Wednesday, June 22, 2011

And Here Come the Lawyers...

Made the New York Times this morning. Oh yeah.

More than two dozen residents of Michigan filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against top officials in the state contending that a new law broadly expanding the powers of emergency managers in the most financially troubled cities violates Michigan’s Constitution.

The lawsuit, filed in Ingham County Circuit Court, contends that the law approved by Michigan lawmakers this year improperly allows the state to place new costs on municipalities without paying for them and, in essence, bars local residents from picking their own elected representatives.

I was wondering exactly what they would sue over. Thought for sure that it would take a specific action, such as breaking the contract for dispatchers in Pontiac, to bring this to court. The cost aspect is an interesting angle. More will be revealed and chewed over as the specific language comes out.

Leaders of labor unions, in particular, were outraged by the provision because it allows such state-appointed emergency managers to, in some cases, undo provisions of the contracts that towns and cities had already agreed to. Some appeared for rallies in opposition in Lansing this spring. But others had broader complaints; how, they asked, could a state-assigned official simply step into the role of an elected local leader and do whatever he or she wished?

“What you’re saying is that an emergency manager now controls all, including the right to enact or repeal local ordinances,” said John Philo, the legal director of the Sugar Law Center in Detroit, one of several groups, including the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, that is representing the plaintiffs in the suit. “What you’re saying is that one individual now without any sort of legislative process gets to enact a law.”

EFM's already had incredible power to do as they wished with the finances. These new powers do seem to cross the line - but that is going to be for the courts to decide. Good luck people. A petition drive to place on overturn of the law on the 2012 ballot has started as well, and, given the low threshold of signatures needed, the guess is the voters will weigh in on this eventually, too.

Still the question remains - what are you going to do with the cities and/or school districts that find themselves in this kind of trouble? Let them go bankrupt, and drag down the rest of the state, who ultimately pays the financial price in bad credit ratings? Send the cops and fire fighters home? Close the schools? Make everyone work for free? Not pay your vendors? There are no easy answers to this dilemma, and the problem certainly has been brewing for a long, long time now.

Granted, repeatedly slashing their funding hasn't helped a bit - and that should be a focus of this as well. Stay tuned...

UPDATE: From the Freep, a bit of clarity. Or not.

Goodman said, among other things, the emergency manager law violates constitutional separation of powers by allowing the governor's office to exercise powers granted to the Legislature. He said it also defies home rule in local communities.

So did the old one. Again, details, details...