Aside from right-to-work, perhaps the most heated debate in Michigan last year was over the controversial emergency manager legislation.
Essentially, as opponents of the legislation fervently argue, an emergency manager siphons power from locally elected leaders and an appointed one starts calling the shots on how and where money is spent (and not spent) within an affected city.
Detroit, despite threats, has been able to doge an the infamous EFM (so far anyway).
But in many ways the city has, by default, come under a different type of financial management.
The city, it its compromised financial state, has been increasingly reliant on outside donors, big-ticket foundation gifts, to help keep city projects afloat. It’s been a much less heated debate, but it still exists in the undercurrent of city politics and grassroots movements.
A prime example of this came to a head in 2011, when the Kresge Foundation cut funding to Detroit Works project after a disagreement with the Bing administration over the role of outside decision-makers planning the fate of the city.
As Rustwire.com pointed out at the time:
Investors like Rapson weren’t elected by the people of Detroit. He came to Detroit a few years ago from the McKinght Foundation in Minneapolis. He lives in some fancy suburb outside Troy. But as the Wall Street Journal points out, private individuals like Mr. Rapson are wielding a lot of power in Detroit. They are threatening to dictate the terms of a project that will nonetheless be funded 4-1 by public money.
Since 2011 Bing and Rapson have mended fances and are not on the the same page. News came yesterday taht Kresge plans to donate $150 million tot he Detroit Works projects, that is "every single dollar" that Kresge spends in Detroit over the next 5 years Rapson says.
Rapson is of the opinion that Detroit needs outside voices and ideas to get it on a new path. And he's partialy right, making the issue more complex than the stale outsider v. Detroit standoff.
Mr. Rapson counters that more outside voices are needed in Detroit to help local leaders who, he suggests, aren’t up to the challenge of remapping the city. “The idea that the folks who have been trained a certain way for the last 20 years and who have never had the opportunity to apply that training in another community could figure all that out de novo seems crazy,” he said in an interview.
But city leaders say mapping out the city’s future—including deciding which neighborhoods will survive Mr. Bing’s consolidation effort and which ones won’t—is a task for local leaders and voters. “People want to know that their interests are being represented,” says Marja Winters, the city’s deputy planning chief and co-leader of Detroit Works. “Someone who doesn’t live here can’t accurately represent their interests.”
So, in a way, the city is under a financial direction from people who have not been elected. But we have to ask ourselves: is that such a bad thing?
A week before the Nov. 6 election Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) Roy Roberts made a big statement: He warned that if Proposal 1 (the controversial legislation that gave him broad power over of the beleaguered school district) fell through, he may leave is post as EFM.
What would ultimately influence Roberts’ decision to stay or go? The Detroit Board of Education.
At the time of the announcement, it was unclear if the warning was just a pre-election threat to get people to vote "Yes on 1" or if jumping ship was something Roberts really planned to do in a time when the district has seen much restructuring under his leadership, and in at a crossroads.
Roberts said he would make a decision as to whether he would stick with DPS based on how the Board of Education received him in a post-election meeting on how to proceed without Public Act 4.
Proposal 1 asked voters if the State should uphold Public Act 4---a beefed up version of a Emergency Manager legislation enacted in 1990---which enabled the Governor to appoint financial managers with sweeping powers to municipalities and school districts undergoing financial crisis. The measure was defeated and now the old emergency manager law, Public Act 72 of 1990 holds, limiting the power of EFMs like Roberts strictly to finances. If the board members were willing to work with him and not against him as Roberts claims they have done in the past, Roberts said he would stay.
Ultimately, Roberts has put the future of his post in the hands of School Board members, the same Board whose president repeatedly called for Roberts and his predecessor, Robert Bobb, to step down.
It's an interesting tactic. If Roberts resigns, he's has positioned it so that it is the School Board's fault for not being willing to set aside politics and put the children first.
Roberts wrote in a letter to Gov. Rick Snyder one week before the election stating:
"In the absence of legislation empowering a single entity with the authority to operate the district, continued progress will be virtually impossible. Therefore, while my commitment to the children of Detroit remains as strong as it was when I began this journey, without the tools provided by (the law), I do not believe that my presence here can have any further impact."
One day after the Nov. 6 election defeated Proposal 1, Roberts wrote in a letter to DPS employees:
“I also reached out to the School Board to schedule a meeting to discuss how we can move forward in the best interest of educating Detroit's children. I am confident that as long as we can keep the focus on the children we can work together to make DPS a leader in public education once again.”
Roberts, it seems, isn’t giving up just yet. A day after the defeat of Proposal 1, Roberts sent a letter to DPS employees with an upbeat message about the passage of a school millage renewal.
Pending a meeting with the school board on how to move forward in a post-PA4 environment, Roberts said he was willing to stay at DPS for at least another 30 days. If he resigns, he has implied it will be the School Board’s fault for making his job too difficult.
Roberts has gained a reputation of a no-nonsense leader who is frank about the district's problems. One of Roberts’ biggest accomplishments during his two-year tenure has been to shrink the district’s deficit by from $327 million to $75 million, mostly in bond sales.
At events around the city Roberts made it clear that he didn’t like the prospect of having to work with the school board.
“You can’t have two masters in a home,” he said of having to battle with the School Board over every decision he makes that ‘s not strictly financial.
How school board members will receive Roberts in the upcoming meeting has yet to be seen, although the relationship between the two has been rocky. Will school board members and Roberts come to an agreement in the best interest of Children’s education?
They should. If Roberts and the school board truly have the children’s best interest at heart, they will find a way to put their differences aside and come to a compromise. And it’s not just up to the school board. Roberts will have to concede some of his power to the Board and do the work that Robert Bobb did before public act 4 was enacted. It's doable, it just takes more negotiating.
The question shouldn’t be whether or not the Board of Education will allow Roberts to do his work. The compromise has to come from both ends.
The question should be how they both will work together and best use all of their talents. At this point it really is a test, on both the School Board's and Robert’s part on who is willing to put pride and power aside in the name of one of the nation’s most important rights: public of education.
It’s Election Day and for many who have been tuned in to the political races and proposal controversy today offers a welcomed chance end the campaign storm by give the final word—or vote—to end the dizzying campaign madness.
While most candidate races will be put to rest before midnight (barring another epic indecision on votes cast), other issues that have been awaiting a vote won’t quietly dart off into the sunset once voters say “yes” or “no”. In fact, the vote will only trigger an unprecedented downpour of litigation and power scraping.
Take the ballot proposals for example. In Detroit, there are 18 of them on the two-page ballot. While some of them are not controversial (millage renewals, etc.), many of them are.
The statewide proposals alone will lather up enough lawsuits and frenzy after the vote to make us dizzy all over again.
Proposal 1, the proposal asking voters whether we should keep the State’s emergency manager law, for instance, will bring enough litigation from either side, whether voters say yes or no. If voters approve the emergency manager law, political action groups that gad fought it before will keep on fighting it, calling it undemocratic and trying to find ways to block it or get it tossed in court.
If voters strike down Prop 1, the chaos within cities and school systems will only get worse. People can expect lawsuits of all sorts over wage cuts, political power, officials, lawsuits between the city and the state, you name it.
If we look at the path as to how each of these issues even got to the ballot we will see a trail of tangled litigation. And it won’t end at the polls.
It’s not just litigation that will continue after the vote on proposals, many of the proposals, especially proposal three that would pose a constitutional mandate to have businesses get 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025, will put the State legislature to work, combing out the details of the proposals and finding the verbiage and structure to fit into the constitution.
The battle over Proposal 6, better known as the bridge proposal, may not stop at the vote, either.
The Detroit Free Press’ John Ghallager writes:
“Canada would be paying the estimated $2.1-billion cost of the new crossing, it's unclear whether the constitutional amendment contained in Proposal 6 against spending state funds without a statewide vote would affect building it.”
But just because certain issues may continue to be debated and litigated after the vote does not mean our votes don’t count. In fact, voters are carrying the weight of the decision; it’s the details that will get hashed out after in the legislature and perhaps through litigation.
So if you haven’t already done so, get to the polls and decide for yourself.
Check out this Voter Guide if you need a last minute refresher on the issues and the candidates.
Ballot Chameleon: Events Change, Constitutions Don’t
When we go to the polls this fall and we get to the ballot proposal section, we can’t make our decisions solely based on current events.
These constitutional amendments and city charter shifts could hold for decades, through all sorts of conflicts.
In Detroit, there are four ballot proposals for people to decide on in addition to six statewide proposals. These city proposals are mostly clarifications and amendments to the city’s governing document, the charter.
An example of current events affecting city laws came during the charter revision process that started in 2010. People were caught up on the Kilpatrick scandal, they wished, at that time, that the law department had more power over the scandalized mayor.
The decision to give city attorney’s independent power was supposed to provide some sort of insurance to make sure this never happened again.
But that backfired when a new situation arose. The State and the City entered into a consent, or turnaround, agreement and when the city’s top lawyer, using her new found power, tried to stop it, there was nothing the Mayor or the Council could do about it.
Now the question on the ballot is whether the charter says that city lawyers have this power or not. It’s a clarifying question that has been seen through current-event shades.
That goes to show us that the amendments proposed this November can’t be changed on an issue by issue basis. They have to stick through all sorts of police weather and economic shifts. They have to be versatile.
Just because it’s unpopular for a city attorney to have power right now after the Crystal Crittendon consent fiasco, the scene may change next year.
So when we vote on these long-term decisions this on Election Day, we have to keep in mind: things won’t always be like this. These people won’t always be in power. Times change. Are these laws versatile?
The rift between the Detroit mayor’s office and the city council over closing or privatizing city departments was clear at Tuesday’s open meeting. When residents lectured the council for putting the Human Services Department and the Public Health Department on the chopping block, Council member JoAnn Watson made sure to set the record straight that it was the mayor’s office, not the council, that was pushing the cuts. “That was the executive branch,” she told a resident who hotly voiced her concerns about department cuts. “You’re preaching to the wrong group, honey.”
While it wasn’t on the council’s agenda to vote on department decertification this Tuesday, when it does come up for a vote, council will likely vote it down.
But that doesn’t mean city departments are safe from trims. The financial advisory board, appointed under the consent agreement that was approved by the City Council and Mayor Dave Bing, would ultimately take financial decisions away from the council.
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