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Voters: ‘EM, pack your bags!’

By T. Kelly
The Michigan Citizen

Roy Roberts

Roy Roberts

DETROIT — “Pack your bags!”

That was the message Detroit voters sent with their ballots Nov. 6 to DPS Emergency Manager Roy Roberts and other EMs. Proposal 1, and the continuation of emergency management rule, was headed for a narrow victory election night until the votes from Detroit pushed the ballot measure to defeat.

“The people of Michigan have reaffirmed that democracy is the way to go in this state,” said Lamar Lemmons, president of the elected Detroit Public School (DPS) board said in an interview the day after the election.

“If he (Roy Roberts) is a man of his word, he will resign. The governor should accept his resignation,” said Lemmons.

Rev. David Bullock, president of Detroit chapter Rainbow PUSH, said, “I hope that Gov. (Rick) Snyder will respect the people’s decision and there won’t be any legislative or legal wrangling to circumvent what happened yesterday.”

Bullock described the sense of joy voters felt Nov. 7. “We all thought that we weren’t going to win because at 12:30-1 a.m. it was close but the news outlets were saying (Public Act 4) would prevail. It wasn’t until 3:30 in the morning that it came in that 50 percent said ‘no’ and we were actually successful at voting down the emergency manger law … It was great to wake up this morning and see we were successful.”

Roberts released a letter to Gov. Snyder before the election saying if Proposal 1 was defeated, he would consider resigning. On Nov. 7, the day after the election, Roberts postponed that departure. In a letter to DPS employees, Roberts wrote: “Until the vote is officially certified in 30 days, I will continue to operate under the existing statute and (Wayne County Circuit Court) Judge Murphy’s order that I am responsible for finances and the Board of Education is responsible for education.”

Board members claim Roberts has blocked their efforts to promote academics by refusing them use of DPS facilities and equipment. They say it is time for Roberts to pack his bags and get a box for his things.

DPS board member Elena Herrada requested that the board ask Roberts for his resignation at the board meeting scheduled for Nov. 7 at 6 p.m. The meeting was to be held at the Detroit Public Library because Roberts refused to allow the board to hold the meeting in DPS facilities.

With voter rejection of PA4, some believe Public Act 72 (PA72) is revived and that emergency managers (EM) can continue with limited powers. The earlier version of state control gave EMs only financial control and not the full dictatorial control of PA4 where EMs can break union contracts, dispose of assets and take any other actions they deem necessary, all without public oversight or accountability. The Sugar Law Center has a pending lawsuit arguing that PA72 is not viable and no longer law.

“As I see it, the emergency manager has to go,” said State Rep. John Olumba, who says there are different steps required to appoint an EM under the two different laws. “The appointment for an emergency manager (PA4) is A,B, C … the appointment for an emergency financial manager (PA72) is X,Y,Z. There is a whole other criteria for appointment under PA72 than PA4.”

Olumba said for those who argue that the state reverts to PA72, the only person who could have survived the Nov. 6 vote would be Robert Bobb, DPS’ first EM. He was appointed under PA72 and continued to work under PA4. Most EMs now are appointed under PA4.

Lemmons said not only does he hope Roberts departs, but he hopes “the Attorney General (Bill Schuette) and the governor cease and desist from their attacks on the board.”

He says an upcoming court appearance will be telling. On  Nov. 14, at 9 a.m. before Judge John Gillis in the Coleman A. Young Center, the board will appear for a hearing on  Schuette’s motion to overturn the 2009 election of those DPS board members representing districts. Schuette claims that DPS is now so small that state law does not permit its division into districts. Lemmons is urging the public to attend.

With the exception of two years, DPS has been under state control since 1999. During state control, DPS has gone from financial surplus and Class A district to a $350 million deficit and 100,000 student loss, leaving 51,674  enrolled as of Sept. 18. The state-created Education Achievement Authority (EAA) took DPS students and buildings — including the newly constructed Mumford High School built with bond money that Detroit taxpayers continue to pay.

Lemmons said the board wants to see the contracts governing the relationship between DPS and the EAA and what compensation came to the district for the loss of its buildings and equipment. He said the board wants to reorganize and cut administrative staff.

“The EM has kept us from rectifying the financial emergency as both he and his predecessor (Robert Bobb) have prolonged the financial crisis,” Lemmons said, noting that Roberts has “bloated the administration, putting a large staff between the superintendent and the principals.”

Lemmons said the elected board hopes to bring the EAA students and facilities back under DPS. Lemmons sees a conflict of interest in Roy Roberts serving as both DPS’s emergency financial manager and EAA’s executive committee chair. Roberts has closed DPS neighborhood schools and sold them to EAA for reportedly $1, leaving many neighborhoods without a high school.

The EAA also does not pay any of the debt created under state control. Debt repayment money comes only from the per-pupil allotment provided to DPS students.

Mayor Bing, facing a recall effort, was out of step with his constituents on election night when he urged support for the EM law. He told the Detroit News: “The emergency manager proposal is the tool that we need to take our agenda forward. If in fact it were to fail, it would create a problem for us, no doubt in my mind about it.”

For ASCFME President Al Garrett, the election brought mixed emotions.

“It’s bittersweet. On the one hand, we won Proposal 1; the voice of the citizens prevailed. But we lost on Proposal 2. The emergency manager is no more but collective bargaining has not been protected. It is not in the Constitution”

Many fear what follows the victory. Republicans in the State Legislature have repeatedly said in published reports that they are ready to enact a new version of Public Act 4 they hope will meet legal challenges.

Garrett commented: “I’m cautiously optimistic the Republicans will heed the will of the people and will not try  to make Michigan a Right to Work state. … They (Republicans) were shown there is a price to pay for passing legislation repugnant to the rights of the people.”

As for the future, while Snyder has said the defeat of PA4 is a setback to helping struggling cities and districts, Rev. Bullock said he hoped “we can start having conversations on revitalizing the cities and school districts not by destroying democracy, but by empowering people to be a part of the process.”

EMs rule in Flint, Benton Harbor, Pontiac, Ecorse and Allen Park and in the school districts of Detroit, Highland Park and Muskegon Heights. Except for Allen Park, the EM governed bodies are majority Black cities.

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