Detroit City Councilmember JoAnn Watson

Detroit City Councilmember JoAnn Watson


The governor of the state of Michigan through his appointed representative filed

By JoAnn Watson
Detroit City Council

DETROIT — Let’s get one thing straight, the city of Detroit has not filed for municipal bankruptcy. The emergency manager (EM) filed the bankruptcy petition, and he is an appointee of the governor of the state of Michigan based on Act 436 — a law formerly known as PA 4 —which was repealed by 2.3 million Michigan citizens statewide on Nov. 6, 2012.

The EM is only accountable to the governor, the EM only answers to the governor, and the EM can only be “checked and balanced” by the governor.

Sure, the Michigan State Constitution says the governor has the right to “approve” a municipal bankruptcy — but no where is it written that the governor gets to file bankruptcy on behalf of a municipality — a city which he swore an oath to protect. Nowhere in the history of the United States of America has an unelected, non-resident, appointee (like the EM) filed for municipal bankruptcy.

This hostile takeover of Detroit is not made less racist because the field of co-conspirators includes Black agents and designates operating as emergency managers. Make no mistake about it: This is a carefully orchestrated set of events that has clearly been crafted in a right-wing playbook to seize assets, dismember electorate voting powers, dismantle unions and the families/neighborhoods supported by union jobs, disable local elected officials, smear and tarnish the image and viability of Black elected leadership, and broadly claim that the legacy costs related to retiree pensions are largely to blame for the city’s debt crisis.

The long-term debt is not due today. It is payable over the terms of relevant agreements — five years, 10 years, 25 years — and some of the long-term debt is secured debt, like bonds secured by  water department rate payers.

In addition, hundreds of millions of dollars due to the city are collectible from vendors, companies and entities like the state of Michigan who are in default to the city and have not been forced to ante up. The state of Michigan approved a loan in March 2012 to help with “cash-flow,” but the state has refused to release the much-needed cash for more than a year without explanation. This manufactured crisis has never been about resolving the city’s debt. The stage was set to declare a “State of Emergency” and take over the city’s assets without paying for it.

A federal judge determined several years ago that if the city opted to sell 49 percent of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, $10 billion would be a fair exchange. However, the current mindset is to seize Detroit assets and not compensate the city at all (witness the Belle Isle agreement to turn over the island to the state for nothing).

Further, the city of Detroit has not exhausted every avenue for reducing its debt, like forcing Wall Street banks and financial institutions to lower their interest rates, those who were bailed out by the feds and who have predatory accountability with respect to Detroit’s foreclosures — evicting thousands of Detroit families out of their homes — exacerbating population exodus and thrusting thousands of Detroit neighborhoods into a downward spiral from the highest Black home ownership in the nation (a decade ago) to desperate conditions of blighted, vacant and dangerous structures.

Of the debt due financial institutions, $39 million is interest alone — surely those exorbitant interest rates should be challenged. Yet, the state and the EM have listed the banks and financial groups as the priority groups to receive payment, while they breach union contracts and renege on pension promises to retirees.

Further, the city has not engaged in levels of “good-faith” bargaining and negotiations as called for in the bankruptcy law, according to Michigan American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) President Al Garrett and International United Auto Workers (UAW) President Bob King.

Anyone who questions whether bankruptcy was a planned maneuver need only review the cacophony of e-mails, which have been made public via union member Robert Davis’ lawsuit against the EM, the governor and Detroit’s mayor.

So, if bankruptcy was the “end game” all along, why did the state force the city to contract with so-called restructuring firms whose duties were to stabilize the city fiscally? Why the appointment of a Financial Advisory Board with expenses that only added to the deficit? Why mandate a multi-year consent agreement and sideline it after 10 months? Why a state-appointed CFO and COO accountable only to the governor with a half-a-million dollar price tag? Why did the state refuse to accept the $180 million in savings offered by the unions and approved by the mayor in early 2012?

The state of Michigan has been “governing” the city of Detroit since January 2012. So when the state declares the city to be in a fiscal crisis, is the state accepting accountability and declaring itself, its contractors and appointees inept?

Predominantly Black communities across Michigan are being forced into a socio-economic political structure that is reminiscent of the pre-Civil War era, while the governor and his cronies accelerate their anti-Black, anti-woman, anti-labor, anti-public schools, anti-poor, anti-retiree schemes at a fever pace. Everything, absolutely everything that has taken place under the guise of restructuring the debt among cities and schools in Michigan have been the subject of lawsuits filed to oppose the EM/EFM law based upon the United States Constitution and the Michigan Constitution!

The bankruptcy judge has ruled that all lawsuits challenging the governor and the EM have been frozen, while the bankruptcy process goes forth. What will it take for our people to take to the streets? Our vote has been taken away.

An emergency manager law that was repealed by voters statewide was reenacted weeks later, public education has been dismantled, as charter schools and Educational Achievement Authority (EAA) schools have been set up by the state using public dollars, city coffers have been raped and union contracts disabled to insure unlimited access for privatized contractors, et al. — all have been imposed on Michigan citizens in violation of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, the Voting Rights Act and equal justice under the law.

The governor and his operatives have deliberately desecrated the rights of more than half of Michigan’s Black citizens and urban dwellers of all backgrounds because they think they can. Because they think no one will fight or force them to retreat on their wretched excesses.

I believe Detroit and Michigan are “test cases” for certain right-wing agents who want to do all they can to control future elections for this nation’s highest office and other posts. Voter suppression, including the Supreme Court’s role in gutting the Voting Rights Act of 1965, are not incidental to the myriad of malevolence in Michigan.

Political shifts are occurring nationally, increasing the number of laws that  restrict local voting, increased number of laws to limit a woman’s right to choose, increased efforts to block immigration reform and moves to eliminate the National Labor Relations Board, with war being waged against all collective bargaining groups and their PAC’s, which help finance progressive campaigns.

Many are looking at the possibility of a woman president as the successor to America’s first Black president. However, if the urban cities, which elected President Obama, have been decimated and if the organized labor political action committees, which traditionally contribute to progressive candidates locally and nationally have been emasculated by Right to Work initiatives across the country; and if the incomes and pensions of middle-class, working-class Americans have been torn asunder by privatization, union-busting and corporate greed, what options exist for those who have decided enough is enough?

First of all, get ready to vote in the primary election Aug. 6. Only vote for persons with a known track record of revolutionary struggle and consistent representation of the people. All of us who understand the clear and present danger afoot must organize, must withhold economic support for businesses not worthy of your investment and must not blindly follow any “business as usual” stance.

Fight, organize, buy the Michigan Citizen and pass it out to your neighbors. Watch TV 20/R.J. Watkins Broadcasting and support businesses owned by your neighbors and Detroit residents. Call a family meeting and let every one know our children’s lives and our city’s future are at stake. Send a strong message to The White House and U.S. attorney general to demand federal intervention in Michigan — starting with Detroit — the arsenal of democracy, which saved this nation during wartime.

Right-wing Republicans have declared war on Detroit and Black populated cities across the state. The federal government must intervene, investigate and halt the lawless, ruthless, unconstitutional conduct of the governor. Citizens of Detroit should take a page from the great Paul Robeson who called for the United Nations to investigate racism in the United States in a report entitled “We Charge Genocide!”


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