Emergency Manager Law Finally Goes on Ballot

Good news from my home state. After the Michigan Supreme Court overturned their earlier decision, the Michigan Board of Canvassers has voted to put a referendum on the ballot in November to repeal the state’s emergency manager law, which is profoundly undemocratic. That also means the law is suspended until that vote takes place. Public opinion polls show strong opposition to the law, so it looks good that it will be repealed.

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  • Jordan Genso

    In my county (Livingston), there are several townships that are going to default on bond payments in the next year or two if they don’t raise taxes or get help. The townships took out bonds to build water/sewer infrastructure for subdivisions (Special Assessment Districts, or SADs), but when the housing crash meant that the houses in the subs never got built, no homeowners are there to pay the assessments.

    So because of that, I assumed that my local governmental units were in danger of being taken over by an emergency manager. How naive of me, as I forgot to take into consideration the demographics of the area (a white conservative county). So instead of an emergency manager, how are Livingston’s townships going to deal with their coming defaults? The state is going to bail them out by giving them a loan.

    One of the two state reps in the county, Cindy Denby, was previously the township supervisor of one of the townships (Handy) that is in the worst financial shape due to these toxic SADs. She is pushing really hard in Lansing to cover up her own mistakes. And the local media is failing to draw the connection.


    It’s remarkable though, if a city/township/school district is in trouble due to cuts in revenue sharing from the state, the state is willing to send in an Emergency Manager with dictatorial powers. But if the city/township is in trouble due to trying to build new subdivisions, the state is making it easier for those townships to get a loan to hold them over. I wonder if it’s just a coincidence that the latter is more common in suburban (Republican) areas and the former is more common in urban (Democratic) areas.

  • blf

    What is an Emergency Manager (Law)? A summary I found, which seems to be about the Michigan law, says:

    The Emergency Manager law allows the governor to declare and appoint an emergency manager to take control. Emergency managers are [unelected] bureaucrats are unaccountable to local taxpayers and have unchecked, unprecedented power. Under this law, they can:

    1. seize and sell assets owned by the city, such as buildings or parks, without the approval of voters or local elected officials

    2. add to local debt, by putting property tax hikes on the ballot with confusing wording that hides the real cost of the tax hike

    3. outsource to private and out of state companies

    4. lay off thousands of public employees including teachers, police and firefighters

    5. change or terminate the contract of city or school district employees

    6. suspend contracts and collective bargaining agreements

    7. eliminate collective bargaining rights for up to 5 years

    8. fire elected officials, and

    9. dissolve or merge whole cities, counties and school districts

    The unelected bureaucrats would be empowered to write the local government’s budget and all its contracts for two years AFTER they are gone. No input from local residents, no collective bargaining.

    However, that’s also clearly a partisan site (dedicated(?) to repealing the law?), so I’m unsure how accurate the summary is… And in my (admittedly brief) reading I didn’t see what the criteria (definition) is for “a local government or school district [to be in] financial distress”.

    Apologies for not knowing what this is all about. And, whilst I assume Ed’s written about it before, I’m unsure where (Sb?) or what he’s said.

  • Michael Heath


    I’m not sure your comparison is accurate. That’s because I’ve anecdotally noticed those who get emergency managers are local government units which have been poorly managed for decades and appear to have no feasible tax base – even if they raised taxes; and therefore have been wards of the state for a long time now. I haven’t noticed pressure to get an EM on localities who are suffering strictly due to recent economic calamities and appear capable of recovery.

  • baal

    @blf – Rachel Maddow has done a ton of reporting on the Emergency Manager laws and their attendant problems. Chiefly, EMs have ordered sales of land in which they have a stake (i.e. selling public land to themselves at cheep rates) and that the folks who are no longer under democracy are disproportionately minority.

    Whatever the good points of the EM laws, either of those two issues (corruption, minority disenfranchisement) are enough to call the laws a blight and demand their repeal.

  • Jordan Genso

    Michael Heath,

    That’s a valid critique. I’m not well-informed on the duration of the problems the communities under emergency managers have faced, but I agree some of those problems were probably around prior to the economic downturn. I was incorrect in implying that their troubles were due to cuts in revenue sharing alone, ignoring that there are other important factors as well.

    I still don’t understand why the state couldn’t allow the communities under Emergency Managers to file bankruptcy the same way the cities in California are doing. The bankruptcy process is established and could not be abused as easily for political purposes as the Emergency Manager could. I’m sure politics plays a big factor in bankruptcies and how they are handled, but it’s not as significant as a Republican legislature and governor appointing EMs to Democratic communities and taking away their ability to vote for local leadership.

    The establishment of the bankruptcy process is bi-partisan, whereas the new powers of the EMs are the creation of only one party. It is wrong for one party to give dictatorial powers to an individual, at the same time deciding which units that EM is going to take over, all while the other party is powerless to stop it.

  • Michael Heath

    Rachel Maddow has demagogued this issue to death. Her arguments are purposefully narrow when it comes to her framing and therefore not to be trusted. It’s frustrating to watch because I think she’s a tremendous talent with a great future where such fallacious arguments should be beneath her. Specifically she’s built strawmen on the motivations and rationale for using EMs rather than countering these actions with a meritorious counter which takes into account the decades-long gross mismanagement by local officials which state taxpayers have had to subsidize now for many years.

    She did the exact same thing when it came to MI 1st District then-Rep. Bart Stupak’s obstructionism on Obamacare. Ms. Maddow asserted nefarious motivations on then-Rep. Stupak’s part which were simply not true; while also ignoring his plainly communicated and also nefarious motivation. Those being his political ambitions – not; with his fealty to doing what the Vatican wanted – which was true and even scarier than her falsely claiming his motivation was to run for governor (which he’d previously announced he wouldn’t be doing).

  • Michael Heath

    Jordan Genso writes:

    I still don’t understand why the state couldn’t allow the communities under Emergency Managers to file bankruptcy the same way the cities in California are doing. The bankruptcy process is established and could not be abused as easily for political purposes as the Emergency Manager could.

    Of all the issues I’m currently aware we’re voting on in my voting jurisdiction, the EM law is the only one where I don’t know how I’m going to vote. I also think the EM vote is one of the most important votes I’ve taken in my lifetime so I hope to look back years from now and consider my vote correct. That will require my doing some research and hearing cogent arguments from both sides.

    The counter you raise is very compelling, so I’m going to research that aspect as part of my larger research in deciding how to vote on this issue. The opposition arguments I’ve heard to date on the EM law could lead to the assumption the opposition doesn’t have a meritorious argument; e.g., I’ve been disappointed in Ed’s opposition without first presenting an argument on why. However I readily concede Ed has no obligation to do the hard work of informing his readers on every single topic which has him opining. That I own that when it comes to my vote.