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Benton Harbor Public Workers Forced Into Concessions

Cara Palmer |
April 19, 2011 | 11:06 a.m. PDT

Staff Columnist

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (Michigan Municipal League, Creative Commons)
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (Michigan Municipal League, Creative Commons)

Please see our updated report on this issue.

On March 16, 2011, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed into law a bill that would allow the state to appoint an “Emergency Financial Manager” (EFM) to essentially take over a city within the state when it is deemed that the city is in a state of “financial crisis.”

This state-appointed official has the power to void union contracts, remove elected officials, and can dissolve local authority completely, replacing it with the authority of the governor through the EFM.

The first city has fallen — Benton Harbor, Michigan. A few days ago, the powers of the local, elected government were dissolved, and elected officials were replaced by a state-appointed EFM, Joseph Harris. Public workers are being forced into concessions on their unionizing rights.

The locals no longer have a voice in their own government. Despite numerous protests held by locals indicating that they do not, in fact, wish for their rights to a democratically elected government to be impeded, the policy has not changed.

The takeover of Benton Harbor marks a dangerous consolidation of power under one man, the governor of Michigan, that threatens the basic freedom of democracy that is to elect one’s own local government. True, city officials can still 1) call meetings to order, 2) approve of the meeting minutes, and 3) adjourn a meeting. But that’s not all.

They cannot make decisions. They cannot ensure that the voices of the people they represent will be taken into account in policy-making decisions made by a state-appointed official. They can, however, be removed by the EFM.

This policy sets a dangerous precedent of one man being able to gain power and authority over what previously did not fall under his jurisdiction. The bill impedes the democratic rights of the local communities it affects, under the guise of necessity. The EFM is only allowed to take power in a city in financial crisis; however, not only does the governor determine the definition of “crisis,” but the seizure of local authority presumes that the financial problem can be solved better and more effectively by one who does not necessarily understand nor wish to understand the needs of the local constituents who elected their own officials for a reason.

Wisconsin is following in Michigan’s footsteps. How many more cities must fall before we do something to rescue the fast-escaping elements of democracy so prized by the people of this country?


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Anonymous (not verified) on April 24, 2011 1:09 PM


Anonymous (not verified) on April 26, 2011 10:25 AM


Anonymous (not verified) on April 20, 2011 3:22 PM

Interesting, Benton Harbor unable to manage their cities finances, go bankrupt, ask the state of Michigan for a bailout of taxpayer monies from the rest of the state; however, Benton Harbor still thinks they can manage my money (which is bailing them out) better than they have been doing. Hate to say this, but when you ask for welfare (including the cities), you have to follow the welfare rules.

Alexander Mark (not verified) on April 20, 2011 10:58 AM

guys, stop being ignorant. What he's doing is not against democracy, he was elected by the people, and therefore its democracy. What hes doing is against FEDERALISM, another principal set forth by our founding fathers and the constitution. Federalism means that the large central government shares the power with smaller state governments, which share the power with smaller local governments. Each type of government has its own powers and limits. Recently, the "federal" government (notice it's called federal, because of federalism) has been gaining power, at the expense of the states and local governments. This is just an example of the states consolidating power over local governments.

Is it undemocratic? no, he was ELECTED. Is it un federalist? YES. Would our founding fathers be rolling in their graves? most certainly.

ChristopherRoseP (not verified) on April 20, 2011 10:05 AM

I live in Ecuador, but i was born in Michigan. I will explain the problem shortly, smart people will always make more money than others, their sons will have better oportunities, soon or later rich will need technology, machines, not people, so we will always have a problem, i found a posible solution to many topics, but you must read a little and open your eyes before criticizing, search zeitgeistmovie you can thank me later ;)

Anonymous (not verified) on April 20, 2011 5:04 AM

Snyder and his cronies are after Jean Klock Park that fronts Lake Michigan so it can be turned into a golf development called Harbor Shores

mike (not verified) on April 20, 2011 4:16 AM

hahahahaha.. dumb americans. They send their kids to die in another country for so called 'democracy', and at the same time they give away their own. It's not "America, bringing you democracy", but it's "America, giving you their own democracy".

Anonymous (not verified) on April 20, 2011 1:30 AM

Its a sad day. Tbaggin inbred nazis have arrived. Banana Republic we'll become if they continue. Why o why did Michigan vote these redneck dimwits in office???

RavenRaving (not verified) on April 19, 2011 11:09 PM

100 years ago, Benton Harbor was gifted a wonderful, waterfront park. For the last several years, wealthy folks have wanted to take that public park and make it into a golf course and surround that course with very expensive housing. The locals didn't want their public waterfront park to be off-limits to them, and to enrich some wealthy developers. But guess what! THe Republicans have found a way to nullify the wishes of the locals. Just take away their elected government then pass any laws you want, including one allowing the sale of the public park to wealthy developers.
That's what this is all about.

Anonymous (not verified) on April 19, 2011 7:21 PM

Is this still America? What happened to "small government"????? Snyder was not elected king. He belongs in Russia or elsewhere. The people of a city in the U.S. are entitled to elect whoever they want to represent them. If they aren't happy with what their officials are doing, they are free to vote differently in the next election. It is not up to Snyder to decide all by himself. Who does this man think he is? RECALL time, people!!!!! RECALL!!!!