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Jack Martin

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Including the Community in Decision-making

Posted: 03/16/2012 11:40 am

I believe that my appointment as the Emergency Manager (EM) for the School District of the City of Highland Park Michigan (District) has been somewhat unique when compared with my emergency manager colleagues around the state. About three weeks after my initial appointment by Governor Snyder, I was directed to "step down" as emergency manager of the district based on an Ingham County Circuit Court judge ruling that the appointment may have been inconsistent with the requirements of the State's Open Meeting Law. Approximately seven days after "stepping down," I was reappointed by the governor after a resolution of the Open Meeting challenge.

The City of Highland Park, Michigan was a former Southeastern Michigan jewel that is a city within a city. It is surrounded by the City of Detroit. Henry Ford chose Highland Park to build the Ford Model T which revolutionized automobile production and made Highland Park a very wealthy community. Other automobile manufacturers also had a presence in Highland Park which once served as the World Headquarters for the Chrysler Corporation. The city was home to many automobile executives and this condition resulted in Highland Park having one of the finest school systems in the state and country. It is one of the very few school districts that chartered many decades ago to educate children through grade14 and operate its own junior college, Highland Park Junior College.

Today, and over the past several years, the District has been in decline due to the city loss of population and tax base. These conditions were exacerbated by many instances of a lack of good governance and management. This led to the appointment of an emergency manager.

I am pleased to report that I have received nearly universal support from any city resident or official who has chosen to comment on my appointment as emergency manager. The only "community activist" with whom I met, who said she was against the appointment of an emergency manager, stated that her concern was that the emergency manager would not include the community in his/her decision-making processes. She then stated that, based on my approach to emergency manager responsibilities, she did not have a problem with my appointment.

I believe that as emergency manager, I can be most effective if I communicate frankly with all District stakeholders; the mayor, school board members, city council, parents, teachers, union officials, students and citizens. I have a controlled "open door" policy and this has aided, I believe, in there being no overt resistance to my appointment. My initial cost reduction initiatives have focused on contractor, utility, and telephone costs reductions, but I will be commencing union negotiations later this week. I have had several meetings with union members and told them where I expect to make cuts. They profess understanding, but as negotiations commence, my "honeymoon" may end.