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Emergency Management
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Battle For Michigan Beginning At Benton Harbor

By James Donahue

The first salvo in Michigan’s battle against Republican Governor Rick Snyder’s planned corporate takeover of elected governments was heard last week in Benton Harbor, the first city in the state to receive the brunt of the GOP’s Emergency Financial Management legislation.

The bill, passed by the Republican dominated state House and Senate shortly after Snyder took the office vacated by Democrat Jennifer Granholm in January, expanded Snyder’s powers under the state’s existing emergency financial manager’s law. The modified law allows managers, appointed at the discretion of the governor, to abolish the jurisdiction of elected officials, suspend public employee contracts, pass laws and even abolish the existence of cities.

The legislation was part of Snyder’s campaign promise to solve the state’s crumbling financial issues in the wake of the loss of automobile manufacturing plants and all of the supporting industries surrounding them which brought deep recession and high unemployment. The loss of local tax revenues coupled with reductions in federal revenues has, indeed, created distressed financial conditions in most towns, counties and school districts throughout Michigan.

Snyder has apparently made Benton Harbor the site of his inaugural use of these his new powers which went into effect on May 1. Benton Harbor was once the home of Whirlpool Corporation with divisions of Maytag, KitchenAid, Jenn-Air, Amana and other international brand names of kitchen appliances and home heating and cooling systems. Whirlpool moved its last manufacturing plant out of Benton Harbor in March, thus creating the final blow to an already depressed area. The city was ripe for plucking.

Even before the May 1 date, Snyder appointed Joseph Harris, formerly the Chief Financial Officer and Auditor General for Detroit, to serve as Benton Harbor’s Emergency Manager. Harris immediately stripped the city’s elected mayor and commission members of their decision making powers and declared that he may terminate public employee contracts.

In an appearance on Fox News, Harris said the council was “effectively . . . fired by the state legislature.”

The City Commission, however, is not leaving without a fight. Members met in special session on May 2 and voted 6-2 to adopt a resolution declaring Harris’ appointment unconstitutional. The resolution also calls for his removal.

Commissioner Dennis Knowles said copies of the resolution will be mailed to the Civil Rights Division, U. S. Department of Justice, and President Barack Obama. It also is going to Governor Snyder and a host of state officials.

Thus it appears that the Snyder corporate takeover of financially strapped towns and schools will be challenged in the courts. Add this to a Snyder recall petition campaign launched in April and the battle for political power in Michigan may soon rival all that went on in neighboring Wisconsin earlier this year.