Detroit emergency manager law defeated in close vote

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U.S. citizens wait to vote in the presidential election at Greater Grace Baptist Church November 6, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan. The race between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican nominee former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney remains tight as Americans head to the polls to cast their ballots. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

U.S. citizens wait to vote in the presidential election at Greater Grace Baptist Church November 6, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan. The race between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican nominee former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney remains tight as Americans head to the polls to cast their ballots. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

DETROIT – Public Act 4, Michigan’s controversial emergency financial manager law, was struck down by voters in a tightly contested vote on Tuesday. The repeal, while met with cheers from community groups and unions, now puts into question numerous emergency manager situations around the state, including in Detroit.

“Public Act 4 was working and it was being effective,” said Gov. Rick Snyder, who signed the law into effect in March 2011. “I am disappointed because it does make life more complicated.”

With 96 percent of precincts reporting, P.A. 4 fell 52 to 48 percent. Cities such as Detroit, Flint, Benton Harbor, Pontiac, and Highland Park have been under some form of emergency management, with mixed results.

The repeal of P.A. 4 also puts status of emergency financial managers who have been operating under the previous law, the more lenient Public Act 72 of 1990, since P.A. 4 was suspended in August when the Michigan Supreme Court placed the issue on the ballot. Groups such as the Detroit City Council, NAACP, Rainbow-PUSH and various unions, including AFSCME, had protested all emergency manager statutes; many of which pointed to the fact that nearly every city that was under emergency management was majority black.

“The people have spoken and essentially what they have said is that this law was too Draconian,” Al Garrett, President of AFSCME Council 25, said. “It’s time for the governor and the (state) legislature to come up with something new. Public Act 72 has been around since 1990 and it was intrusive as Public Act 4.

“It didn’t remove officials or terminate contracts. It could be tweaked in a number of ways but that’s not as repugnant as what was rejected by the public.”

The repeal also throws into question clouds the financial consent agreement between the state and the city of Detroit, which was approved pursuant to the law in April, along with the city’s public schools, which have been under emergency management since 2009.

Roy Roberts, the DPS emergency manager since 2011, said last month that he would consider resigning if P.A. 4 was struck down. With the repeal, Roberts – who had assumed control of all DPS functions – will only have control over the DPS budget while the school board will regain control of academic decisions.

Roberts told DPS employees in a letter that “until the vote is officially certified in 30 days,” he will continue to hold the position. The consent agreement was written with certain elements of P.A. 4 in play, and could see some changes as well.

“I am determined to continue with vital reforms now underway in the City of Detroit, despite the defeat of Proposal 1 by Michigan voters in Tuesday’s election,” Detroit Mayor Dave Bing said on Wednesday, noting that the consent agreement is still in place. “I, like many of the citizens of Detroit, opposed the Emergency Manager provision of Public Act 4. However, Public Act 4 was a tool to help us implement our restructuring plan, by giving us more leverage with labor unions.

“I am confident that my administration, in cooperation with the Detroit City Council and the State of Michigan, will find the right path for continuation of our much-needed reforms. With or without the support of Public Act 4, our goal remains the reform of City government to better serve the citizens of
Detroit.”

For now, moving forward will involve a different way of dealing with the issue of cities that are struggling to stay afloat in Michigan. Community groups and activists are reveling in the victory around Michigan and looking toward the future.

“Democracy has been protected, I am happy,” said Rev. D. Alexander Bullock, president of the Detroit chapter of Rainbow-PUSH. “It is a great day in the state of Michigan. I hope in the wake of our victory, that Gov. Snyder will now work with elected officials and a broad coalition of community stakeholders in financially challenged cities to develop a plan for renewal and reinvestment instead of silencing voices and denying votes.

“I also hope in the wake of our victory that the state legislature does not preempt the will of the people and enact another version of the law we have just repealed. The people of Michigan have spoken and despite the challenges we face, we do not believe any solution to those challenges should come at the expense of democracy.”

Follow Jay Scott Smith on Twitter @JayScottSmith