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!!!