Friday, March 1, 2013

Detroit: Governor Snyder says Emergency Manager is needed

In a decision that should surprise absolutely no one Michigan Republican governor Rick Snyder today announced that the City of Detroit would have to have an emergency manager. It doesn't give me any pleasure to see this announcement but it's one of those things that's probably long overdue. Detroit simply can't continue to go on as it is. One thing that really bothers me about all this is that now that a white Republican is calling attention to the dysfunction that is Detroit, Detroiters near and far are coming out of the woodwork to say that an emergency manager is not needed and this is plantation politics and so on. Well maybe. I don't automatically believe that Snyder or anyone he appoints will necessarily have the best interest of the citizens of Detroit at heart. There was a similar state takeover of the Detroit School Board that actually made things worse financially.


However there does come a time when you have to put everything else aside and just look at simple math. As much as I might like to purchase The Biltmore, or the Wurzburg Residenz I have neither the income nor capital to arrange such purchases or handle the expenses of such estates. So I have to make do with something a little less extravagant. Similarly Detroit, in which virtually half of property owners refuse to pay their lawful taxes , just can't afford to spend the money or do the things it used to do. Snyder did not cause this. I don't politically agree with Snyder. I don't particularly like Snyder. I did not vote for Snyder. But we must be real. It may make some people feel good to call Snyder everything but a child of God over the next few weeks. But that won't change the math. As the more expansive emergency manager law was recently repealed by Michigan voters, the new emergency manager would not quite have the almost dictatorial powers which would have been available under the old law.

But he or she would still be the person ultimately responsible for financially saving the city of Detroit or, more likely shepherding it through bankruptcy. And I do think that bankruptcy remains the most probable and reasonable outcome. An emergency manager will be able to do some things that mayor and council can't do.

Q: If an EFM is appointed, will Detroit elections for mayor and City Council still go forward?
A: Yes. Detroiters will have a primary election in August and a general in November. What powers those elected officials will have will be up to the EFM.
Q: Who pays the salary of an emergency financial manager?
A: Under state law, the local government pays the EFM. The salary is set by the Emergency Financial Assistance Loan Board, which also approves any necessary expenses that the EFM incurs. But under Public Act 436, which goes into effect March 28, the state, rather than the financially distressed local government, will pay the emergency manager's salary and other costs.
Q: Does an EFM have the authority to change existing labor contracts without negotiation?
A: No. While EFMs are authorized to renegotiate labor contracts, they are not authorized to do away with such contracts or obligations under Public Act 72. Under Public Act 436, an emergency manager may impose new labor terms if negotiations with unions fail and the state approves doing so.
Q: Does an EFM have the authority to eliminate a department or transfer functions of one department to another, or eliminate positions?
A: Yes. Notwithstanding the provisions of any charter to the contrary, an emergency financial manager may consolidate departments of a unit of local government, or transfer functions from one department to another department, and may appoint, supervise, and, at his or her discretion, remove heads of departments other than elected officials, the clerk of the unit of local government, or any ombudsman position in the unit of local government.
But the emergency manager can't MAKE people pay their taxes. Under Michigan law he can't stop pension payments. And he can't tell creditors that he's not going to pay them. Given the virulence of racism in SE Michigan and the hypersensitivity of Detroiters at being dictated to by whites suburbanites/non-Detroiters and the rage of whites suburbanites/non-Detroiters at being forced to pony up money for Detroit (there are truths to both perceptions although each is limited) I still say the smartest move politically would have been for Governor Snyder to stay out of it entirely. If I were him I would have said "I believe that Detroiters can solve their own problems" and shrugged off all questions and most importantly, any requests for state financial assistance. It's unfortunately human nature but by putting an emergency manager in charge that emergency manager will become the focus of Detroiter vitriol instead of bad decisions and bad management by past and current Detroit leaders. Detroit's problems were not all caused by Detroiters. But I strongly believe that letting people stand on their own two feet and make their own decisions is preferable in most cases than trying to do for them. Of course, in dire emergencies this "each man is the captain of his own ship" attitude doesn't work. And Detroit is in such an emergency. We'll see how it goes. I worry that no one really cares if Detroit survives. One group of people will just be angered by what they see as another instance of white paternalism and fight everything on that basis. Another group will be made ecstatic by what they see as another instance of black malfeasance that confirms their racist baseline ideas. And like monkeys in the zoo they will be throwing their s*** at each other. So it goes.

How do you see it? Is this the death of democracy? What would you do as governor?

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