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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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