Yesterday, a lawsuit was brought by Detroit’s Maurice & Jane Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice, challenging the legality of Michigan’s Emergency Financial Manager Act, which, as you will recall, gives the State the power to fire locally elected officials, replacing them with appointees (Czars) empowered to sell local assets, invalidate agreements, and disband unions, among other things. You can read more about the case, which was brought on behalf of a number of plaintiffs, including Kym Spring of Grand Rapids, and Edith Lee-Payne of Detroit, here. The following clip concerning the case comes by way of today’s Lansing State Journal:
An effort to topple the state’s emergency manager law began Wednesday in Ingham County Circuit Court.
Twenty-eight citizens statewide – many of them union members and teachers – filed a lawsuit claiming the months-old law gives Gov. Rick Snyder and his appointees vast, unlawful power over financially struggling cities and school districts.
Snyder and State Treasurer Andy Dillon, who helps direct the appointment process, were named defendants in the suit that is now before Judge Rosemarie Aquilina.
“This law violates one of the basic principles of democracy, where people get to vote and no one can impose a dictator on them,” said Bill Goodman, an attorney of the Sugar Law Center of Detroit, a nonprofit that filed the lawsuit on behalf of the 28 citizens. “It’s a power grab by Lansing politicians”…
In addition to getting a small amount of coverage in Michigan, the case was also covered by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez on yesterday’s edition of Democracy Now, which you can see here.
For those of you who don’t plan to watch the video, here’s a quote by Sugar Law’s John Philo:
“…Well, what the lawsuit’s about is we’re putting in front of the court to make the decision of whether or not local citizens have a right to a democratic form of local government, whether local citizens have a right to elect their local officials, because as it stands under this law, the governor and the state legislature is saying we do not. They’re saying that we can have a new form of government in which they appoint your local government, which is one person, and that that person is not accountable to local electors, to local citizens. There’s no right of petition. They have no voice. It takes away entirely their role in what we consider a democratic system. People assume they have a right to a democratic form of government in this country, at all levels—at the federal level, at the state level, at the local level. This is the first experiment that we know of where we’re bypassing that entirely…”
We haven’t talked about it in a while, but the Democracy Now video also reminded me that, according to the EFM legislation, corporations, and not just people, could be appointed to take over municipal governments and school systems said to be failing. Here, with more on that, is an earlier exchange between Amy Goodman and Naomi Klein on the subject of the Michigan law.
NAOMI KLEIN: So it starts with the school boards, and then it’s whole towns, whole cities, that could be subject to just being dissolved because there’s an economic crisis breaking collective bargaining agreements. It also specifies that—this bill specifies that an emergency manager can be an individual or a firm. Or a firm. So, the person who would be put in charge of this so-called failing town or municipality could actually be a corporation.
AMY GOODMAN: Whose government they dissolve, a company takes over.
NAOMI KLEIN: A company takes over. So, they have created, if this passes, the possibility for privatization of a whole town by fiat. And this is actually a trend in the contracting out of public services, where you do now have whole towns, like Sandy Springs in Georgia, run by private companies. It’s very lucrative. Why not? You start with just the water contract or the electricity contract, but eventually, why not privatize the whole town? So—
AMY GOODMAN: And what happens then? Where does democracy fit into that picture?
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, this is an assault on democracy. It’s a frontal assault on democracy. It’s a kind of a corporate coup d’état at the municipal level.
update: It’s been brought to my attention that, although there was wording in earlier versions of Michigan’s Emergency Financial Manager Act that would have allowed corporations to serve as Emergency Managers, the final wording of the legislation that was passed into law makes it clear that only individual human beings can serve in that role. Hopefully that’s of some consolation.