By Shea Howell
February 14, 2016
No matter how the Governor tries to spin the crisis in Flint, Emergency Managers are at the core of this disaster. They are the means to destroy local democracy. Emergency Managers (EMs) are a tool in turning public goods into private wealth. They are the means to seize public lands; give away valuable property; poison people in Flint in the name of saving money; devastate Highland Park; deny life giving water in Detroit to keep bond ratings; increase debt to Wall Street; gut pension plans; dismantle public education; and intimidate, silence, and ridicule those who call attention to these effects.
As surely as Snyder needs to go, so does his Emergency Management law. Snyder’s championing of this law brought him support from the corporate elite in Michigan and such right wing forces as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity. Now it is clear these same forces are willing to sacrifice Snyder, in order to keep their essential weapon.
Snyder came into office on the heels of intense challenges to emergency management legislation. Emergency Managers, appointed by Democratic Governor Granholm had been exercising authority in areas beyond finances. In the case of the Detroit Public Schools, they were interfering with curriculum, class size, and academic decisions. Courts ruled EMs were overstepping their authority.
Snyder vowed to fix that problem. One of his first acts, PA 4 in 2011, gave sweeping powers to Emergency Managers. With the new act, financial problems became the excuse for appointed individuals to set aside elected officials, terminate contracts, reduce pensions, and make all the decisions of local governments without regard to charters, resolutions, or local laws. They exercise completed, unchecked authority.
The public outcry against this law was immediate. And it was widespread. In 2012 nearly 3 million people in Michigan voted to repeal this law. Snyder, and his right wing, white, wealthy legislators defied this democratic outpouring. Saying they knew better, the legislature enacted another Emergency Manager law. This time, by including a small appropriations item, they made the law immune from public referendum.
Thus began the series of managers in Flint, every one of whom is implicated in the fateful decisions that lead to the poisoning of that town. As Flint state senator Jim Ananich said recently of Snyder and the right wing legislators, “They’ve chosen this policy, and this is the outcome. 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.”
EMs have failed the people in every community. In almost every case, emergency managers have acted in arrogant, isolated, and ignorant ways. In Benton Harbor Emergency Mangers sold off a popular public park to a private golf course. The Mayor of says it was an “horrific experiment” and the city is now left defending itself from lawsuits caused by actions of EMs. In Pontiac, services were reduced to almost zero, crippling the capacities of the city. The new mayor described the EM experience as a “disruption in democracy.”
In Detroit the Emergency Manager rushed through a bankruptcy process where elderly pensioners bore more than 70% of the so-called savings. Public lands were sold to developers without oversight. Lucrative contracts were awarded to cronies, and a water shut-off policy was initiated that brought world-wide condemnation, including findings by a UN delegation of gross human rights violations.
The idea that business practices can provide the principles for public responsibilities exploded in Flint. Now is the time to repeal this draconian law. Democratic, open debate is our only protection from unchecked greed.