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From domination to shared community

Week four of the occupation

By Shea Howell
Special to the Michigan Citizen

These are unprecedented times in Detroit. One man has the absolute power to make every decision about the public life of our city. The Emergency Manager has complete authority over every single aspect of civic responsibility.

The Mayor and City Council serve at his pleasure. They have no independent decision-making authority. Contracts with unions, pension funds, healthcare, the delivery of basic services, the priorities of the budget, the use of public money and the disposal of public assets all rest on his authority alone. Long standing covenants designed to increase public awareness and foster accountability in elected officials are all set aside.

There are no requirements for public hearings, no application of the Open Meetings Act and no need to notify or justify decisions about the sale of public properties.

This elimination of local control over civic life has been justified by the financial crisis facing the city. Although many cities and towns across the nation face financial difficulties, only in Michigan are these difficulties tied to the removal of elected officials. There are currently 23 states that have the power to intervene in municipal finances. Only Michigan ties this intervention to the elimination of the power of elected officials.

Moreover, the scope of the current enabling legislation, Public Act 436, grants broad power to a single individual. This is intentional. The current legislation changed the title of the individual from Emergency Financial Manager to Emergency Manager.

This change is more than semantics. It was in direct response to the efforts by the elected Detroit Public Schools Board of Education to challenge the decisions of then Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb over curriculum, methods of instruction and texts in the schools.

The court upheld the responsibility of the elected school board, stressing the emphasis on financial management and limiting the scope of Bobb’s actions. Not for long of course. The right wing state legislature rushed to enact  Public Act 4, which expanded the powers of individual overseers of school boards and municipalities, converting all Emergency Financial Managers to Emergency Managers.

This act, successfully overturned by a hard fought public referendum, was met with yet another effort by the legislature to strip local governments. Thus we are now functioning under Public Act 436, which grants to the single governor-appointed Emergency Manager  the power to act “for and in the place of” all municipal authority.

This is a completely new situation. As the most recent court challenge to this law says, “Public Act 436 establishes a new form of local government, previously unknown within the United States or the State of Michigan, where the people within local municipalities may be governed by an unelected official who establishes local law by decree.”

Over the last few years, these emergency manager efforts have been met with unprecedented resistance. Elected officials in managed communities have mounted legal challenges, organized public meetings and attempted to meet their responsibilities outside of authorized channels. Petitions were circulated and defended. At every opportunity, the people have voted down this legislation. Now, we are witnessing protests, public meetings and renewed court challenges.

But there is a deeper calling for all of us at this moment. It is the calling toward creating beloved communities that Dr. King evoked nearly a half century ago. Today around the city, in quiet and often unknown places, people are questioning, sharing, praying, probing, acting and struggling to create new ways to secure our safety and to heal one another, our communities and the earth. Many people recognize that simply restoring representative governments will not solve the many challenges we face.

Instead, people throughout the city are invoking the idea of beloved community. This has inspired generations of people around the world to struggle for justice, peace and healing. It is a vision we can all call upon as we seek to transform war zones to peace zones, hatred to love, domination to shared community.

 

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