What’s the big deal? If judges are going to dismiss legal challenges to the consent agreement so easily, why all the fuss?
Krystal Crittendon tried it. Then she tried it again—that is, filing a lawsuit deeming Detroit’s Financial Stability Agreement void according to her interpretation of the city charter due to some disputed revenue sharing dollars and unpaid bills.
Both times, an Ingham County judge tossed Crtittendon’s lawsuit without a blink.
But it was too late: at that point city’s top attorney’s legal argument had raised such a ruckus from the state and supporters of the agreement, that city bond ratings dipped along with other financial speculations, driving the city further into a financial hurricane.
With all that mess, it seemed like the Corporation Counsel’s lawsuit actually carried some water. Or, at very least, enough for a judge to consider it and not toss it out with the same knee-jerk revulsion reserved for rotten tomatoes.
Then three local AFSCME union leaders tried it. Detroiters Rose Roots, Yolanda King and Yvonne Ross filed a lawsuit making the same argument as Crittendon: the consent agreement is void per the City Charter due to debts the state owes the City.
Wayne County Circuit Judge Amy Hathaway swiftly ruled that the City had no proof that the State owed it any money, and that revenue sharing dollars that are not shared do not count as debts.
"'The revenue-sharing money ... is not a debt, and we all know it's not a debt because corporation counsel issued an opinion to that effect back in 2006,' Hathaway said, referring to an opinion by a former top city attorney in the administration of former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick."
While the city charter has been revised since the Kilpatrick days, this ruling puts forth a solid reason not to appeal, or makes the chance of any appeal unlikely to succeed.
Crittendon still has time to appeal as well as the three AFSCME musketeers. But it would be silly to let these lawsuits send the city and it’s fragile finances into another tailspin. To supporters of the consent agreement: Don’t buy the hype and everything will be fine.
Who needs a consent agreement? Detroit and the State of Michigan can sue the way to financial stability one lawsuit at a time. That's the level of ridiculousness we're headed towards, anyway.
Amid the confusion and controversy of legal tangles around the consent agreement, Detroit City Council President Pro Tem Gary Brown wants to add another ring to the legal dispute circus.
Brown says he’s going to urge the council to vote on a resolution to have the city charter reviewed by state Attorney General Bill Schuette.
The Detroit News reports:
“Brown wants Schuette to initiate a lawsuit asking a judge to clarify Crittendon's powers as the head of the city's law department while she continues her crusade against Detroit's consent agreement with the state.”
Is that’s what this city needs? Another lawsuit? The city just spent two years and thousands of dollars revising the city charter. The people who know the charter best are the ones who just re-wrote it, the former revision commission members.
But all that is beside the point. Why can’t we just let this lawsuit play out? Chances are, the Ingham County judge who dismissed Crittendon’s case with unwavering conviction the first time will not have had a change of heart. In the meantime, there is a lot work to be done.
Instead of fretting over a lawsuit that is supposedly “meritless” according to state officials, get to work on fixing the city’s finances, not pulverizing them further into oblivion.
Because, at the end of the day, financial stability is the goal, right? Is seems leadership at the city and state level has lost sight on the big picture and has been sucked into the whirlpool of drama that is city/ state politics.
Times like these call for collaboration and compromise. Like Mayor Dave Bing has said over and over: lawsuits are not going to fix the city’s financial crisis.
Just when there was some hope that the legal drama over the consent agreement was over, a new round of lawsuits stirred up the political pot late last week.
Crittendon is at it again, asking the Ingham County Circuit Court Judge William Collette, who dismissed her challenge to the consent agreement, to reconsider his decision. It’s unlikely that the case will go far with the same judge who was very clear that he did not believe Crittendon had a legitimate case last time.
Meanwhile, the state also filed a lawsuit in Wayne County last week to stop a city hearing over water bills the state allegedly owes the city. The threats to withhold millions in revenue sharing are back on the table, just like they were last month.
When will leaders be able to compromise? Leadership in Detroit definitely leaves something to be desired, but state officials are not exactly the best diplomats, either. All of the “danger” Bing warns that the city is in stems from threats from the state’s threat to withhold finances due to Crittendon’s the lawsuit, not the lawsuit itself.
City Council member Kenneth Cockrel Jr. has the right idea. He told The Detroit News:
"I do think continued legal filings not only on her part but on the part of the state — they are now suing us — are ultimately destructive to the process," Cockrel said. "They are certainly not in the city's short term or long term interests, for that matter."
Yeah, what he said.
If anyone should be concerned about the consent agreement between the City of Detroit and the State of Michigan, it’s AFSCME local workers. The agreement that is geared to restore financial stability to the floundering Motor City, has cleared a path to bust unions in the name of cutting corners.
After a lawsuit filed by the city’s Corporation Counsel aiming to halt the consent agreement was tossed by a judge last month, a new, similar, lawsuit has emerged.
This time, it’s not coming from Krystal Crittendon or any city official. It’s coming from three AFSCME local union leaders who have been working and living in the city for decades.
The three plaintiffs, Rose Roots, Yolanda King and Yvonne Ross, are all representatives of AFSCME local divisions. Although they say their decision to sue the Mayor and City Council for violating the city charter has not been influenced by anything but the community need to oppose the agreement.
"Ross, 60, is a legal secretary for the city of Detroit and is president of Local 2799. Yolanda King, 52, is president of Local 2394 and is a civilian employee with the Detroit Police Department. Roots, who is in her 70s, is president of Chapter 98, which represents city of Detroit Retirees."
This can’t be a coincidence. Outside of union affiliates and a few heated activists, the general population of Detroiters seem apathetic to the consent agreement: A few sparsely attended protests do not a revolution make.
But on a state level this may not be the case. Two weeks ago another group of residents sued the state to challenge the legality of the Emergency Manager Law, or PA4.
“We could have had a thousand plaintiffs, or we could have had more than tens of thousands,” John Philo, legal director of the Maurice & Jane Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice (which will provide legal representation in the lawsuit) told Democracy Now last month.
“There’s a tremendous amount of concern throughout every community in this state,” he said, adding:
“The concern is not localized to just the communities that have an emergency manager now, and it’s not just urban areas. We’re getting support from the UP and from the northern Michigan, which isn’t known for progressive politics.”
The lawsuit King, Ross and Roots filed this week will be heard on July 13 by Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Amy Hathaway.
Just when the legal showdown over the Detroit consent agreement was escalating to a special kind of crazy, the show is over: But not before Mayor Dave Bing hired a private lawyer to fight his own city's law department. Really, you can't make this stuff up.
Ingham County Circuit Judge William Collette ended what could have been a long and nasty battle between the city and, well, itself. On Wednesday afternoon Collette immediately tossed the lawsuit brought by Detroit’s top lawyer Krystal Crittendon without hesitation.
“This lawsuit will not go forward. I saw it from the very first moment."
Now the City Council can appoint the final members of the financial advisory board that will ultimately take over financial decisions for the city.
But will Krystal Crittendon and the protestors of the consent agreement fade off into the sunset? Not likely. If it wasn't such a serious issue that affected my city, I'd grab a bowl of popcorn and call it entertainment.
Will the state pull it funding from Detroit? Will there be payless paydays? These are the questions that remain unsanswered after a meeting this morning between Mayor dave bing and the Detroit City Council.
Despite mounting pressure from the state to drop a lawsuit stalling the consnet agreement, Council told the mayor this morning in a meeting that they would not ask Krystal Crittendon, the city's top lawyer, to drop a lawsuit that calls the consent agrement void due to some $200 million in unpaid water bills and parking ticekets. The council plans on letting the lawsuit run its course, despite serious pleas from Bing and threats from the state to cut $80 million in revenue sharing dollars.
While Bing has been warning of payless paydays for city employees since he got into office, this time it is a reality, he says, calling it a "perilous" position. Stay tuned for what happens next.
Remember when former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was getting into all that trouble? There was much talk about the city charter then, how the law department was powerless to control the mayor, how the charter had to be updated. The talk ramped up into action and an elected charter revision commission worked for two years to revise the city’s law book.
Now, two years later, the new and supposedly improved charter is taking affect, big time.
But a lot has changed since Kilpatrick’s mess and the revised charter is giving the law department the power to act independently of a new kind of Mayor: one caught in a financial crisis and trying to keep the city afloat with state funds—and state mandated financial experts to the tune of controversy. There are those who believe the city could do without state mandated experts taking over city finances.
The new charter has city’s law department separate from the executive branch so that neither the Mayor nor the City Council can give city law officials orders. What’s more, the law department has the power to remove elected officials from office if they violate the charter. The mayor and the council can also remove law officials.
The stakes were raised last week for Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and City Council members. Threats from state treasury officials are putting city leaders in with a financial time bomb: Drop the lawsuit that's holding up the consent agreement or loose $80 million in revenue sharing, a state treasury official threatened. The threat came in a letter to Jack Martin, the state appointed financial guru to head the conditions of the stalled consent agreement.
That spells stalemate for Bing, the Council and Law Department.
Bing and the Council are set to meet behind closed doors today to figure out what their options are.
What’s interesting to me is why the state is so eager to force the city to drop the lawsuit. The state and the mayor contend that the city doesn’t have enough time to wait for a legal battle to play out.
But it seems like that state is worried the lawsuit really might just void the legality of the consent agreement. Why else would state officials be so forceful in making the city drop the lawsuit—a lawsuit that they claim hold no water?
A question for city leaders is: is the law bendable under the weight of an impeding financial crisis?
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