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 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?
Just in case voters decided to vote down Proposal 1—that’s Public act 4, also known as the emergency manager law—there is new, similar legislation being crafted.
Michigan’s Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-SD17) told the Associated Press that he and some of his republican counterparts have crafted a replacement for the controversial state law that mandates an emergency manager take control of broke municipalities and schools.
Richardville said the newly drafted legislation is tweaked to address some issues critics have expressed with the original law and will serve as backup on the heels of the Nov. 6 vote.
The move comes after numerous polls have shown that statewide voters are sharply divided on the law, with no solid data the vote will be upheld or struck down.
Richardville told the Associated Press:
"If something happened like that bill was overturned, I think the Legislature would have to be ready to respond and to still deal with the emergency. You can eliminate the financial manager from the emergency financial manager legislation, but you can't remove the emergency."
Richardville’s alternative to PA4 so far has been low key, as neither Gov. Rick Snyder, nor Republican House leaders have mentioned anything about it.
The Michigan Supreme Court ruled to suspend the EM law and put it on the ballot in November as Proposal 1.
The law was passed last year by the Michigan Legislature and signed by Snyder
A draft of the alternative emergency manager bill is currently under legal review.
Meanwhile, the debate over Porposal 1, the ballot measure that asked voters to uphold or smash the original EM law, is heating up.
In a live chat on Mlive.com, two state lawmakers, Senator Bert Johnson and State Rep. Al Pscholka, submitted strong opinions on the topic:
State Rep. Al Pscholka (R-Stevensville) sponsored the legislation that is now PA4 and he continues to be a strong supporter of the measure.
"I know folks like to call it the Emergency Manager law, the name of the legislation is the Fiscal Accountability Act.
There is an easy way to avoid this legislation - pay your bills, don't take on huge debt, live within your means. That's 99 percent of the governments in the state. For others, we need an early warning system and the tools to help temporarily.
Our urban policy has to be more sophisticated than "send more money from Lansing.' It will take a partnership of government, non profits, business, and some real collaboration, not donut and coffee meetings where we all nod our heads about working together.”
“Allen Park also asked for financial review. That is part of the process, which includes a local review team, a state review board, review from the Governor and Treasurer.
EM's are just simply sent into places like critics claim. We need this law to stay so we can help communities before they get to the point of no return financially. Consent agreements and deficit reduction plans are much better. We can get there with a Yes vote on Prop. 1.”
State Senator Bert Johnson (D-Detroit) is a vocal critic of PA4. He has been very public about his strong opinions against the legistlation.
“No effort was made to do this in a bipartisan fashion and what we have, quite frankly, is gross government overreach into our local communities. Voters should choose to repeal PA4. The reason is two-fold.
On the surface, it goes against every Constitutional and democratic principle we claim as Americans: Local control, election of our representatives and no taxation without representation.
In practice, it has been a failure. It has led to corruption on the part of Emergency Managers. It has allowed for massive privatization, outsourcing of jobs and has in fact put children at risk.
Additionally, the results are all we need to prove this point. Cities and school districts under an Emergency Manager have not improved. A No vote on Proposal 1 will return some semblance of our democratic rights and will allow us to, hopefully, return to the drawing board to create a better law - one which does not infringe on our Constitutional rights.
Both sides seem to make good points. What do you think?
If President Barack Obama wins Michigan in November, it’s likely that Public Act 4 (PA4), the state’s emergency manager law-turned-ballot-proposal, will not.
How are the two related?
A new poll conducted by EPIC-MRA of Lansing for The Detroit Free Press and WXYZ-TV showed that people who support Obama are generally against the PA4 ballot proposal as it is split over party lines.
“According to the poll, Obama voters oppose the emergency manager law, 61%-29%, […]. Romney supporters are almost mirror opposite, supporting emergency managers, 60%-26%.”
The poll results showed Obama with a significant 10-point lead over Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney. That’s not a good sign for the fate of PA4.
But it raises the question: When should we cast party politics aside? If the emergency manager law is really helping repair broken school systems and slashing spending for cities in crisis, then isn’t this an example of when it’s best to cross the isle?
Party politics have a way or dividing people and ideas. But just because you’re a Democrat doesn’t mean you have to vote no on PA4, or vice versa.
Politicians often brag about the times they were willing to work together with both sides to get something done.
This news may present a conundrum for Obama supporters who also strongly support PA4: does one have to choose? The ideals seem polarized.
But they don’t have to be. The problem in this election is that with all of the proposals cluttering the ballot, voters may get tired towards the end and vote along political party lines as a shortcut, or simply not vote at all.
Yes, a Republican a governor introduced PA4. It’s a law that would go hard on unions and easy on public spending. But it's one that is needed in cities and school systems tangles in a financial mess. So on Nov. 6th, we shouldn’t trap ourselves in party zones, even if it makes voting quicker and easier. Voters can work with both sides of the political isle to get things done, too.
After Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling put three more hotly contested proposals on the ballot, there are nowsix proposals awaiting voter response: On Election Day voters will be asked yay or nay to: Another bridge to Canada, the emergency manager Law (PA4), stronger collective bargaining power, higher energy efficiency standards for businesses, a required supermajority vote in the House before any taxes are raised, and organizing rights for home health care workers.
Sounds like voting this year could bring on a full-fledged case of decision fatigue. What exactly does that mean?
John Tierney of The New York Times reports:
“It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue — you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you have to make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways.”
It’s these shortcuts that could become dangerous this Election Day. The shortcuts can take two forms, The Times reports: One is making hasty, reckless decisions (“Sure, I’ll vote for that. I just want to be done”), the other is making no decision at all (“I’ll leave that one blank. My brain hurts”).
The term decision fatigue a new finding involving a phenomenon called ego depletion, a term coined by social psychologist Roy Baumeister based on a Freudian idea. On Election Day voters will have to say yay or nay to: Another bridge to Canada, the emergency manager Law (PA4), Stricter Collective Bargaining agreements, higheger energy efficiency standards for businesses, a required supermajority vote in the House before any taxes are raised, home health care workers having right to organize and create registry listings.
To ease decision fatigue at the polls, stay tuned in for more Morning Coffee. We’ll go over the language of each proposal (once it’s been selected) so you can make your own—unrushed—decision before the big day.
In 2011, DPS Financial manager Roberts was confident that Education Achievement Authority (EAA) would be a success. “I’ll make you a little bet,” he told Detroit City Councilman Andre Spivey. “Give us two years and people will ask us to be in EAA.”
The EAA is a new state-run school district, which is a public/private partnership between the state and Eastern Michigan University, is the first of a statewide effort to turn around schools that are underperforming. The creation of the EAA district was taken under Public Act 4, the controversial emergency manager law that’s now up for public vote in November.
If the people decide to toss PA4 on Election Day, Roberts won’t be able to see out his EAA bet—or anything else—as the Board of Education will regain power.
The question remains, if Roberts isn’t there to “undo 50 years of crap” as he puts it, who will? Certainly not the old systems that have been in place—or a superhero: “Superman ain’t comin’ is one of Robert’s favorite quips when referring to the DPS crisis.
Back in 2011 when Gov. Rick Snyder first appointed Roberts, he made it clear he was tough—and frank—enough for the job. And with the scope of EFM power increased under the new Public Act 4 legislation, Roberts had the ability to do things his predecessor, Robert Bobb, couldn’t.
Things like overseeing the new EAA district, offering take-home Netbooks for students in grades 8-12, individualized learning plans for each DPS student and new specialized schools including Medicine and Arts high schools and still slashing $75 million from the budget.
As Tuesday marked the first day of school for DPS, the advertisements ramping up to opening day have been aggressive—and good: Either the Detroit Public School district is doing a world-class PR job, or it really has taken great measures to improve the learning environment for the upcoming year. And while it may be a little of both, it seems that the district is starting off the academic year revamped and better organized.
With just over a year of what Roberts has called “the hardest job of his life” under his belt, he has accomplished much of what he said he would without being hamstrung by the Board of Education. Now, as November approaches, time is running out to prove that DPS is better off in the state’s hands.
Parents have to decide for themselves if their children are better off now than they were two years ago. But both Roberts and his counterpart, EAA chancellor John Covington, both agree that the future is not just up to them—or superman. And while two years is hardly enough to judge long term progress, so far they have made huge strides in changing the landscape of public education in the city.
“This is something we can’t do by ourselves,” Covington said, calling on people to get involved in the process. “We need the general community to get actively involved. There aught to be someone out there holding us accountable.”
Labor Laws Stale? Detroit Could Redefine Labor Movement
There’s a famous slogan that goes: The Labor Movement “The folks who brought you the weekend.”
Today is the day we have set aside to honor the American workforce. And since we all belong to the workforce in some way, it’s a time to honor ourselves. But before we get drunk on beer and silly-full on barbeque, let’s reflect on not just the history, but the future of labor, especially in Detroit, a city facing gigantic labor conundrums: our very own Detroit.
And it’s not just the weekend that the American labor movement created. Thanks to the workers who started organizing in the late 1800’s through the movement’s peak in the 1930’s through 1950’s, there are laws banning child labor, a mandated minimum wage, and a 40-hour week, among other protections.
Back then, organized labor was not presumed to be synonymous with unions. It was just workers banding together to demand better conditions and pay. Unions were the famous product of this, but as stated, not the only one.
In Detroit, people are divided over the importance of unions, as we know them. In the private sector, unions have diminished greatly since the peak in the 1930s and 1950’s. But in municipalities they have stayed mostly intact.
That’s a problem in cashed-depleted Detroit, where some argue that union wages and benefits are bleeding the city dry. Some would posit that if a labor union were a car, it would be an inefficient, obsolete “clunker” best scrapped for a newer design.
Unions, ironically, have been seen as big forceful machines rather than organized workers protecting their rights.
An opinion piece in the Statesman Journal this morning titled “Labor Day Not Union Day” stated:
Today, Detroit’s unions are stewing in the still before a storm. The storm being Election Day on November 6 when voters chose the fate of Public Act 4, legislation that could dissolve collective bargaining contracts and ultimately lead to the privatization of much of the municipal workforce in cities across the state, namely Detroit.
Now the question for all of us to ponder over our labor day fare is this: How can we keep fair conditions for workers while updating or removing the traditional union model?
The labor movement is still alive today, although perhaps people are more complacent now that they have weekends and minimum wage. But there’s a lot of work to be done in redefining labor in the 21st century.
The silver lining to the painful cuts Detroit workers have coming is that maybe it will force people to organize around designing a new labor model worthy of the 21st century.
Detroit is in a position to lead the nations union question, to take the hard times and demand new concepts, something that will work. Instead of complaining about cuts, and saying what doesn’t work, let’s focus on what does, what could, and what will.
One idea that comes to mind is the 30 for 40 movement geared to “reinvent” the workday. The idea is that people work 30 hours a week for 40 hours (or full time) pay. Because of the 6 hour workdays, people are more productive. At least that’s what Ron Healy, the man leading the 30 for 40 movement thinks.
An article on PBS.org highlighted this new concept and the man behind it:
"The trend in America is to work longer and longer hours. But Ron Healey, the Founder and CEO of 30/40, has convinced a growing list of skeptical CEOs that less is more. He's swayed a number of companies to switch to six-hour shifts and still pay workers for a full eight-hour day. Healey says the added expense of hiring more workers pays off because they're more productive, happier and -- most importantly -- loyal to the company."
Maybe Healy's onto something here. While it's by no means a perfect model that will solve the unions question, it's a step toward a new kind of thinking not forged in the fire of times long passed.
Consent or Bankruptcy? No Easy Way Out
Last week, when the city council voted on the controversial, proposed union wage and benefit cuts under the consent agreement, Council Member Kwame Kenyatta suggested the city would be better off filing for bankruptcy.
That got people talking: What are the real consequences of municipal bankruptcy?
One Detroit News columnist, Daniel Howes, speculated on what could happen if the city went under the mercy of a federal bankruptcy judge versus the financial board that's now in place under the consent agreement.
“When a judge orders Belle Isle sold to repay creditors or demands the Detroit Institute of Art liquidate a portion of its holdings or abrogates collective bargaining agreements with the city or approves massive legal fees for legions of lawyers or renders judgment on a parade of horribles — that would be preferable?”
After reading that I wanted to find out exactly what the powers of a bankruptcy judge are and whether Howes was right: Could we potentially be forced to sell Belle Isle?
I decided to ask an expert on municipal bankruptcy. Eric Scorsone, specialist in State and Local Government at Michigan State University, says, "no":
“A bankruptcy judge cannot force the City of Detroit to sell Belle Isle or any city-owned property. That’s just not accurate,” he said.
Scorsone distinguished a key difference between a bankruptcy judge and a financial manager or board:
“A bankruptcy judge is really almost more of an arbitrator or an administrator than anything else. An EM is kind of in the driver’s seat.”
Since a bankruptcy judge tends to be more hands off, that’s part of the problem. If the city went bankrupt a judge wouldn’t have the power to change any policies or government structures that landed the city in this financial stew in the first place:
A bankruptcy judge is not gong to fix try to the city’s economy,” Scorsone told me.
But even if we weather bankruptcy, an EM, or Consent Agreement board, it looks like there’s just not easy way out of this, Detroit.
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