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Judge to rule on EM’s powers to name Library Commissioners

Judge Annette Berry COURTESY PHOTO

Judge Annette Berry
COURTESY PHOTO

By T. Kelly
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT—Wayne County Third Circuit Court Judge Annette Berry told attorneys for former Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts and elected board members July 19 that she will issue a written ruling on whether the EM has power to appoint members of the Library Commission.

It is a point Berry ruled on earlier when DPS was under Public Act 72, the preceding emergency manager law to Public Act 436. Then, she ordered that Roberts did not have authority to appoint members of the Library Commission as it was an entirely separate body and had no effect on the finances of the school district. Financial stability is the responsibility of the EM.

“Here we are under Public Act 436,” the board members’ attorney Cindy Heenan argued, and the appointment powers the emergency manager is claiming under the new act are “word for word the same under Public Act 436 and Public Act 4.”

Furthermore, neither the library’s function or funding are related to Detroit Public Schools, Heenan said.

Roberts’ attorney John Pirich, of the firm Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn, argued that the new EM law means “the power to remove is vested in the emergency manager alone” and that the emergency manager “may express any authority of the board.”

The Detroit library was established by a 1903 state law that grants the school board the power to name members of the Commission, which operates the library. Only the Library Commission has the power to unseat any member, DPS board president Lamar Lemmons said after the court hearing.

Lemmons said that former Attorney General Frank Kelley ruled that “a legislative body is the final arbiter of its composition.”

The Library Commission seat currently held by Roberts’ appointee Franklin Jackson is one of two at stake. The DPS board appointed Marianne McGuire, educator and former member of the State Board of Education, only to have Roberts replace her with Jackson in 2011. Board members are asking the court to unseat Jackson and replace him with McGuire.

Also, Diane Allen took a seat in January that Roberts wants vacated so former Library Commissioner Judge Ed Thomas can retake the position. Thomas has been surrounded by controversy. According to a Detroit News report, Thomas’ daughter, who started working at the library in 2007 as a clerk, received a lucrative contract in 2009 for more than $150,000.

The deputy director at the time was Juliet Machie, whom Thomas then backed for library director. Machie did not get the job; it went to Jo Anne Mondowney. Afterwards, the library adopted a nepotism policy. Thomas denied he played any role in his daughter’s contract.

Berry conferred with attorneys in chambers prior to the hearing. It was agreed there that DPS will pay the board’s attorneys within 30 days, a contentious matter since Roberts refused to pay the legal fees of Heenan and Buck Davis, and that if, in the future, there is a disputed bill, there will be a conference within two weeks. If there is no resolution, then payment request will go to the judge.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that relations between the board and DPS will improve” with the new emergency manager, Judge Berry said. Gov. Rick Snyder appointed Jack Martin July 15 to replace Roberts.

On Aug. 2, Judge Berry will take up other items including the elected board’s access to the financial software system used by DPS so they can understand what is happening with district finances and who has power to appoint vacated DPS board seats.

Roberts efforts to seat Jonathan Kinloch were rebuffed by the board at its July 11 meeting (see Michigan Citizen, July 21-27, 2013).

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