While there are certainly signs of an overall economic recovery, no one is questioning the budget woes and painful cuts that lie ahead for the Highland Park School Districts or the City of Detroit. The cash crisis is clear, but there is no good reason for the crisis to serve as an excuse to strip voters of their elected officials. We in Michigan have suffered enough. We don’t need our wounds deepened by having our voting rights removed.
A crucial point in the effort to right the wrongs of Public Act 4 came recently from Michigan Forward. The group gathered and submitted more than 200,000 petition signatures to put Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law before voters.
Even people opposed to the Emergency Manager Law ask: what’s the alternative to municipal bankruptcy? Part of the solution came from an unlikely source. Governor Snyder has offered a much needed cash infusion to Highland Park if an Emergency Manager comes in and restructures the school district’s finances. A plan that addresses the budget shortfall and serves democracy would be for the state to support the elected officials through the restructuring process rather than replace elected leaders, even temporarily. We can debate the merits of the cuts or what’s needed in terms of restructuring. But what’s not up for debate is that once you open the door to removing elected officials by some means other than the vote, people can come up with all sorts of half-baked reasons to circumvent the democratic process.
Laws change all of the time and technological and social advances may even force us to occasionally rethink some constitutional principles. But no such change has taken place so that we would consider it legal to remove elected officials outside of the will of voters. The difficulty of coming up with a constitutional solution doesn’t mean that we can simply ignore the constitution in favor of an easier, more convenient solution. Nor does it matter how detailed or defined the Emergency Manager Law is. In terms of the precedent, all that matters is that it overrides the will of the people – and once you do that, you’re putting salt in the wound.