with extraordinary power, usurping control from local elected officials.
That anger has been revived in Michigan this week. Public outrage over the tainted water in Flint and the decrepit schools in Detroit has led many people to question whether the state has overreached in imposing too many emergency managers in largely black jurisdictions. 
In the cases of both Flint and the Detroit Public Schools, governance was under the jurisdiction of the governor, rather than local officials closer to the ground. 
In Flint, emergency managers not only oversaw the city — effectively seizing legal authority from the mayor and City Council — but also pressed to switch the source of the financially troubled city’s water supply to save money.
In Detroit, the schools are on the brink of insolvency after a series of emergency managers dating to 2009 repeatedly failed to grapple with its financial troubles, while also falling short on maintaining school buildings and addressing academic deficiencies. The current emergency manager for the schools, Darnell Earley, previously served in that role in Flint.
Under the administration of Mr. Snyder, who has held office since 2011, seven cities or school districts have been declared financial emergencies and placed under appointed management, state officials said. During the eight-year tenure of his predecessor, Jennifer M. Granholm, a Democrat, five cities or school districts were given emergency managers.
Three school districts — but no municipalities — remain under the control of emergency managers, a state official said.
Residents of majority-black cities have long cried foul over the practice. They argue that it disenfranchises voters and violates a deeply felt ethos of American democracy that allows for local representation. They also say emergency management gives influence to what is now a mostly white, Republican leadership in Lansing, the state capital. And they worry that in their decisions, emergency managers are more concerned with fiscal discipline than public health.
“Tell me what race dominates in those communities that get emergency managers?” said Hubert Yopp, the mayor of Highland Park, Mich., which is 93 percent black and in past years has had an emergency manager. “People have a very real reason to question what that’s about. It would be one thing if the emergency managers worked with the local governments to make things better. But it’s about having dictator power in the city. The locals have no say.”
Some form of state-over-locality oversight exists in about 20 states, with laws allowing for an appointed manager or board to advise distressed cities and school districts, said Eric Scorsone, the director of the Center for Local Government Finance and Policy at Michigan State University.
Central Falls, R.I., went into receivership for a year before it declared bankruptcy in 2011. New York City was steered away from fiscal collapse in the 1970s with the help of a financial control board.
In New Jersey, Camden was under state supervision for seven years until 2010, while the Newark Public Schools are still under state control two decades later. Philadelphia’s public schools were taken over by the governor in 2001.
This week, Gov. Bruce Rauner of Illinois, a Republican, said that he favored state oversight of the Chicago Public Schools, a measure that stands little chance of passing in a legislature controlled by Democrats.
But Michigan’s law is among the nation’s most far-reaching, said Mr. Scorsone, a critic.
“When you have one voice, you essentially don’t have checks and balances in a democracy,” Mr. Scorsone said. “The outcome in Flint has revealed some significant flaws in the process.” 
But Mr. Scorsone also conceded that there was a grudging consensus that Mr. Orr’s tenure in Detroit had been a success.
Detroit, which is more than 80 percent black, was assigned an emergency manager by Mr. Snyder in 2013. Not long after, the manager made Detroitthe largest American city ever to file for municipal bankruptcy. The city, however, emerged from bankruptcy in late 2014, and there are increasing signs of revival.
State officials have argued that appointment of an emergency manager is a means to rescue residents from failed local elective leadership.
Flint, a Democratic stronghold, was in a perilous financial state in 2011, when Mr. Snyder appointed an emergency manager. Nine years earlier, another Republican governor, John Engler, had taken the same action, appointing a manager who remained for two years.
Mr. Snyder did not respond to a request for comment. But in an appearance on MSNBC on Friday, in response to questions about whether “environmental racism” had played a part in the government’s response to Flint’s water problems, he said his intent had been to help cities, and people, in need.
“Several cities — Detroit, Flint, Pontiac, Saginaw — I’ve made a focused effort since before I started in office to say, we need to work hard to help people that have the greatest need,” he said. “So we’ve done a lot in terms of programs there to go help the structurally employed get work. In terms of public safety, we’ve done a lot.”
In 2011, when Mr. Snyder took office, he and the Legislature agreed to grant more sweeping powers to emergency managers, but opponents succeeded in repealing the law in a statewide referendum a year later. Mr. Snyder and lawmakers promptly passed another law, which allowed more options for cities and schools in fiscal distress — including emergency managers.
“They’ve chosen this policy, and this is the outcome,” said Jim Ananich, a Democratic state senator whose district includes Flint. “We have poisonous water flowing through people’s faucets. In the Detroit Public Schools, they have overcrowded classrooms and rats. Unfortunately, the emergency managers in these communities have been failing.”
Mr. Ananich said the law allowing emergency managers should be “reviewed and repealed quickly.”
“It’s been a failed project,” he said. “There’s absolutely no accountability with the government. They are trying to circumvent local democracy and say, ‘This one individual knows best.’”
Mayor Deirdre Waterman of Pontiac, Mich., whose city was led by an emergency manager until shortly before her election in 2013, called the method an “artificial disruption of democracy” that should be used only sparingly.
Pontiac’s first emergency manager was appointed by Ms. Granholm. The city was released from an emergency manager under the Snyder administration, but even now it remains in a transition phase without full local control. For the law to have any kind of credence, Ms. Waterman said, “it should be a shorter mission of directed engagement that is not prolonged.”

Read More:http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/23/us/anger-in-michigan-over-appointing-emergency-managers.html

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