Unelected Czar of Benton Harbor, Michigan, Rejects City Council’s Resolution Honoring Constitution

Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Joseph L. Harris
Michigan’s solution for getting local communities out of fiscal turmoil has resulted in “emergency financial managers,” known to some as “dictators,” undermining the country’s fundamental system of democracy, according to critics.
Last year, then-Governor Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, sent accountant Joseph L. Harris to Benton Harbor, a small town of less than 10,000 people, to take over its finances. After Republican Governor Rick Snyder was elected in November, he signed into law the Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act or Public Act 4, which expanded Harris’ power by taking away all decision-making from the city council. Elected city officials, though, believed there was nothing wrong in their approving a resolution honoring the U.S. Constitution during the week of September 17.
Harris, who is paid $11,000 a month, objected to the city council’s move and nullified the resolution. He says that the city council is only allowed to call meetings to order, approve minutes and adjourn meetings. They cannot pass resolutions.
Opponents of the gubernatorial-appointed czars are now suing the state to have Michigan’s emergency manager law declared unconstitutional. They are also gathering signatures to put a repeal of the emergency manager law on the ballot in 2012. They argue that the effort to rescue cities from budget deficits cannot usurp the right of citizens to enjoy representation from their elected officials.
“This is an infringement on basic democracy,” attorney John Philo of the Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice told The Michigan Messenger. “It really is an experiment in a new form of government—one person rule.”
Detroit’s public school system is also run by an emergency financial manager, as are the city of Pontiac and the town of Ecorse.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
Lawsuit Seeks Injunction on Emergency Manager Law (by Eartha Jane Melzer, Michigan Messenger)
Democracy on Hold in Benton Harbor (by Ryan Harvey, Truthout)


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