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Jack Martin, Highland Park Schools Emergency Manager, Still At Work Despite Court Ruling

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Emergency Manager Jack Martin showed up for work in the Highland Park Schools Thursday, despite a ruling from a judge that he must cease operating in the district.

Ingham County Circuit Court Judge William Collette ruled Wednesday that the work of the state financial review board that recommended Martin's appointment was null and void because the group's private deliberations violated Michigan's Open Meetings Act.

The ruling threw Highland Park Schools -- and the review team currently investigating the city of Detroit's finances -- into limbo.

Although local opponents of Michigan's emergency manager law, Public Act 4, are rejoicing over Collette's ruling, Martin appears unfazed.

Martin was not in his office when contacted by The Huffington Post late Thursday afternoon, but a staff member confirmed he had worked in the office earlier in the day.

State Sen. Bert Johnson said his staff had also contacted Martin's office Thursday and found him in. Johnson believes Martin is violating the law.

"It remains to be seen whether Jack Martin or the governor will be held in contempt," of Collette's ruling, Johnson said. "If the average citizen did not follow what a judge said in court, they would find themselves with a big problem."

Sara Wurfel, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Snyder, disagreed with this assessment Wednesday, telling MLive the administration believed the ruling wouldn't affect Martin's ability to run the school district.

"We are closely reviewing today's ruling and consulting with the Attorney General to determine specific and appropriate next steps, and that will help ensure the fiscal and academic health and well-being of our communities and schools," Wurfel said. "The ruling only really addressed review teams and the Open Meetings Act and we don’t believe it affects the appointment by the governor of Jack Martin as emergency manager at this point in time."

Though Johnson said he is pleased with Collette's decision, he acknowledges Highland Park's schools still face extreme financial troubles.

"This EM was in the process of getting the state to give money for the payroll," Johnson noted. "That request is going to have to continue to go forward because that problem still exists."

In January, the state advanced the district $188,000 to make payroll and keep the schools operating. That loan was announced just hours after Snyder appointed Martin.

Johnson said school officials will still have to deal with the structural problems created by a shrinking student population and deteriorating, unused school buildings.

A community coalition called the Financial and Academic Reinvestment Commission formed soon after Martin's appointment to address some of these problems. FARC members, including Johnson, say they are trying rally public and private institutions to help create solutions to Highland Park Schools' problems.

Rev. D. Alexander Bullock is part of FARC and also leads Highland Park's NAACP chapter. He told The Huffington Post preparations for the group's first public meeting on Feb. 23 were coming along well.

"We expect statewide attendance at the hearing," he said.

Bullock said he thought Judge Collette's decision was "wonderful" and believed it supported an ongoing efforts to repeal the emergency manager law.

A petition campaign to force a referendum on the issue could freeze the ability of emergency managers to run cities and school districts until voters get an opportunity to decide on the measure in November.

Bullock said signatures would be turned in at the end of the month, and expects the repeal effort will gain some momentum from the judicial challenges to the law.

"It will be interesting seeing how all these different points of contention against Public Act 4 turn out," he said.

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