Effort to repeal State’s emergency manager law gains steam but is delayed by Flint City Council bickering

By Tom Travis

An effort by Michigan Democrats to repeal Michigan’s much-contested emergency manager law hopes to gain strength through a resolution from Flint City Council (FCC). On Feb. 1, 2023, House Bill 4065 (H.B 4065) was introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives, and if enacted would repeal the entirety of P.A. 436.

At a Monday press conference at City Hall, Mayor  Sheldon Neeley was joined by State Representative Brenda Carter (D-Pontiac) and State Representative Cynthia Neeley (D-Flint) to explain the resolution aimed to add support to the State-wide effort to repeal the law.

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Officially known as the Local Financial Stability and Choice act, Public Act 436 (P.A. 436) was enacted in 2012 to provide for the appointment by the governor of emergency managers to local municipalities and school districts experiencing financial distress.

P.A. 436 gives many powers to the appointed manager.  It authorizes an emergency manager to amend a local government’s budget, sell, lease or assign assets, apply for state loans on the municipalities’ behalf, suspend collective bargaining agreements, modify or terminate existing contracts, exercise power over the local pension board, consolidate or eliminate departments of local government, and decide whether to fill or create staff positions, all irrespective of the local government’s charters and law, according to the proposed city council resolution.

Michigan State Capitol building in Lansing. (Photo source: Michigan State Capitol Facebook page)

The Flint City Council resolution further notes, “these broad powers conferred on an Emergency Manager are not subject to local review or control and have had devastating financial consequences for many municipalities, including Flint.

“While under the control of state-appointed emergency managers the Flint Water Crisis occurred, water rates for residents ballooned to some of the highest in the nation; and Flint’s residents deprived of their right to challenge their government when Charter-mandated offices were disbanded,” according to the proposed city council resolution.

Flint Water Warrior and local activist, Claire McClinton speaks at a rally commemorating the 7th anniversary (April 2021) of the Flint Water Crisis. (Photo by Tom Travis)

Rep. Carter came to Flint seeking support for a resolution from Flint’s city council that would repeal P.A. 436. According to the council’s agenda the resolution reads, “BE IT RESOLVED, that the City of Flint fully supports H.B 4065 and the repeal of P.A. 436, and urges the Michigan Legislature to enact H.B 4065 and repeal the Local Financial Stability and Choice Act 436 of 2012.”

A bickering City Council fails to pass significant resolutions

The resolution was on the City Council’s Monday meeting agenda, but due to several disruptions among a bickering council it was never discussed. The resolution will return on the next council agenda.

Councilperson Quincy Murphy (Ward 3) (left), Mayor Sheldon Neeley (at podium), State Rep. Brenda Carter(right) and State Rep. Cynthia Neeley (far right) (Photo by Tom Travis)

The authors and co-sponsors of the city council resolution are Carter, Cynthia Neeley, Councilperson Quincy Murphy (Ward 3) and Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley. Councilperson Dennis Pfeiffer joined the press conference late and told EVM  he anticipates the council will pass the resolution based on discussions during council committee meetings.

When asked of Rep. Carter if other municipalities in Michigan are expected to pass similar resolutions in support of the State’s effort to repeal P.A. 436 she smiled broadly and said, “Well, I know one that will. The City of Pontiac will pass one.”

History of Flint’s emergency managers

Flint has had a tumultuous history with its four emergency managers between 2011 and 2015.  The first emergency manager, Ed Kurtz, was appointed in 2012 by then-Governor John Engler (R).  Then in 2013 then-Governor Rick Snyder (R) appointed Michael Brown, who was in place from July to October 2013;  Darnell Earley was in place  October 2013 to January, 2015;  and finally, Gerald Ambrose served as emergency manager for four months from January to April 2015, one year after the Flint river’s toxic water had begun flowing through the the city’s pipes, and setting off what some sources call one of the worst human-made disasters.

Before Ambrose left the City of Flint he signed orders banning Flint officials from reversing any of his orders for one year after he left.

In all four cases, the appointments of the emergency managers were bitterly protested by an ongoing group of activists, who vigorously bemoaned the loss of local autonomy and governance.  The activists’ efforts in attempting to restore local control of democracy drew not just local but also national attention as the water crisis played out.

A Kent State University scholar, Ashley Nickels, for example, wrote a book analyzing the EM era and documenting the threats to democracy with Flint as the nexus.  The book and its ideas were captured here in an EVM review.

A call to “replace or restrucure” the state’s emergency manager law was among the recommendations of the state Civili Rights Commission 2017 report after more than a year’s investigation of the water crisis.

Two of Flint’s  four emergency managers, Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose, were among 13 indicted for wrongdoing as the crisis unfolded, and many Flint residents passionately still believe the EM system, which severely reduced local control,  is one of the reasons behind the actions that led to the crisis.

Charges eventually were dismissed against Earley and Ambrose.  A new set of indictments targeted them in a civil trial in 2021, but those indictments also were dismissed by a Genesee County Circuit Court judge last October.

Many municipalities and school districts across Michigan have had emergency managers appointed including: Allen Park, Benton Harbor, Ecorse, Highland Park, Lincoln Park, Pontiac, Detroit Public Schools, Highland Park Schools, Muskegon Schools and Three Rivers Village . Emergency managers have been appointed by two Republican governors (Engler and Snyder) and one Democratic governor (Jennifer Granholm).

EVM Managing Editor can be reached at tomntravis@gmail.com. 

Author: Tom Travis

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