Thinking for ourselves
By Shea Howell
April 3, 2011
In the unfolding efforts of the State Governor to take over the city of Detroit the ruling from Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Joyce Draganchuk is welcome. The Judge ordered the state’s financial review team not to meet or vote on any issues until there is an April 11 hearing. The hearing will rule on a lawsuit filed by union leader Robert Davis who argues that the financial review team would violate state law by meeting beyond the 90 day period of its authority which expired March 26.
Such legal maneuvering is an important interruption to the efforts of the state to steamroll the council into a vote on an agreement that has remained unchanged in its core since it was first introduced to the city.
Governor Snyder’s spokeswoman, Geralyn Lasher quickly released a statement saying, “We are extremely disturbed by this latest ruling from the Ingham County Circuit Court.” Lasher went on to say, “We plan on appealing this ruling. The question is if we are able to have an appeal through in time before the April 5 deadline for the governor to take action as required by statute.”
This comment reveals the complete disregard for legal processes protecting the rights of citizens that has been characteristic of the State’s efforts to take over the city. The Emergency Financial Manger legislation was rushed through the newly elected, republican dominated state legislature. Its implementation in Benton Harbor, Pontiac and Flint was swift. Its use to take over schools in Highland Park and Detroit, ruthless. In the course of these efforts, the courts ruled that the State had violated the Open Meetings Act, throwing into question the entire EFM process.
Now we find that the state is not even complying with the parameters of legal authority granted by the EFM process.
Over the last few weeks the Council and the Mayor have managed to get a name change from Consent agreement to Financial Stability Agreement and established some minor concessions on financial liabilities for the city, but the essence of the agreement has remained unchanged. Under the revised agreement a financial advisory board would be appointed to oversee the city’s restructuring and a chief financial officer would be hired to carry out the board’s decisions. While this officer would report to the Mayor, the Mayor would not be able to direct or veto actions.
The central elements of the Consent Agreement or Financial Stabilization Plan simply provide a linguistic cover to force the Council and the Mayor to develop plans for the “further consolidation or elimination of City departments” according to the March 29th draft document (page 18, paragraph 2.6). If they fail to do this to the satisfaction of the Program Management Director (PMD), they can be found to be in “default.” This default then gives full legislative authority to the PMD to implement the initiatives that council and the mayor may have found objectionable (p.35, 6.4c).
Further, the Financial Advisory Board can insist that the Council and the Mayor develop plans that include the sale of city assets (p. 16, paragraph 2.4a).
Forcing Council and the Mayor to rubber stamp decisions made by the Financial Advisory Board and the Program Management Director is a pretense at maintaining democratic control with the citizens.
The Council and the Mayor should protect our democratic rights and declare bankruptcy. The April 1 edition of the New York Times reported on a recent conference in Philadelphia on distressed municipalities. Although many in the State want us to think that Detroit’s financial woes are because of our inability to control our own resources, the reality is that municipal governments all over the country are facing massive structural problems and insolvency.
The reality is that the City Council and the Mayor have legal options to circumvent the desire of the state to take over our city. They should not be afraid to use them.