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Corrosive management

Week 34 of the occupation

By Shea Howell
Special to the Michigan Citizen

The process of emergency management reinforces values that destabilize Detroit. Having had more than a decade of EMs in our schools and the high profile installation of Kevyn Orr as an overseer of the city, the contradiction between civic values necessary to foster community life and the values that guide emergency management is becoming deeper every day.

Emergency management uses a financial crisis to achieve political goals. To foster a healthy civic life, governments across the globe understand economic decisions should be placed within an openly debated political process. Over the last few years, from Buenos Aires to Brooklyn, people are participating in budgeting processes that encourage community discussions about needs and priorities. Emergency managers claim sole authority for financial decisions without accountability, transparency or open discussion.

Emergency management destroys legitimate authority. Governments ultimately depend on trust among people, institutions and decision makers. The majority of people in the state of Michigan voted down emergency management legislation, as did the majority of people in all cities where it is imposed. Through a series of tricks, the current governor reinstated the enabling legislation for EMs and shielded it from any future public referendum against it. Such actions make all government suspect, placing what is now legal in opposition to what is ethical.

Emergency management diminishes public understanding. The imposition of EMs requires the development of an atmosphere of catastrophe. This atmosphere precludes legitimate, open discussion about the nature of the crisis we face and the possible solutions for it. The recent Demos report joins a growing list of analysts who question the narrative put forward by the corporate elite. These critics suggest the emphasis on privatization and pension attacks are ideologically driven. Thus real solutions to the cash flow problems of the city cannot be explored.

Emergency management renders the idea of the city meaningless. EM Orr and his     high-priced legal team continually present themselves in the bankruptcy hearing and elsewhere as “the city.” But no one who lives here voted for them. No one who lives here has participated in any of their decisions. Yet, the EM and his team are actively reshaping every aspect of city life, from the most tangible pieces of land and buildings he sells off to the financial obligations he is assigning for future generations.

Emergency management targets the most vulnerable. We have seen this in our school district where children with special needs have been cast off. Kettering West, the School for the Deaf and now Oakman all have been closed. Our children in greatest need are given the least consideration.  Likewise, the attacks on health benefits and pensions target those who are least able to recover or find alternate means of survival. Such crude assaults are a form of bullying that erodes the essential core of civic life, to care for one another.

Emergency management destroys local economic vitality. For decades Detroit has struggled with the flow of money out of our city. We have watched contractor and construction dollars spiral out as goods and services are procured from surrounding suburbs. That is why Detroit established guidelines to encourage the spending of public money on local businesses, especially those owned by people of color and women. This hard fought policy is no longer guiding public decisions for expenditures.

Emergency management destroys accountability. From the selection of his legal team to the extension of contracts for garbage pickup to decisions to clear land, public scrutiny is evaded. The expenditure of public funds comes by edict, not discussion or exploration of conflict of interest.

Thus emergency management is a legal device to destroy democratic values essential for civic life. It establishes an unchecked authority with a penchant for cronyism and bullying. Ultimately these values corrode all of our relationships. Resistance to them is essential. Join artists, activists and educators to learn more about what you can do on Nov. 30 at the Northwest Activities Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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