Republican lawmakers in Lansing are working quickly to ensure Gov. Rick Snyder and his appointed emergency managers retain their power in local communities. In a 26-12 party-line vote Thursday, the state Senate passed S.B. 865, a stop-gap that would allow emergency managers to remain in place even if a petition drive to freeze Michigan's emergency manager law is successful.
Organizers of that petition drive have said they are extremely close to gathering the almost 162,000 signatures needed to freeze Public Act 4, the state's emergency manger law, and put it up for a referendum on the 2012 ballot.
Public Act 4, passed by the GOP-dominated legislature in March, allows governor-appointed emergency managers unilateral powers over the municipalities and school districts they run. They can break contracts, dismiss elected officials and sell public utilities. There are currently emergency managers in place in Benton Harbor, Flint, Ecorse, Pontiac and the Detroit Public Schools. Emergency managers are being considered for Detroit and Allen Park.
Stand Up For Democracy, the coalition behind the repeal petition effort says it has verified 95 percent of the signatures needed and expects to have collected enough before the end of this year.
Given the likelihood of the petition drive's success, Snyder and Republican lawmakers began crafting an interim emergency manager law last week.
As passed by the state Senate, the bill would allow the governor to create "receivership transition advisory boards" that would be required for communities to move out from under an emergency manager. If the governor was unsatisfied with the financial situation of a community or disagreed with the transition board's recommendations, he could choose to appoint a new emergency manager.
Stand Up For Democracy held a press conference Wednesday to rebuke the proposed legislation. Members urged voters to call their state legislators to demand they not pass a law, noting it would negatively impact the current petition and initiative process.
"Lansing's approach to addressing voter discontent with the emergency manager law is to simply deny people the opportunity to vote on the issue," said spokesman Brit Satchwell. "This a naked power grab by state politicians. It will not stand. It cannot be allowed to stand."
Democratic lawmakers have been outspoken in opposition to any efforts to block or circumvent the emergency manager repeal effort. U.S. Reps. John Conyers, Hansen Clarke and Gary Peters joined with their colleagues in the Michigan legislature and eight members of Detroit City Council in requesting a meeting with Snyder to discuss the legislation. (Council President Pro Tem Gary Brown did not sign the letter.)
The elected officials expressed "serious concern" that Snyder was attempting to "thwart any voter led initiative seeking to repeal the underlying Emergency Manager Law."
"If true," they wrote, "that would mean that no only would voters in covered jurisdictions be unable to elect their own representatives, but voters state-wide would be prevented from using the initiative process to best reflect their own views and judgments."
Conyers has also asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to review Public Act 4 for violations of the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.