Czars to run Michigan’s cities

by Jim Hightower, The Lowdown September 2012

One of our nation’s finest political satirists, cartoonist Garry Trudeau, has created a buffoonish character named Trff Bmzklfrpz for his “Doonesbury” comic strip. A caricature of despotic thugs everywhere, Bmzklfrpz is presented by Trudeau as the ruler of the aptly named Greater Berzerkistan.

(Michigan Governor) Rick Snyder must’ve studied there, for he had barely taken his oath of office before suddenly teaming with leaders of the Republican-controlled statehouse and senate to ram into law an astonishing measure of despotic rule. It only took two weeks in March of 2011 for the ponderously titled “Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act” to be rushed through both houses of the legislature and signed by Snyder. Before the public knew it–BAM! –the governor was authorized to establish his own autocratic republic: Michiganistan.

At bottom, the LGSDFA Act is a doozy of autocratic mischief-making. It lets the governor seize control of any local government he deems to be in fiscal trouble, suspend the people’s democratic authority, impose a corporatized version of martial law, and install his own “emergency financial manager” (EFM) to govern by diktat (like some hybrid of Soviet czar and tinhorn potentate–a Bmzklfrpz, in other words).

  • Emergency managers begin by usurping the power of all elected officials or simply “firing” them.
  • They can then rewrite the public budget without any public participation, unilaterally eliminate various services, cancel contracts, seize and sell off public assets, privatize government functions, and dictate new laws.
  • They can even dissolve a city’s charter.

This isn’t merely un-democratic–it’s aggressively anti-democratic.

Plutocrats in action

Let’s go to Pontiac, a once proud city boasting that one of America’s iconic cars was named after it and made there, employing 23,000 auto workers in the General Motors factory. Today, though, those jobs have been moved out-of-state or eliminated, the Pontiac brand itself has been jettisoned by GM, the city’s population has dropped, property values have plummeted, and the city government has been left in a fiscal wreck. To add to its miseries, Gov. Snyder’s cutbacks in revenue sharing mean that Pontiac’s funds have been slashed by a third.

The governor did give something to the people of Pontiac, though: An emergency manager. Appointed last September for an indefinite period (he’s still there), he promptly relieved the city council of their powers and salaries. Then he fired the city attorney, clerk, and director of public works before acting on his own to outsource the work of various departments. Next, he offered up about half of the people’s property in a fire sale of assets–including city hall, police and fire stations, the library, water-pumping stations, a golf course, and two cemeteries. More recently, he has issued five edicts undermining contracts with union workers and retirees.

On to Benton Harbor, the home of Whirlpool Corporation…The town’s major asset, a public park overlooking the lake, is being absorbed into “Harbor Shores,” a $500 million Whirlpool-backed resort project that includes a sprawling, Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course. Of course, impoverished locals can’t live or golf there, but the developers (who got government subsidies for the project) are hoping that Chicago weekenders will make the two-hour trek to the place.

These people are losing their park, but worse, a fellow named Joe Harris has taken a more valuable asset from them: Their democracy.

Harris is Snyder’s EFM and literally the Dictator of Benton Harbor. A former Detroit auditor, he began by summarily stripping all power from elected officials, decreeing that city commissioners can meet, but the only action they can take is to approve minutes of their last meeting and then adjourn. When commissioners made a mild (but clever) protest by proclaiming this past spring that the city would observe Constitution Week, Harris monocratically nullified their action. What perfect symbolism! He then expressed surprise that this had upset townspeople: “All I told them was, ‘Hey, guys, you have no authority.'”

The people of Michigan are fighting back, and against heavy well-funded opposition have placed a repeal measure  of the LGSDFA Act (aka Public Act 4) on this November’s ballot. The referendum requires a “NO” vote to strike down PA4 and restore PA72. This is a preview of what is coming to our own communities, as the oligarchs refine their tactics for American cities after plundering Latin America and Southern Europe. We need to help Michigan draw the line in the sand.

Full text with much more detail on Koch Bro. involvement at http://www.hightowerlowdown.org/node/3105  More info on Proposition 1 at http://www.eclectablog.com/2012/10/vote-no-on-michigan-prop-1-and-rid-our-state-of-public-act-4-and-anti-democratic-emergency-managers.html

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