We Almost Lost Detroit…

 Imagine this scenario:

You live in a pretty decent sized town. The elected officials in your town aren’t the greatest. The town’s budget is a bit of a mess. Jobs have left that probably won’t be back because the industry they were connected to no longer exists in the form it used to. There’s been a few instances of corruption and some of these local officials have found themselves taken away in handcuffs for their malfeasance. So your town has an election, and you, and your fellow townspeople, vote to throw these bums out and replace them with people who have a plan designed to fix the budget, drum up some business….and by extension some jobs. And to put a cherry on top of this new hot fudge sundae, they’re probably the most ethical folks in your town, so you know their hearts are in the right place.

Now imagine that despite the fact that you and your fellow townspeople have done what they could do on a small-“d” democratic level to get the town back on track, the governor of your state decides that your efforts aren’t enough and armed with a law that his political cronies worked hard to get implemented, nullifies the intention of the voters in your town by installing an overseer with unlimited power that can do anything he or she wants…and your taxes are forced to pay for his decisions.You have no way to protest this person’s actions and they can’t be voted out.

Now if you’re a longtime resident of Washington, D.C., this particular scenario is probably something you’re far too familiar with. Depending on who the current occupant of the White House is and which party holds the majority in Congress, you either have a say in how your taxes are used on the federal level, which means you have some actual control of your budget, or you’re basically told, “We own you bitch! Shut up and take it!”…which is something that I’m sure that Newt Gingrich probably said when he was Speaker of the House in the 90s.

But if you’re a resident of one of the 50 states that make up the rest of United States of America, you probably never thought that you’d ever have to deal with this scenario in any way, shape or form. I mean, why would any governor decide that he or she was not only going to take over a town government and give the citizens in said town no say in how their government, a government that’s supposed to represent them, conducts itself?

If you live in the state of Michigan however, that’s the reality you’re currently living under. Especially if you’re living in the towns of Flint, Pontiac, Hartranft, Ecorse, Benton Harbor, and Three Oaks. Under the Emergency Manager Law, one of those draconian measures that always seem to go hand in hand with what I like to call “bully government”, Gov. Rick Snyder can decide unilaterally that he doesn’t like your town’s government, have it removed, and replace it with one he likes…one that isn’t accountable to you, the citizens.

Now we here in Philadelphia have our own smaller scale experiences with things taken over by state-sponsored entities that have no accountability to us as citizens despite the fact that they are financed through our taxes. The School District of Philadelphia is the biggest example of this, followed closely by the Philadelphia Parking Authority.

But just like in Michigan, state takeover hasn’t equalled excellence. Heck, we here in Philly could have told them that. The School District of Philadelphia has been operating at a deficit ever since the Commonwealth took it over, as are the towns that have been subject to this particularly heinous power grab.

The Detroit School District, which has been under state receivership for a while, is still a mess.

So imagine the horrified looks on the faces of the folks in the City of Detroit, a city that managed to survive Kwame “I don’t wanna be a freak, but I can’t help myself” Kilpatrick, the greed of GM, and a whole host of other things, when they found out that despite electing a new mayor, Dave Bing, a new city council, and trying to put its own house in order, it and another town, Inkster, are Gov. Snyder’s next takeover targets.


There are a lot of things not to like about this law. We can talk about how it’s a total subjugation of democracy. We can talk about how it doesn’t give towns in Michigan an incentive to try and clean up their governments on their own because they know, no matter what, the Governor will take over the town if he doesn’t like their choices. We can talk about how political in the most grotesque sense this is.

But what really stood out to me about the consequences of this law was this: if Inkster and Detroit join the ranks of Michigan’s takeover targets, 50 percent of the state’s African American community will be living in towns governed by officials they didn’t elect, can’t un-elect, and aren’t accountable in any way to them.

Wrap your head around that for a moment. I’ll wait…

That means that 50 percent of Michigan’s African American community has no say so in their own governance.

Getting it now?

As times get harder and towns find it difficult to keep up, it would be no surprise to me at all if more laws like this found themselves being proposed in state legislatures.

But in the words of the Rev. David Bullock, one of the leaders of a march to Gov. Snyder’s Ann Arbor home in protest of the law, it would be a bad idea to use a lack of funding as an excuse to take away the right of a municipality to govern itself.

“There is no connection between dismantling democracy and fixing a deficit,” Bullock said. “Democracy allows for accountability and transparency. If you take democracy off the table, you have tyranny. There is no accountability. We must also add that emergency management does not work. The Detroit Public Schools is under emergency management: still has a deficit. Benton Harbor is under emergency management: bills paid late. The city of Highland Park was under a weaker form of emergency management for nine years: still has a deficit. You cannot manage a blood loss. If I were in a car accident and I was losing blood, you wouldn’t manage how much blood I was losing. You would stop the bleeding and you would send a blood transfusion. We need targeted reinvestment in Michigan.”

Let’s hope they get some. Beats the hell out of the alternative.


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