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Upsetting friends

By Shea Howell
Special to the Michigan Citizen

The attack on the elected Detroit School Board is a direct assault on democracy. It is a mean spirited, small minded and vindictive action that reveals the motives of Lansing to strip Detroit of any power over its own resources and future.

Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette have gone too far, even for their most loyal supports, Stephen Henderson of the Free Press and Nolan Finley of the Detroit News. I rarely agree with these gentlemen, but this time they are right to oppose this assault.

Henderson has supported the emergency manager law and has been no friend of the elected board. In fact, he compares them to drunk drivers “sauced on power and staggering with incompetence.” Yet, he acknowledged that the “effort to unseat the board over a technicality in state law is a dangerous flirtation with the kind of arbitrary and undermining attack on democracy that will only weaken the state’s case for continued, active oversight of city schools.”

He said, “Detroiters, for better or worse, went to the polls in good faith to elect a school board, with the understanding that their votes would be respected and the results would matter.”

He goes on, “Taking that away over a technicality is wrong, and only reinforces the feeling among Detroiters (albeit generally misguided) that the state is somehow conspiring to silence our democratic voices. The governor needs to be working to prove that his interventions are not about a disrespect for democracy nor indulging power plays that make him look more like an overlord.”

Nolan Finley writes, “Schuette kicks a hornet’s nest.” Finley approaches the issue tactically as assaults on democracy have never troubled him. He simply thinks it was a bad move because it makes the emergency manager issue about “voting rights and race.” This, he fears, is “where the public employee unions and community activists who are backing the repeal want the focus.” Yet, even Finley acknowledges there is what he calls “the matter of fairness” and he sees this intervention as “shady.”

No matter how the governor and the attorney general package this attack, it demonstrates their disdain for democratic rights, responsibilities and processes. Moreover, it reflects their desire to punish all those who dare to think differently than they do.

Over the last year, the elected Detroit School Board in exile has consistently provided a place for citizens to meet and share concerns. They have been a public counter to many of the draconian efforts of DPS Emergency Manager Roy Roberts, bringing to light decisions that erode public education.

They remind people that Snyder and corporate media’s claims that an elected school board is the reason for the problems of the public education defies logic and credibility.

After all, the district has been under state control for 11 of the last 13 years. How is it possible that the state continues to absolve itself from the consequences of its own actions?

The reasons behind this attack are two-fold. First, stinging from the suspension of their much loved emergency manager law, the AG and governor are striking out, looking to punish those they can’t control. Second, they recognize that this particular elected school board, with no formal power, has been gaining public respect through its open, consistent practice, its support of students who have walked out in protest of poor decisions by the EM, and in its responsiveness to parents. In short, the elected board in exile has demonstrated a level of political credibility and maturity that eludes our EMs.

The effort to overturn the emergency manager legislation is about democracy and the relationships between local and state governments. The governor and his attorney general are just what their actions look like — “disrespectful,” “shady” and profoundly anti-democratic. Even their friends know it.

Contact Shea Howell at howell@oakland.edu

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