Friday, March 18, 2016

Michigan emergency manager law targeted in congressional bill

DETROIT, MI -- Democrats in Congress on Thursday introduced a bill seeking to hinder emergency management policies that give far-reaching power over local governments to state appointees.
Michigan Former Emergency Manager, Darnell Earley
U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, introduced the bill with support from 30 other Democrats, including Michigan Reps. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Twp., and Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield.
The Emergency Financial Manager Reform Act would give the U.S. Attorney General authority to withhold law enforcement funding from states where an state-appointed emergency manager rejects collective bargaining agreements or other contractual agreements without local consent.
The law would also allow funding to the be withheld if an emergency manager "fails to protect against... discriminatory impact on voting rights, harm to public health or safety, conflicts of interest, mismanagement, and abuse of discretion," according to Conyers' office.
It would allow states to be stripped of up to 5 percent of funds allocated under the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program.
"We cannot undo the damage already done by the lead-poisoned water in Flint or fix the harm already caused by the hazardous conditions in Detroit's public schools," Conyers said in a statement.
"But we can stand together and make sure the unaccountable emergency managers responsible for these disasters – and the legal system that empowered them – are not permitted to inflict further harm on our citizens or our constitutional rights."
Michigan's powerful emergency manager law has placed state appointees in control of Detroit, Pontiac, Flint, Ecorse, Hamtramck, Allen Park Lincoln Park and Benton Harbor in recent years.
Each of those cities have since transitioned out of emergency management and remain under oversight of financial advisory boards.
Emergency managers remain in the school districts of Detroit, Highland Park and Muskegon Heights.
"Sadly one only has to look at my hometown of Flint, Michigan, to see the dangerous consequences of emergency financial managers," said Kildee in a statement.
"It was decisions by such unelected emergency financial managers that led to the current water crisis in Flint. They are entirely bottom-line focused, bringing a failed philosophy to government that puts saving money at any cost ahead of the livelihood of people. Under Michigan's current laws, democracy is suspended in cities like Flint in favor of absolute power in the hands of emergency financial managers."
Detroit schools have been under emergency management since 2009, and the district is now seeking $715 million from the state legislature to relieve it of burdensome debt built up over years of state control.
But state control over Detroit city government in 2013 and 2014 has faced less criticism, with the city being relieved of $7 billion in debt after a bankruptcy case that was led by an emergency manager.
A message seeking comment on the bill was left with Gov. Rick Snyder's office.

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