Flint water and Detroit Schools raise doubts about emergency manager law

What you don’t want is a solution that ends up aggravating the problem. But that seems to happen all too often.

That’s my skeptical -- bordering on cynical -- response to many of the well-intended brainwaves policymakers concoct to deal with problems, either in business or, more commonly, in public policy.

That brings us to the tainted water debacle in Flint – where that description seems especially apt.

In Flint, Detroit and in other mostly poor and mostly black cities and school districts, the state’s putting emergency managers in charge appears to be one common factor out of many that have contributed to a profound loss of public trust.

In the case of Flint, a series of emergency managers has run the city off and on again for years, in effect taking over all legal authority from the elected mayor and city council. In 2002, Gov. John Engler appointed one who stayed in charge for a couple years.

Later, when Flint found itself again unable to manage deteriorating financial troubles in 2011, Gov. Rick Snyder appointed the first of four emergency managers for Flint, one of whom served twice. One of more of these made the crucial decision to switch the city from clean Detroit water to cheaper stuff from the Flint River.

That water proved to be discolored, foul-tasting, and contaminated with bacteria. Even worse, it corroded old pipes causing the water many residents drank to be heavily polluted with lead. Flint residents are unlikely to ever trust an emergency manager again.

Resort to imposing emergency managers has not been a purely Republican policy. During the eight-year tenure of Gov. Snyder’s Democratic predecessor, Jennifer Granholm, six Michigan cities or school districts were given emergency managers. Of course, it was during this period that the financial downturn resulting from the Great Recession of 2008-09 tore up local finances across the state.

Those in favor or the emergency manager system argue it enables communities to get their finances back in order -- and gives poor communities that have been badly managed a chance to overcome the effects of local politics and poor decisions.

But critics point out that an emergency manager disenfranchises local voters and undoes the checks and balances of a more normal democracy. Emergency managers, after all, are essentially all-powerful where spending decisions are concerned.

Having an emergency manager in place also displaces local authorities who are likely to be more responsive to citizen viewpoints. Moreover, critics charge, emergency managers tend to overlook citizen concerns and public health in favor of financial discipline –which is precisely what some say happened in Flint.

Detroit has been a valuable example for both points of view.

In the case of the city of Detroit, decades of population loss augmented by the corrupt administration of former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, dwindling revenues and vast legacy costs resulted in a near-collapse of the city’s finances.

As a result, Gov. Rick Snyder in March 2013 appointed Washington, D.C. bankruptcy lawyer Kevyn Orr emergency manager. The net result of Orr’s widely-praised tenure was a speedy and successful bankruptcy proceeding from which the city emerged at the end of 2014. Today, Detroit is showing real signs of revival.

In the case of Detroit, however, Orr’s work was facilitated by a corps of highly competent and influential local leaders, including Chief U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen and U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes. From what I can gather, Flint’s emergency managers had no such web of powerful local assistance. Flint did not go through bankruptcy, nor did the city ever get national media attention until the water crisis.

In the case of the Detroit Public Schools, a local institution that has been troubled for even longer than the city, financial managers going all the way back to Engler’s time have all proven incapable of getting either the finances or the educational quality of a deteriorating school district under control, in large part perhaps because of persistent population and revenue losses.

The institution of emergency financial manager itself has undergone considerable revision since first used in the 1980’s. When Snyder took office in 2011, he worked with the legislature to pass a stronger version of the emergency manager law.

That law was repealed by a statewide vote of the people the next year, only to be promptly replaced by a stronger law, which added a small appropriation immunizing it from repeal.

I’d guess in the aftermath of the Flint disaster, thoughtful people will begin to call for more changes in the emergency manager law.

What is now clear is that imposing an emergency financial manager is hardly a silver bullet for whatever serious local government problems might arise. As an artificial disruption of normal democracy that puts at risk public trust in the workings of government, any EM should be put in place for only a short time.
Otherwise, there seems to be a real threat emergency managers will tend to ignore citizen concerns. The position needs to balance purely financial concerns with an alert sense of and concern for the health and welfare of those affected.

Any successful emergency manager also needs to be buttressed by a capable group of local leaders willing to come together to help make this work in their own communities.

Changes certainly need to be made. Otherwise, more and more of us are bound to feel that emergency managers may well look like yet another example of the solution aggravating the problem.

Comment Form

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.


Tue, 01/26/2016 - 8:14am
The emergency manager law is probably unconstitutional. I would like to see a federal court rule on it, the Michigan Supreme court is just a bunch par partisan hacks.
Earl Newman
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 9:50am
You are too kind to the emergency manager law. The people of this state rejected the previous emergency law and then the governor and legislature over-rode the people's objection and replaced it with a new law. We would not even have this law if the representatives of the people honored their constituents' wishes. The very idea of a superior authority appointing an autocrat to handle the peoples' business is undemocratic. The performance of a range of emergency managers in Michigan's local government has not been good.
Barry B.
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 11:00am
Earl, I agree with you but we must remember the people of Michigan re-elected the same tribe of miscreants at the the next election. Why do we not learn our lessons? Perhaps our schools did not teach us to think independently.
Sun, 01/31/2016 - 12:24am
Instead of bashing the EM law with partisan swings at the ball and missing; ask the question, How did these cities get to the brink of financial ruin and why SOME of them are repeat offenders? I hate the argument of democracy being usurped when many of those in the impacted/affected cities are not participating in the democratic process of exercising their right to vote (and possibly make a difference). I will agree with you statement about people electing the same miscreants. For tibia those miscreants that gave cause to a decision to bring in an EM due to their being sleep at the wheel on a regular and on-going basis. Can't have it both ways!
John Roach
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 9:53am
Another thing Detoit had that DPS and Flint did not enjoy was the power of a bankruptcy proceeding to attack legacy costs. In the case of DPS at least, it appears no amount of money has ensured that money is well spent for any but the most powerful stakeholders -- the students Denton be last in line.
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 10:25am
Significant poverty and erosion of a local tax base has contributed significantly to the problems of Flint, Detroit, Battle Creek and others. It seems that rather than displace the elected leadership in these areas with a plan to slash budgets and sell off resources, wouldn't it have been better instead for the State to provide an infusion of money contingent upon the local elected government meeting identified criteria for fiscal responsibility and improved service? Carrot vs. Stick approach?
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 10:52am
Phil, It seems to me that you glossed over the main purpose of the emergency manager, that is to minimize the financial downside of a municipal, school or other local entity's fiscal collapse to the state's taxpayers. Judging from the hundreds of $millions going to City of Detroit, imminent collapse of DPS ( $500 Million?), and God only knows with Flint, It's safe to say this effort and approach has been a complete and massive failure. Given the risks, magnitude and incentives to the local government units and state tax payers, what is your solution? I fail to see how having "local leader input", being better attuned to health and welfare, and "shorter terms" for EMs will stop the continuing transfer of badly needed state revenue to failing and incompetent school districts, local governments and municipalities. So much for our roads!
Mary Ellen Howard
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 11:23am
The EM law has ignored the will of the people, taken their democracy away, and replaced it with incompetent EMs who run cities and schools as though they are businesses. It is a colossal failure! And, in the case of Flint, a deadly failure. Snyder chokes up when he talks about it, but he is crying over the impact on his life, not on the people of Flint. As a result of Detroit's EM, more than 30,000 poor households are without water--many with children and elderly, and many for months. Snyder and his GOP legislature do not care about the poor black Democrats who live in Detroit, Flint, Highland Park, Benton Harbor.
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 11:41am
Phil - very thoughtful column, as usual. As you point out, COLLABORATION works. Despite the trend we've seen in today's politics that considers "working across the aisle" and "compromise" as weak, time and again we see how collaboration and cooperation is the best way to solve problems. Had there been more collaborative efforts on the part of the DEQ, the EPA, "outside experts", local officials, and the citizenry to solve the Flint water problem in the initial stages of the water switch, when cloudy, smelly, foul-tasting water was widely reported, we wouldn't be where we are today. Very sad on so many levels.
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 12:10pm
The one common denominator that has enhanced the failure of DPS and Flint is the EM. Both governmental entities have been govern by the State for many years, with no observable success, leading to tragic outcomes for both institutions. How many failures will it take before State government realizes a new approach is required, before it's too late? Maybe the "new approach" includes the election of competent local officials, who sincerely care about the people they have been elected to represent.
Charles Richards
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 6:04pm
It is true that a series of Emergency Managers have not made a success of DPS, but perhaps the set of solutions for that entity is, and has always been, empty. And it is not true that Flint has not made observable progress. Were it not for the catastrophic lead tragedy, Flint would have exited financial supervision in much better condition than when it entered state supervision. There were several other communities that did benefit substantially from emergency management. The necessary changes would never have been made under local control. The changes were just too large. Mr. Shibler recommended a “new approach” that "includes the election of competent local officials, who sincerely care about the people they have been elected to represent." Just how would he bring this about? And why hasn't it naturally occurred before? Are there skilled, capable people available to serve as competent, caring officials? And would they be elected? There are dozens of Michigan municipalities that will eventually declare bankruptcy because their citizens failed to properly fund the retirement benefits they promised their employees. Where were their "competent local officials"? Why didn't their citizens elect such people?
Wed, 01/27/2016 - 3:24pm
Charles you are right except one important point, cities in Michigan don't declare bankruptcy in any normally understood fashion. They stiff some of their creditors but the lion's share of their debts just end up with the state taxpayers. Not correcting this, rather than Flints water system is Snyder's biggest miss. Changing our laws and amending the MI constitution and separating the pensions, to pull the state out of this position has to be first order of business, then we can get rid of the EM because there's little or no downside to the state.
Chuck Fellows
Wed, 01/27/2016 - 4:41pm
Where has the state been all this time since we do pay for agencies to oversee and audit local units of government? Where has the state been in terms of properly sharing revenue with municipalities.? where has the state been when statewide policy has shrunk the revenue base of local units? Short term views of the problems our cities face today do not help. The issues with governance, a deterioration into revenue grabs, discriminatory public policy (including federal and powerful local units), and the flight of capital to areas that use tax policy as a cure for really poor free enterprise management (exceptions do exist bu they are few). This is the State of Michigan, not the state of rule by isolated pockets of wealth. Do we need to rethink cities? Yes. Should have started fifty years ago. Our problem is that we have so much space we can simply move away from our problems and ignore those left behind.
John Gillis
Fri, 01/29/2016 - 9:37am
Nice post, Charles Richards. Sound thinking and well-written.
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 12:32pm
Rather than appoint an EM, we should perhaps have a law to vet those that run for office and boards. The problems that are present in Flint, Detroit, DPS, Benton Harbor, Allen Park, et. al. have been years in the making. One emergency manager will never be able to fix these problems if the locally elected officials do not know how to fix them, are unwilling to fix them, or are in office to only profit themselves rather than the people they serve. And throwing money at the problems without fixing the underlying cause of the problem is a waste that will only bring down the level of government that provided the money. It takes a very strong group of people to both understand and avoid excessive legacy costs. It takes a very strong group of people to understand and rigidly adhere to a budget and make rapid changes when conditions warrant. With better people in office, we would have avoided the need for any EM.
Barry Visel
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 2:53pm
Thank you, well said.
John S.
Mon, 02/01/2016 - 9:49pm
On target! What to do when local democracy fails? Local governments are creations of state government so there's need for the state to engage in more careful monitoring of local government financing. The state hasn't stepped forward to help out local governments with revenue sharing. There will be a lot of discussion in the next few days at the MLGMA meeting in Port Huron about that. When EMs are bean counters (experts in finance, but not much else), they're likely to focus on "fiscal responsibility" and ignore a lot of other criteria when making judgments about what needs to be done. Somebody, somewhere, must have known that switching to Flint River water was potentially risky. Why didn't the EMs? Didn't they ask questions about the risks of the switch? If EMs are appointed, let them be knowledgeable and competent.
Steve Smewing
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 12:55pm
Usually I agree with what Phil Powers says as he is very open and digs under the hype to the simple truth if is is there. This time, I think Mr. Powers missed a piece of the history in this story. It is well know Flint and cities in trouble have lacked the ability to manage the reality in which they exist at the time. This is why these entities end up in trouble. If there were a business they would have faded into a memory because they would simply not exist, something not possible for a city or school system most every time. The whole back story on Flint and supplying water to its residents has a much deeper history than what has been reported. For decades the water Flint sells to its residents has been Detroit water. Early on this relationship worked well and all was good. As time went on Detroit had financial difficulties at all levels including the water department. By state law a municipality cannot make money of water and sewer, meaning it cannot flow into the general fund. Detroit have to adhere to this used a tactic of charging much more to non-city residents than city residents. This was of course noticed by the non-city people and of course they were not happy about it. Flint had for years been charging less than what the Detroit system charged and was supplementing the water use out of the general fund. They were spending money they clearly did not have. This is just one part of the overall situation that caused the financial mess of the city. Remaining in this though was a long standing dislike by the Flint City council of Detroit water. That brings Flint to the time period of when a switching plan was devised and fully supported by the Flint City council. The new pipeline to bring water in from Lake Huron. This 2 plus year plan was public knowledge and heralded by all including the residents. The emergency manager at the time was seen as a hero for supporting the plan. Detroit water then reacted to this plan. They in essence decided to give Flint the middle finger by finding a contract detail that allowed them to terminate the contract with a 1 year notice. At this point the choices were a temporary plan B for Flint to use a different water source, the Flint River, or negotiate a new contract with Detroit. Detroit did make that choice available but at a much higher rate than it had been. Absolutely nobody on the Flint side of the fence was willing to accept the Detroit offer. In my opinion this was point that the state should have gotten involved. If the state had intervened in the contract negotiation to mediate a fair contract for both parties, there would have never been a water crisis. Flints plan as laid out and supported by all at the time would still be moving forward and the city residents would still be using the water it had been using in the mean time. By allowing Detroit to use its position to an unfair advantage in the contract negotiation it forced Flint into a situation that was costly and that ended up with the unforeseen consequences that it now sees but couldn't have seen at the time. As for the the after the switch to the Flint River source, that is a whole new level of incompetence. This took incompetence on 3 separate levels and any one of these levels should have corrected course. First is the operation of the treatment plant. PH is a vital component of any water operation, even backyard pools. It takes all but a pennies worth of a test kit to see the pH level of water. Within that it is common knowledge of what it acceptable. The acceptable range of the pH of the water is there so that the equipment within the system does not get destroyed by the water itself. The plant operators would have known this as a matter of basic water plant operation and the required certification needed to be in that position. Second and third in this are the state and federal oversight groups. Both have the clear responsibility of checking to be sure what is supposed to be done is done as a matter of routine oversight. These failures are simply mind boggling. The water leaving the plant would first be obviously out of range and knowingly corrosive. Corrective and available measures should have been taken within days or weeks at the most. The results of the plant water would have been a forgone conclusion at the tap because it is basic knowledge in water treatment the outcomes of that water moving through any system. All this basic knowledge was some how discarded in importance as history has proven this fact quite clearly. All this wasted time and energy on who ordered or did not order the change in waters sources is so far off from what the real examination of the situation is so off base. The state emergency management is simply just noise added to a terrible mess. The key failures were totally outside of who had control of city decisions. Even if Flint had been under its own leadership I doubt the path would have been any different. Flint was at an end with dealing with Detroit water as can be easily seen in history. The fact of who or what the leadership structure was at the time has no importance at all and is only leading ones eyes away from what really happened.
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 1:22pm
Wow. The most interesting and intelligent writing ever to appear on Bridge!
Barry Visel
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 3:02pm
Thank you Sreve! Phil, perhaps Bridge could do what the mainstream media doesn't do and provide and verify the kind of historical perspectives Steve provided. Also Phil, what would be your solution to incompetent local leadership that gets communities and schools in trouble in the first place?...all of our local and state legacy costs, deficit budgets and spending, etc. If EM's aren't the answer, what is?
John Gillis
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 3:48pm
Thank you Steve Smewing for the wonderful post, and Matt and Barry for acknowledging it. I hope Phil Powers makes the effort to ponder your words, your contextual framework, and your tone. You say the emergency manager was/is just noise added to the mess. I agree with you on that, too, and I would like to add, to Phil, primarily, you know that there was absolutely no way Detroit was going to get out of the negative spiraling mess they were in without something like the emergency manager concept. You know this and yet you gloss it and say, well, he had a lot of help, etc. Are you giving Snyder and Orr credit for what they did, or not? Sounds like you're throwing the emergency manager concept out with the bathwater. As Matt says in an earlier post, what is your solution. You don't have one, and if you are honest you will admit that. "Local leader input"? Sure, let's do a Tower of Babel and, and what? Not seeing much leadership from you, here, Phil. You are aggravating the problem, by waffling in the middle. People should come together and changes should be made, huh? By walking the fine line between, like you do above, you're leaving the situation wide open to delusional people who think the local communities, like Flint, like DPS, like Detroit, should be allowed to run their own shows, fix their own problems. Power to the people, democracy, and all that. Snyder formed a couple of committees to look into the Flint and DPS situations. Maybe we should elect that other guy, the Democrat with no fiscal understanding, who can form some other committees.
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 4:47pm
"delusional people who think the local communities, like Flint, like DPS, like Detroit, should be allowed to run their own shows, fix their own problems. Power to the people, democracy, and all that." Democracy and all that? Really? Lots of people have fought and died for our democracy and you speak of it as if it is passe. It's not just for the people who can pay their bills, and its not to be taken away by the Governor who's only claim to authority is being elected through that very process. sheesh, I hear the beaches in Somalia are nice and you won't have to worry about democracy and all it's inconveniences.
John Gillis
Thu, 01/28/2016 - 9:33pm
Do you have a contribution to make, Farmer Bob, or are you just waving the patriotic flag? My point is consensus management by committee doesn't work in politics any better than it does in business. The EM concept, though far from perfect, at least broke the logjam. How many years has the DPS been broken? Why hasn't the democratic process fixed it? People are selfish and spoiled and defending their own vested interests. That's not the democracy "we" fought and died for.
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 4:44pm
Steve, that was a wonderful summary of the situation that created the Flint water crisis. The decision to move temporarily to the Flint River as a water source was indeed "forced" by the money grab from the Detroit Water and Sewer Department. They were obviously trying to maximize revenue on the backs of their non-Detroit customers. The direct cause of the lead contamination was the failure of the Flint Water and Sewer Department to properly treat Flint River Water before releasing it to customers. They simply didn't do their job. And then they lied about it to the public, to city officials and to the EM. This wasn't a failure of the Emergency Manager, except to the degree that none of the 4 EMs appointed fired all City of Flint employees and require them to re-apply for their jobs. Given the outcry that this particular tactic generated when the EAA and the Detroit Public Schools EM tried it, I'm not surprised that the Flint EM decided or was counseled to use a lighter touch. This truly tragic situation was allowed to continue because neither the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality nor the EPA did their jobs of overseeing and monitoring the Flint Water and Sewer Department appropriately. The leaders and some of the directly responsible analysts from those agencies have already resigned in disgrace. Thank goodness that at least one pediatrician with epidemiological knowledge blew the whistle as soon as she had confirmatory data on elevated blood lead levels in multiple Flint children. Certainly children from homes in Flint where there were (or still are) obvious corrosion byproducts in the water should be tested for the presence of lead in their blood and other tissue. Those with high levels of lead should undergo chelation therapy at state expense. But please remember that the (recently cut in half) elevated blood lead levels were found in only 6.3% of the Flint children tested in the areas the doctor deemed to be at greatest risk because of the age and condition of the housing in those neighborhoods. While we may have thousands of people potentially exposed to lead, relatively few of them have even elevated levels of lead in their blood, much less been "poisoned by policy" as the protesters have been claiming.
Charles Richards
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 5:25pm
This is extremely well done. The only small quibble I have is the reference to the fall in levels of lead in the blood of those tested. As I understand it, the half-life of lead in blood is fairly short. Of more relevance is the level of lead in the water. I understand thatif ninety percent of the tests are below fifteen parts per billion, then the water is considered safe.
john Yelle
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 10:42pm
Steve very good article. I just read an email from Detroit that was available at that time stating they were willing to negotiate at a lower rate; yet the city manager ignored it. Interesting....... see what you can find out.
Thu, 01/28/2016 - 2:26pm
Wow, someone who gets the whole picture. Well said. Refreshing summary of a complex issue.
Fri, 02/05/2016 - 10:29am
Appreciated your insight on Flint water costs to citizens compared to what the city was paying to Detroit. You are not correct regarding the corrosion issue. Flint River water treated by the Flint plant met federal criteria for pH(not the problem here) as well as chlorides. However, even though the chloride levels were well within safe consumption levels, increases in treated water chloride levels from native river water levels and ferric chloride treatment pass through changed the electrolytic nature of Flint water sufficient to cause some galvanic corrosion of dissimilar metal pipe material which released lead in service lines leading to Flint homes.
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 1:09pm
I am wondering if we could revive more training and supports to cities and city councils that are struggling to be effective. Instead of coming in an pointing fingers or leaving people on their own, revive the concept of technical assistance that is voluntary, culturally appropriate and filled with examples of best practices and success stories to show that problems can be resolved and cities saved. It would cost money, government money, but wouldn't that be a good use of money? Train citizens to be effective leaders and provide continuing education to city personnel to focus on excellence instead of cost cutting and doing everything as cheaply as possible?
Barry Visel
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 3:10pm
Maybe the MI Municipal League would care to weigh in on your excellent question. They provide training to their municipal members.
Charles Richards
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 5:18pm
What if excellence cannot be provided with the available revenue? And isn't it wise to do everything as cheaply as possible? As long as the quality of the provided services is adequate, shouldn't they be provided as efficiently as possible? And surely local leaders should be offered appropriate training, but what if they don't benefit from it? Then what?
Donna Benz
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 2:22pm
Wow, again another piece on EM laws without any solutions--thank you. EM laws are put in place as a last resort. The unions, who have demanded lucrative benefit packages and the cities who have paid them to avoid a strike are all to blame. A EM is the only hope for the citizens of a town after years of mismanagement and corruption. City managers just hope that they will be gone when the benefits and pension bill comes due. Kick the can down the road! The citizens in the rest of the state should not have to assist towns who have chosen to look the other way when controlling their costs and voted in people who can't balance the books.
Paul Jordan
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 6:18pm
I'm a resident of Flint who is also a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit challenging the emergency management law. Mr. Power correctly mentioned that one of the claims of the law's supporters is that it enables getting a community's finances "back in order". The assumption is that the city has adequate revenue to provide adequate services and meet its financial obligations. That assumption is not warranted in many cases. In Flint, for example, the bases of city finances have dramatically declined in recent years. Between 2002 and 2014, on a per capita basis personal income (the source of our income tax) has declined from $21,400 to $3,448 (a decline of 84%). Over the same period of time, the per capita value of residential real estate has fallen from $199 to $132 (a decline of 34%. No matter how ingenious a money manager we might be, which one of us could avoid financial disaster if our income sources declined by 84% and 34%? One glaring deficiency of the EM laws (past and present) have been that they do nothing to address the revenue side of city finances. I believe that democracy is a fundamental non-negotiable value, and emergency management is therefore repellent to me. However, I could see it as having more value in some limited cases if--in addition to appointing an emergency manager--the state also bore the responsibility for completely supplementing local revenues enough to ensure adequate public services.
John Gillis
Fri, 01/29/2016 - 10:00am
Yes, you're right, Paul Jordan. The EM should take steps to minimize expenses--past, present, and future; and the state should cover the shortfall in revenue, in perpetuity, if necessary. The people in Flint did not cause their economic context any more than if they had a natural disaster.
Charles Richards
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 6:38pm
Mr. Power is to be commended for his skepticism about the big ideas promoted in the area of public policy. He notes that you don't want a solution that makes things worse. He says, "That’s my skeptical — bordering on cynical — response to many of the well-intended brainwaves policymakers concoct to deal with problems, either in business or, more commonly, in public policy." We have too many policy makers who, having excessive, unwarranted confidence in their abilities, propose big, comprehensive "solutions" that often turn out to have negative unintended consequences that outweigh the benefits of the "solution". That is why conservatives, being well aware of their limited ability to foresee all the possible consequences of their proposals, tend to advocate smaller changes. It may very well be that Mr. Power is right to be skeptical about emergency managers. It may be that we should have let the communities and school districts that have had emergency managers just spiral into bankruptcy.
Tue, 01/26/2016 - 8:37pm
This "Nobel Act" of putting emergency managers in charge with full dictatorial powers created a cronie network where contracts appeared to be awarded on bribes rather than capability. These EMs appeared be in it for their own gain and not for the good of the people. Detroit was already taken down by corruption and fraud and these guys, with the governor's and legislature's blessing, continued the same plan. All of these people need to be removed and, if possible, prosecurlted. This maybe is the only way to clean up the mess and bring honor back to the State of Michigan. Hopefully young people will see a reason to stay and more money could come into the state for investment.... Just my 5 cents.
James Bell
Wed, 01/27/2016 - 12:01pm
Does it raise doubts.....more like a red flag on fire burning the hands gripping it!!
Fri, 01/29/2016 - 9:22am
Another article by a liberal group criticizing the EM law without a solution. "Will of the people" as mentioned above unfortunately translates to those living off the public dime. The citizens can't be happy with the police wait times, lack of good public transportation, a city that is full of trash, because cities can't afford to provide these services? So, I am sorry, who is not happy? The unions have negotiated, with willing elected officials, lucrative benefit packages and overstaffing at the expense of serving the people or students. The elected officials do not want a strike on their hands so they give in...plus no one really looks at the benefits only pay. So in comes the EM. The only people complaining are those who are loosing something (usually the unions). The citizens gain--look at Detroit! We kept the art museum and services and the running of the city better because a good leader like Mike Dugan knew he could do something great with a clean slate. I be Mike Dugan would not have taken the job if Detroit was the status quo before the EM came in. A good EM works with the citizens and elected officials. And finally, the rest of the state does not want to have to pay for mismanaged cities or school districts. The Flint situation is unfortunate and just shows that big government is not efficiently able to serve the people.
Chuck Jordan
Sun, 01/31/2016 - 12:30pm
I wonder why almost all of the Emergency Managers are in mostly minority cities. Why did these cities become mostly minorities? Democracy doesn't work so we hire Emergency Managers. Emergency Managers haven't worked out so well either. What's next? Can we hire an emergency manager for the state? Then we would have good roads and good schools.
Sue Sue
Sun, 01/31/2016 - 8:29pm
Hey, Phil..... Why are the janitors not cleaning up the messes in the Detroit Public Schools? Mice, mold, mushrooms are all staff problems. If there were not desks, that would be a money problem. Get some good cleaning staff down there in the D.
Mon, 02/01/2016 - 1:44am
Excellent analysis of the Emergency Manager history. This provocative policy denied democratic votes. Equally important the EM's have been controversial with outcomes that have cost poor distressed communities more money. The Detroit Bankruptcy was not without its own perils, injustice. The transparency lacked the inner dealings and high consultant charges. The lack of transparency allowing the EM to hire his colleagues, past employer and allow extraordinary fees without consideration allowed by the Governor is sadly unfair to the people of Detroit. Despite the praise the bankruptcy judge allowed the EM to ignore the conflict of interest with his firm which benefitted from doing business at extreme charges. Similar situations of public institutions dealing with silk stocking firms in Chicago had Mayor Emanuel not allowing the overcharging that everyone looked the other way in Detroit. Mysterious secretive private funding of EM salaries, perks has a dark shadow cast without any explanation of those firms hired including the present waste of money in hiring million dollar consultant for teacher seminars in the troubled Detroit schools. The union is destroyed and the hired guns are hardly public consciousness in their pirate fees approved by a tainted EM from the Flint debacle? The poor communities have a record of poor management that the EM's made worst most of the time across the state by all the past governors? The Detroit Bankruptcy had a whistleblower who protested the EM approved hiring of high paid positions for police chief, outside consultants and triple higher consultant and lawyer fees. Perhaps legal but not moral leadership.
Mon, 02/01/2016 - 9:26am
Oh Please Mr. Carl Taylor I think you stayed up a bit to late last evening. These communities demonstrated a total disregard of the public trust and were given ample time to attempt to right their proverbial ships...to no avail. I will support your contention that the EM law should be abandoned, yep just let the cities collapse...no services, no paydays for employees, no retirement checks. And shame on Mr. Phil P. for contributing nothing useful to the debate. Congrats to Steve S. for his analysis, very thoughtful, and resolute. A tip of the hat to others who stepped out in support. Frankly, I am weary of the continued burden of Federal and State dollars bailing out these communities for their incompetence and thievery. You are stealing resources from the rest of the state and local governments who make the sacrifices and tough decisions every day in providing services to their constituents.