For us, the story of Michigan's emergency manager law has always been whether it's necessary or good to take away local democracy in order to fix a broken place. Under Public Act 4, an emergency manager can strip elected officials of their power, dissolve union contracts and even disband the entire town or school district.
A columnist for the Kalamazoo Gazette captured the issue perfectly when, criticizing our coverage, she asked whether it was better for Michigan's failing cities to have "a financial manager with dictatorial powers or an utterly dysfunctional city government."
Yesterday Pontiac's new emergency manager, Louis "Bud" Schimmel, answered questions about his role:
Does [the] law hand power to tyrants? I guess I'm the 'tyrant' in Pontiac then if that's the way it is. For the last 20 some years, Pontiac being my hometown, I've met with mayors and and ocuncils over the years and I've told them the management they are displaying will catch up with them some day. And by mismanagement I mean they've negotaited union contracts that are just outrageous. They have pension and health care costs that they can't pay for. They've put people on the payroll that are really friends and so on instead of professionals. They have cars, and they take the cars of the city over to the gas pump. The type of councilmans that we had were serving themselves first and the residents were a distant second. Federal funds were mismanaged. They overcollected on taxes from General Motors. The list goes on and on and on.Do you want to return back to that or are we going to do something that is different so that we can maintain police, fire and garbage pickup?And then you give back power? Pulic Act 4 is really a speed up of the previous act. I was in Hamtramck and Ecorse and it took me forever to straighten those places around, five years or so, because of various provisions that were so weak in the previous act....With that act I can get things fixed more quickly, get out and return it back to the mayor and Council. Hopefully, we can return it back to a group of folks that now will understand you can't do business as you've done it in the past.
Do it our way, or else -- that's the message. Let's also note that Mr. Schimmel is listed as an adjunct scholar for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. The Mackinac Center has been in the news recently for its stated aim to "outlaw government collective bargaining in Michigan."
Also, Mr. Schimmel says it's his view that "Detroit and Pontiac, Flint and Saginaw, and some others haven't done what they need to do." Next?
(Bonus read: Eclectablog on Michigan's plan to penalize Detroit schools, now under emergency management)