Black town stripped of power allegedly to be turned into golf park

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For one small black town near Lake Michigan, things are about to change drastically thanks to a controversial law that allows for an “emergency financial manager” to take over a city.

Emergency Manager Joe Harris was appointed by then Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm to “correct financial problems” and save the city from complete financial disaster. What Harris did was come to Benton Harbor – an 85.5 percent black town across the river from 89.5 percent white St. Joseph – and completely remove power from all the elected officials in the city.

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Officials can only call a meeting to order, approve minutes, and close a meeting. Any other action must have expressed written consent from the financial manager. In the mean time the future of Benton Harbor as a city is rapidly fading as Harris helps to make way for a new multi-million dollar public/private golf and residential redevelopment project – a project pushed by the Whirlpool company since the 1980s. Whirlpool’s corporate offices are in Benton Harbor.

The new development would start in St. Joesph and then reach over the river into Benton Harbor. As the development stretched further into Benton Harbor it would swallow up Jean Klock Park, one of the only points of pride in this small town with a per-capita income of little over $10000.

With a financial Manager in charge of the city, Benton Harbor’s elected officials are completely powerless to do anything to try and save their town. Harris was also formerly on the board of directors for the group overseeing the redevelopment project until recently.

The emergency manager law was sponsored by Al Pishelka, a former staffer for local congressman Fred Uptown – heir to the Whirlpool fortune and former vice president of one of the groups involved in the redevelopment project.

The future of Benton Harbor seems bleak, as the town is soon to be replaced by a luxury golf neighborhood few of the current residents can hope to afford.