MICHIGAN’S EMERGENCY MANAGERS

We’re taking a week off from the coming primaries. There is something in the air in Michigan, about which we wrote three years ago, which is too disturbing…for the state, for its citizens, for the health of democracy there.

After the election of 2012, Republicans around the country, defeated mind you, went to great lengths to shore up their ramparts. In short, the plan was this: if we can’t win at the ballot box, we have to win in the legislature in order to keep our party strong and viable.

The Michigan legislature jumped right in. And Governor Rick Snyder came up with a plan which at the time and still today we found unconscionable. If a town or locality in the state was Democratic, or leaning in that direction, Snyder decided to appoint what he called “emergency managers.” Michigan was not in good fiscal odor at the time. Snyder could rescue the state’s Republican party at the same time he punished his political opponents.

His legislature was quick to give him this extraordinary power. And what the power amounted to was the superimposition, above any locally elected school board, treasurer, planning commission, utility company to over-rule and discard the decisions taken by the citizens of that spot. If, for example, a town needed a water-treatment plant and put an initiative on their local ballot which if passed, would fund the project, the “emergency manager” could simply declare the idea unworkable, fiscally unwise, a threat to public order.

In time, these emergency managers – for which, let us point out, there was some good reason for appointment, at least in terms of a city’s fiscal responsibilities and debts – came to be regarded as local kings. Whatever they wanted to do, or do away with, they did. There was no recourse. No small town could fight the “emergency manager” decisions as he reported only to the governor.

With a sweep of their pens, Snyder’s “emergency managers” could simply erase anything the people had favored legally at the ballot box. Whole townships, entire educational systems, complete community-directed programs eased to be democratic with a small d.

Which is to say, you went out in November to vote for your city councilman, or your local schoolboard members, and later, on whatever pretext can be found, the governor disagrees with your choice and declares a fiscal crisis, appointing an Emergency Manager to take over and do what the governor wanted in the first place.

And all of this is done in the name of fiscal responsibility, whether or not such is the case.

Snyder in effect created a buffer in his countryside to keep matters in the state in Republican hands. Entire school boards were dismissed, civic projects erased from schedules, fairness in housing disappeared. If a town elected a Democratic mayor, the “emergency manager” had the power to dismiss him and replace him with someone more suitable to the governor. People in hard-hit localities had no recourse. The “emergency manager” became the voice of the State, of the Governor himself who cleverly separated himself from any responsibility from an “emergency manager’s” decision. The people were powerless to fight.

At the time, at the end of 2012, Snyder was riding roughshod – backed by his state house – over any and all opposition. This not only seemed unconstitutional to us, it seemed mean-spirited and delusional. We said so then.

Quick cut. Michigan is still trying to pull up its socks, and is still having a fiscal shortfall of gigantic proportions.

Which brings us to Flint, Michigan, where about 100,000 people live under the boot of the Governor.

His “emergency manager” for Flint made an executive decision based on financial need, that to continue doing business with the Detroit waterworks which brings clean water to Flint was too expensive. Flint has its own river. That could be used instead.

No one tested the water in Flint’s river to see whether it was potable and safe. It was simply a matter of money.
The safety of water drinkers of all ages in Flint was not a concern.

Beginning in February of last year, we believe, the state’s EPA began to find the water in the local water contained unconscionable levels of lead. Throughout the following months, other reports confirmed this. The state EPA, under the governor’s purview, kept silent. Flint citizens were “reassured.” The water was safe to drink although by opening a tap, the very color of the liquid shrieked “poison.”

Another quick cut. Enterprising newsmen from Flint got wind of the conditions there and began to write warning articles. Bottled water began to sell, regardless of expense or the ability of Flint’s citizens to buy it.

In time, now to be precise, after poisoning its local population for nearly a year, there is outcry and fear.

What does lead do to small children? What does lead in one’s drinking, washing, and cooking water do to entire families? How could a governor consign his citizens to illness, symptoms of disease, perhaps even death?

Easy. It’s not Snyder’s fault. It’s the error of his “emergency manager.”

At this date, January 8, 2016, there is nearly no water that is safe and available in Flint. 100,000 people there live with fear and powerlessness. Rick Snyder may have saved Flint from the Democrats, but he’s poisoned many.

This entire situation is the result of an out-of-control set of Republicans, from the governor on down.

What happens next?

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