Now this is flat out scary!

Author: Barrett Rainey

Several weeks ago, I had a brief conversation with the city manager of our little Southern Oregon community. He’s an affable fellow, who’s earned high marks for his job performance. He’s well-schooled in city affairs and dealing with city officials. I told him of a bill in the Michigan Legislature, at that time, that concerned me. I thought it might concern him. A “heads up” if you will.

The bill in question would authorize Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to send one of his self-appointed “financial managers” into any Michigan city of his choosing. It allowed that “manager” to remove the elected mayor and city council from any authority whatsoever, leaving them with no power to do anything. Further, the “manager” could unilaterally break any contact with any entity, void any agreements with city employees or anyone else and take any action he deemed necessary for any reason. Or no reason. Power unrestricted. He’d be God.

Neutering elected officials really bothers me. I thought it would bother our city manager, too. It apparently didn’t. His response was something like “Well, that’s interesting.” Conversation over.

Fast forward to Monday of this week. The bill, now law, was used to remove all authority of the mayor and council in Benton-Harbor, MI. On his arrival, the Governor’s “man” said they could call meetings but take no action. They could publish minutes of meetings during which no action was taken. They could adjourn the meeting where nothing was done. That’s all! The “manager,” Joseph Harris, is now in absolute charge of all city affairs in Benton-Harbor after neutering leadership elected by the residents.

Now I don’t mean to say Benton-Harbor is not without some problems. Financially strapped? Yes. Which city isn’t? A new trash hauling contract became controversial and produced some lawsuits. There’s some competition for the city’s water services and several city officials have clashed at long meetings. So? Anything there that hasn’t happened hundreds of times in hundreds of city halls across the country?

Right here in “River City,” I’ve watched council members clash over giving one member access to have city records copied. Quite a vocal battle for several meetings. The council and city manager just finished a set-to among themselves and the chamber of commerce about continuing to split large revenues with the local visitors bureau. We’ve had a fracas over an award of a large, exclusive city communications contract to an out-of-town company. City council “waters” here in “River City” do not always flow smoothly. Nor do they in your hometown, either, I’d bet.

So, has anyone been sent into your town to take all power from those you elected in city hall? Has an outsider been sent by your governor to break any or all contracts affecting your city? To set aside collective bargaining with employees? To scrap your budget and write his own?

I didn’t think so. Well, how would you feel if that happened? I’ll tell you plain and simple how I feel. It scares the Hell out of me! Abridging guaranteed rights of citizens at the whim of a governor – or anyone else – is to be feared. Greatly!

Here’s another interesting fact about the Benton-Harbor situation. The governor is a Republican who pushed this takeover bill through a Republican-dominated legislature and who has sent in a Republican “manager.” If memory serves, one of the precepts of the Republican Party – in Michigan or elsewhere – is a strident belief of the need for less government; a mantra of “local” control of such minimal government as may be necessary. I’m certain my memory is right about that. So, what’s wrong with this picture?

If you strip it down, what’s happening in Benton-Harbor – a community about 90% black with an average annual income of just over $10,000 – you’ll find union busting. But, more than that, it’s an attempt by some Michigan Republicans at the state level, to totally reshape all municipal government and its conduct. It’s “Big Brother” government in the hands of people who want to remake local government for those a step down on the political ladder. It’s social engineering. And there are currently five states actively pursuing this. Michigan is just the most blatant. So far.

Oh, there’s one more thing you should know. The governor picked a small community of relatively powerless and impoverished people who have absolutely no resources with which to fight back. The Republican legislator who authored and carried the bill is a ranking executive of a worldwide appliance company headquartered in Benton-Harbor. Another local Republican legislator headed the lobbying effort. His claim to fame is he’s spent the last several years of his life promoting a luxury development on the site of a large Benton-Harbor city park, the perpetual contract for which is now in the hands of the governor’s “manager.” Who can cancel it.

If – when – the development is built, it’s doubtful many Benton-Harbor residents, with the $10,000 average income, will be able to afford the $5,000 annual fee to play on the golf course that once was their city park.

Is there a clearer picture here now? When exposed to the light, does what the Michigan governor and legislature did seem to be in the best interests of local government? Of the citizens who elected that local government? Do you think other governors and other legislature’s will watch this and create their own “managers” with power to cancel elections if Michigan is successful?

Does it scare the Hell out of me? You Damned Betcha!!!

4 Responses to “Now this is flat out scary!”

  1. Marty Peterson Says:

    One of the things that Oregon has had right for years has been the large number of cities that have opted for city managers. As a whoile, city managers are highly trained professionals who are far better trained to manage cities in these comples times than most elected officials. Unfortunately, in Michigan there is a mindset not unlike many other states where the mantra is that the level of government closest to the poeple governs best, so long as it is no closer than the state legislature.

  2. Barrett Rainey Says:

    Tnx for the feedback. Good to hear from you! I agree with you on city managers. Municipal business is no place for council’s and mayors’ anymore. Too damned technical.

    But this Michigan deal is not putting in city managers. It’s usurping all local power and cancelling the vote. And, in the case of Benton-Habor, taking the community in a direction it doesn’t want to go for the benefit of some millionaires who want another lakeside resort. Residents are too poor to fight it. Amd they shouldn’t have to.

    God knows where this will end now that the door is open. They “trained” 174 of these people in Lansing. Where the Hell else are they going? And why?

    My best … or nearly so … to the Moon’s bunch.

    bfr

  3. Kenneth Grimes Says:

    Hi Barrett,

    I had not idea that some people in power would go to such great lengths to consolidate this power. It is really frightening to see the level of partisenship and powermongering going on at both the national and state level.

    Something that I hear again and again from Congressional leadership is, “This is what the American People want”-referring to whatever legislation they are trying to cram down our throats. The continuation of the ‘temporary’ Bush tax cuts comes to mind. I heard yesterday on the news (not Fox-they are not my friends) that 72% of the American people are in favor of them expiring. So, it seems that the American people have spoken but, that apparently is not what the Republican leadership wants to do since it’s not in line with their cockamamy ideology so-here we sit.

    Bummer.

    Take Care.

    Ken

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