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In Benton Harbor, one of Michigan’s first new local emergency managers under Public Act 4 described himself as an “angel of common sense” just days after he suspended democracy there by ordering the City Council to quit doing the people’s business. 

If Emergency Manager Joe Harris believes he is heaven-sent for dismantling local democracy, I guess that makes Libya’s Colonal Gadhafi a god. And if predictions are accurate, we can expect a lot more angelic local dictators like Harris as Republican state budget cuts create a financial hell on earth for Michigan’s cities and schools.

While the public right now may be asleep when it comes to Michigan’s new anti-democratic emergency manager law, voters will likely soon be roused from their slumber by the sound of crumbling democracy in their local communities. 

By the time I left the Marine Corps 20 wars or so ago, I was a democracy junkie and have been that way ever since.   So when I see democracy being threatened in my home state of Michigan it gets personal. 

When the governor and Legislature simultaneously propose crisis-causing cuts in funding for schools and cities and then enact laws that create Super Dictators to take over those school districts and cities in crisis, there’s not just cause for concern—there’s cause for alarm. 

When they do so on a straight party line vote and reject common-sense proposals requiring public accountability, financial disclosure and a ban on outside income for the new emergency managers, you can safely predict there will be abuses to come.

Michigan Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer, in a blistering attack on Public Act 4 that created these emergency mangers with dictatorial powers, says as many as 100 Michigan cities and 160 school districts could be pushed into financial crisis under the current Republican budget proposal.  

That’s a lot of potential dictators in the queue who not only have the power to thwart local voters by suspending legislative and executive powers of elected officials, but can tear up contracts, impose debt burdens on local taxpayers and all the while collect $11,000-a-month pay from the local treasury. 

“It is an unfair and unjustified power grab that allows these appointed—not elected—managers to operate above the law and often against the will of the people,” said Whitmer.  “This (law) represents bigger government, more bureaucrats, more taxpayer expense, and less accountability, less transparency.”

I believe Public Act 4 violates Michigan’s Constitution because what the Legislature and Governor did instead of directly taking over local governments in financial crisis and being directly accountable to voters, was to give their power over to an unelected manager who is unaccountable to voters. 

Whether Michigan’s highly partisan Republican Supreme Court majority would agree with me is another question.   But regardless of whether the courts strike down Public Act 4, it’s now up to us—as citizens—to protect our democracy and our wallets because, clearly, we do not have an elected Legislature and a Governor who seem to think that is their job.

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