Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

An Assault on Local Democracy

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

An Assault on Local Democracy

Article excerpt

Michigan's "Emergency Manager" law and Detroit's future BILL WYLIE-KELLERMANN

A BIG CHANGE came down in Detroit this spring. Under sanction of Michigan's Emergency Manager Law (Public Act 4), on April 4 the city council authorized a "consent agree¬ment" ceding its authority over the budget to a shadow body of corporate leaders (emergency manager by com-mittee). For some, this bodes fast-track redevelopment and downsizing the city. For others, it means the end of collec-tive bargaining. For Detroiters, it's the blunt face of political disenfranchiscment.

Although Public Act 4 is being challenged for its constitu¬tionality in court and for its political legitimacy in a statewide repeal effort, the assault on local democracy remains in full tilt. Triggered by financial insolvency, governor-appointed emergency managers are empowered from above to remove top administrators and elected officials, void union contracts, cut and remake budgets, overturn local ordinances, and sell offassets. The "consent agreement" keeps the mayor and city council in place, but vastly disempowered.

But, apart from the vacant land so plenteous these days in the city, are there assets in Detroit to be desired and seized? The water works may quickly be sold or controlled by a sub¬urban arrangement. It is one of the few revenue-generating departments in the city, and it is among the key infrastruc¬tures of white urban sprawl. Then there is the riverfront itself, and the gem-of-an-island city park, Belle Isle, which casino-owners and developers have eyed lasciviously for years. There are newly built or rehabbed schools sought by for-profit charters. There is the privatization of services or entire city departments. And, of course, the deregulated clearing ot the way for projects yet to come.

Only Michigan cities with black majorities have had Public Act 4 imposed upon them. And none of them have seen financial turnaround, but only been leftfor worse. Already Benton Harbor, Highland Park, Pontiac, Flint, and Ecorse are under emergency managers. Add Detroit and more than half of the African-American population of the state is ruled by non-elected governments.

Other states are waiting to follow. Detroit is the big test to see if it will "work."

Public schools have been under an emergency man¬ager for three years, which has leftthem with a larger deficit while building or rehabbing schools that will be turned over to charters, both for-profit and nonprofit. …

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