Tuesday, 13 November 2012 07:59
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.
Thursday, 08 November 2012 09:07
Proposal 1 may have been smashed but in Detroit, financial reforms sparked by the emergency manager legislation will be carried out as planned.
Just because voters struck down Proposal 1 doesn’t mean Detroit’s financial crisis was wiped out along with it. In fact, some argue that it’s quite the opposite; that without the State’s legislation to mandate emergency managers in cash-poor cities, these cities have no choice but to apply for bankruptcy, thus obliterating bond ratings and shaking the statewide economy.
With the defeat of Proposal 1 comes a new shower of questions.
Will state legislature draft up a new, similar, emergency manager law? Will any cities that already have emergency managers or advisory boards fight to keep them in place? Will elected officials, in order to avoid further financial chaos, carry on the work and advice that these state-appointed officials have given so far?
In Detroit, Mayor Dave Bing said he plans to carry out the suggested reforms that State and city appointed financial advisors laid out during the brief tenure of PA4. Bing wrote in a statement on Wednesday that the City's Consent Agreement with the State is still in place.
“I am determined to continue with vital reforms now underway in the City of Detroit, despite the defeat of Proposal 1 by Michigan voters in Tuesday’s election ... In the face of the City’s enormous fiscal deficit, I chose to negotiate a Financial Stability Agreement with the State of Michigan, rather than entertain the appointment of an Emergency Manager. The Financial Stability Agreement, approved by Detroit City Council last April, is still in place.”
That answers a couple of the immediate questions. Detroit is one of the municipalities whose leaders are electing to keep the financial advisors appointed through Public Act 4 and the reforms they have suggested.
There are 25 major reforms on the table as part of the consent agreement that Bing met with City Council to discuss last month. At the meeting, Bing got a positive response from the council.
“We are willing participants in the reforms," City Council President Charles Pugh said at the Oct. 22 meeting.
"You have our support," Councilman Andre Spivey told Bing regarding the reforms. "I don't see the Council being an impediment."
At the time, Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins wanted to know if these reforms could be made Prop. 1 fell through on Nov. 6.
Bing said it didn't.
The Mayor has said that the reforms in question, which involve some compensation shifts for city employees, some reshaping of city departments and the creation of a lighting authority, are necessary for the City to be eligible for up to $80 million in bond sales from the State. Bing said Detroit could receive $10 million by Nov. 15, and another $20 million by Dec. 14 with more installments made as the City meets the reform requirements to boost bond ratings and sales.
Money is the motive for these 25 suggested reforms. Without strengthening bonding capacity Bing has warned over and over that the city will not be able to pay its employees at all, a much more grim outlook than pay cuts or a switch from salary to contract work.
Even opponents of the emergency manager law have to concede: Detroit is in dire financial straights. Just because the State can’t mandate new financial leadership is no excuse for elected officials to sit in denial while the city spins further into financial insolvency. Let’s hope our city leaders do the right thing and make the tough decisions needed.
Is it safe to assume that if we have the right leadership, we won't need Emergency Manager legislation like Public Act 4?
Tuesday, 06 November 2012 07:15
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.
Thursday, 25 October 2012 09:30
It’s one of the most important decisions on the ballot come Election Day, yet the race for Michigan Supreme Court justices has thus far been mostly ignored.
In Michigan, between the buzz surrounding the six controversial statewide ballot proposals and the presidential race, somewhere lost in the shuffle is the race for a three judicial seats in the State’s highest court.
State Supreme Court justices are powerful elected officials. They decide on the issues that shape the state’s constitution as well as settling major controversies moved up from lower courts.
The Michigan Supreme Court has sweeping managerial power over all state courts in Michigan. Some key political issues Michigan Supreme Court justices have decided in recent years are gay marriage, stem cell research and affirmative action.
This year, the Supreme Court played a major role in the allowance of statewide ballot initiatives. This summer the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that voters should decide whether Public Act 4, the law that enabled the governor to appoint financial managers to replace locally elected officials in cash strapped cities like Detroit, should be struck down or upheld. Due to the Supreme Court’s decision, this issue will appear as Proposal 1 on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Major historic decisions rest in the hands of three people who are up for election to rule on the State’s Supreme Court this year. Two positions are for eight-year terms, and one is a two-year partial term.
Despite the importance of justices seated in the Supreme Court, historically there has been a pattern of people skipping the nonpartisan section of the ballot where the options for Michigan Supreme Court justices (along with local court justices) appear.
“Roughly 28 percent of 3.26 million voters in the 2010 general election skipped the nonpartisan portion of the ballot — which lists Supreme Court justices even though they're nominated by the Republican and Democratic parties — as did about 26 percent of 5.04 million who voted in the 2008 presidential election, according to figures from the Secretary of State's office. Yet millions are being spent to influence voters this year.”
With a flood of radio and TV adds made to persuade voters, most voters still don’t know who the candidates are let alone their political alignment.
Although the Supreme Court candidate’s names appear on the nonpartisan section (the back side of the first page of the ballot), the positions are highly politicized. Political parties nominate candidates who bring liberal or conservative views to the bench. These views are often reflected in crucial decision-making affecting every person living in or visiting Michigan.
As with any race, “nonpartisan” or no, the Michigan Supreme Court seating is a political power play between major political parties.
"The Democrats are pretty much cut out of state government right now, and this would give them a piece of the action," Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics newsletter told the Detroit News.
"If there's litigation on these ballot proposals, Democrats would dearly love to have a democratically controlled Supreme Court," he said.
But don't let the partisan tension distract from the fact that a straight ticket vote IS NOT a vote for Supreme Court Justice. If you vote a straight ticket you still have to flip the first page of the ballot to the nonpartisan section to make your Supreme Court picks.
In terms of diversity, all of the Democratic Party nominees and one Republican pick for Supreme Court are women and only one canddiate for Supreme Court, Shelia Johnson, is a racial minority.
To read up on the candidates for supreme court, click HERE. Or visit SmartVote.org to learn about some of their past decisions. Below is a FULL LIST list of candidates for Michigan Supreme Court linked to their SmartVote.org profiles:
Full term candidates (eight-year term)--You can vote for two of the following people:
Doug Dern (Natural Law Party nominee)
Connie Marie Kelly (Democratic Party nominee)
Stephen Markman (Republican Party nominee)
Bridget Mary McCormack (Democratic Party nominee)
Kerry L. Morgan (Libertarian party nominee)
Colleen O’Brien (Republican party nominee)
Bob Roddis (Libertarian Pary nominee)
Partial Term candidates (two year term)-- You can vote for only one of the following people:
Mindy Berry (U.S. Taxpayer Party nominee)
Shelia Johnson (Democratic Party nominee)
Brian Zahra (Republican Party nominee)
Wednesday, 17 October 2012 23:44
It’s true. Michigan’s ballot this year is more crammed than I-75 North at 4:30pm on a weekday. Especially in Detroit were voters will face 18 proposals from the State, the County, the City, the public school district (DPS) and the community college (WCCC).
Voters have a big slab of homework to complete before voting.
As you read this, have you decided on your picks for Michigan Supreme Court justices? Or how you will vote on the Wayne County budget and appropriation ordinance? Luckily there are some pretty good voter guides out there.
Some people, the dream voter, keep an ear to the ground and slowly absorb information to make an educated vote. The rest of us have a date with Google a can of Red Bull on the evening of Monday, Nov. 5.
While I’m doing my best to avoid sucking down caffeine last minute in the name of democracy, no amount of ginseng, taurine or caffeine will be able to help me decide on one of this year’s biggest decisions for Michiganders (besides choosing the next President). That decision is on Proposal 1, more commonly known as the emergency manager (EM) law, or Public Act 4. When it comes to Proposal 1, I am the darling target of political ads: the elusive undecided voter.
The Proposal1, the EM law, would mandate a state-appointed official or advisory board to have full control of the finances and academics of financially failing cities and school districts like Detroit and DPS.
This issue is a repeated stumbling block and no matter how hard I study, discuss, or even mediate (ok, at this point I’ll try anything). The litany of opinion on Proposal 1 is off putting. I’m wary of those who are viciously for it as well as those who are vehemently against it. It’s getting harder to stand on the sliver of middle ground.
Maybe that’s what’s wrong with the EM legislation: it’s too polarized. Or maybe it’s what needs to happen to drag some sputtering municipalities in to 21st century? Obviously this can get dizzying.
Generally, supporters of the EM proposal tend to be more fiscal conservatives and supporters, more socially liberal. That’s just an observation. Some people describe the EM law like pulling teeth: “It’s not gonna be pleasant but it has to be done.”
Supporters of Proposal 1 say that without State intervention major cities will have no choice but to file for bankruptcy, plunging bond ratings into oblivion and spreading a dismal economic for all of Michigan. They say it’s the only choice for cities to avoid bankruptcy.
Critics of the EM law proposal say cities facing financial crisis should be able to file for bankruptcy if need be as a path out of a fiscal mess and skip the finance czar.
So when GOP presidential candidate (and Michigander) Mitt Romney framed bankruptcy as a chance to rebound during the presidential debate on Tuesday night it was a bit of a surprise. As a businessman, he basically said bankruptcy isn’t all that bad.
"[Obama] said that I said we should take Detroit bankrupt," Romney said in the debate, "And that's right. My plan was to have the company [GM] go through bankruptcy like 7-Eleven did and Macy's and Continental Airlines and they come out stronger."
Maybe someone can help me out here: If Romney’s right and bankruptcy can be a launching pad to higher heights, then why do we need the emergency mangers in cash strapped cities? Is it bond ratings that are the issue here?
Tuesday, 09 October 2012 10:02
When Governor Rick Snyder addressed a group of corporate business leaders Monday morning at the Detroit Athletic Club he shared his vision and accomplishments for reinventing Michigan.
One of the reforms Snyder said he plans to push is firmer restriction on ballot petitioners.
“There is a good reform opportunity with respect to paid circulators,” Snyder said at the DHR International corporate leadership breakfast.
Currently, Michigan does not ban pay-per-signature, which allows petition circulators to be paid for every signature collected offering petitioners monetary incentive to get the most signatures. Pay-per-signature something that Snyder said is a concern and suggested said hourly pay for should be mandated.
Between 2008 and 2009, several states—including Colorado, Montana and Nebraska—made it illegal to compensate petition circulators based on how many signatures they are able to collect on petitions.
But in Colorado a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction in June 2010 against the new Colorado law (HB 1326) in a lawsuit that says the law's ban on pay-per-signature violates the U.S. Constitution. The case is still in active litigation according to Balletpedia.org, a non-profit effort to inform the public on political issues and laws.
Snyder’s biggest beef with Michigan’s ballot petitioning rules is the fact Michigan does not require paid petition circulators disclose that they are being paid to collect signatures, or who paid them. In other states petitioners have to wear a badge that ways whether they are a volunteer or paid to collect signatures for a ballot measure.
Many deep-pocketed groups can sponsor a ballot measure and pay petition circulators without disclosing if they are doing this out of their passion for the measure or for a paycheck.
“People don’t get the full scoop before they sign,” Snyder said, adding that he only supports one ballot proposal (Proposal 1) of the six that will appear on the ballot in Nov. He said six proposals seem like too many. “We needed more disclosure of where money was coming from for circulators.”
Another law Snyder said he wants to push for is one that mandates where petition circulators can collect signatures for a given measure. Currently, Michigan does not have a distribution requirement. Any amount of the required signatures for a ballot measure may be collected in anywhere in the state and is not forced to pull from different areas.
“We need to look at where people are getting these signatures,” he said noting that they should not all come from one area known to favor a certain sway of the proposed initiative seeking signatures.
The flood of ballot proposals this year has been unprecedented with six statewide ballot proposals set for the Nov. election. And that’s not counting local municipalities’ proposals.
Why so many proposals? Snyder has an idea.
“It’s a reaction to the reinvention of Michigan,” Snyder said. “People don’t like change.”
Be sure to stay informed about Michigan ballot initiatives and more, check out Mlive’s Michigan voter guide to help prepare for the long ballot that awaits voters on Election Day.
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