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Petitions To Repeal Michigan Emergency Manager Law, Public Act 4, Recommended For Certification

The Huffington Post  |  By Posted: 04/25/2012 3:00 pm Updated: 04/26/2012 1:00 pm

Rick Snyder
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder supports the state's emergency manager law and has appointed five emergency managers since taking office. He signed a stronger version of the law in March 2011, but that act now faces a public referendum.

It looks like Michigan voters will decide whether or not to keep the state's controversial emergency manager law.

The state Bureau of Elections is recommending the Board of Canvassers certify more than 200,000 signatures on a petition seeking to put Public Act 4 up for a referendum in November.

The signatures came as the result of a massive statewide grassroots organizing campaign led by a coalition of groups called Stand Up For Democracy. The group turned in 50 boxes of petititions to the Secretary of State in Lansing in February, claiming 226,000 signatures. They needed just shy of 162,000 to meet the referendum requirements.

Public Act 4, signed by Gov. Rick Snyder in March 2011, enhanced Michigan's emergency manager laws, allowing the state to take over financially distressed municipalities and school districts. Three school districts and four Michigan cities are currently under emergency management.

Opponents say the law undermines local democracy because emergency managers have the final say in municipal operations and can break contracts and fire elected officials. Their petition asks voters to rescind the law.

The Board of Canvassers is set to meet Thursday to decide whether to place the question on the November ballot.

"The Bureau of Elections vetted the signatures that were filed and did a random sampling and found there were a sufficient number of valid signatures to place it on the ballot," Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams told HuffPost. A memo from the Bureau estimates the petition contains 203,238 signatures.

The final decision, however, rests with the Board of Canvassers, which will also have to consider a legal challenge to the petitions' validity from the conservative group Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility that claims the petitions are invalid because the typeface used was too small.

“We urge the Board of Canvassers to do the right thing and vote for certification of the 200,000 plus signatures," said Brandon Jessup, chairman of Michigan Forward and one of the leaders of the Stand Up for Democracy campaign. "The truth is in the petitions. We can't let bogus, partisan attacks usurp the will of the people. We are simply asking them to follow the law."

If the petitions are certified, the law will be frozen until the referendum in November. What would happen to the seven acting emergency managers is unclear -- the petition's backers say they would be forced from office.

The governor's office did not immediately return request for comment Wednesday, but state officials have said Michigan would revert to its older emergency financial manager law, allowing the state somewhat less control but retaining the governor's right to declare financial emergencies and appoint managers.

State Republicans have also considered passing stop-gap legislation to keep emergency managers in place until the November vote.

UPDATE: 5:15 p.m -- Snyder spokesman Terry Stanton told HuffPost the state is waiting on the Board of Canvassers' decision on the referendum but expects Michigan's emergency managers would not be threatened by a suspension of Public Act 4.

"The administration's position has been and continues to be that if the petitions are certified and PA 4 is suspended until the vote in November, then Public Act 72 would remain in effect," he said.

Stanton wouldn't speculate on whether a suspension of Public Act 4, which governs some provisions in Detroit's consent agreement with the state, would move the state to reconsider the plan to address the city's financial emergency.

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