Michigan governor accused of disenfranchising Detroit, other majority Black cities in the stateBy Diane Bukowski Contributing Writer | Last updated: Feb 20, 2012 - 3:37:35 PM
Under PA 4, appointed emergency managers (EM’s) have the unilateral power to strip municipalities of all their assets, remove elected officials, raid treasuries, abrogate union contracts, take over pension funds, and even dis-incorporate cities.
Gov. Snyder and State Treasurer Andy Dillon have targeted majority-Black cities and school districts almost exclusively. So far, EM’s are running Benton Harbor, Detroit schools, Flint, Highland Park schools, Inkster, Muskegon Heights schools, and Pontiac. Although at least 80 communities across Michigan are in deficit, predominantly White communities do not face the PA4 lash, say critics.
“It was the law in the United States that Africans were three-fifths of a person, that we could not vote, could not own property,” said Detroit City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson during a public hearing Dec. 1, the day Gov. Snyder announced the first step in the takeover process, a 30-day “initial review.”
“It was against the law for us to escape from slavery, but it was the unpaid slavery of Africans on which this country was built,” Ms. Watson declared. “We have the right to self-determination and freedom, the right to control our own destiny. No way in heaven are we going to let somebody come in from Lansing and take our city.”
Ms. Watson, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, most council members, and UAW President Bob King denounced Gov. Snyder’s move at a press conference that evening. They called on Gov. Snyder at least to repay $220 million the state owes Detroit under a previous agreement, which would staunch the city’s expected deficit of $150 million.
Gov. Snyder has refused to do so, despite the state’s recent announcement that it expects to end its fiscal year with a budget surplus of up to $1 billion. The surplus resulting from cuts in revenue-sharing funds to municipalities, aid to the schools, and public assistance.
The statewide Michigan Forward organization has collected over 190,000 petition signatures to repeal Public Act 4, which would, once verified, stop Gov. Snyder’s move in its tracks until the Nov. 2012 election. But Gov. Snyder has told U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Detroit) and others that he plans legal action to block enforcement of the referendum process.
Masses of people have turned out for public hearings, rallies and marches. Black elected officials across the state have brought pressure to bear on Gov. Snyder.
“It is our understanding if you choose to appoint an Emergency Manager to oversee Detroit, that would mean that approximately 50 percent of all the African American citizens in the State would be living under the authority of unelected managers,” Congressman Conyers and 65 elected officials wrote Gov. Snyder on Dec. 15.
Rep. Conyers also wrote U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Dec. 2 asking him to begin an investigation of violations of the national Voting Rights Act in Michigan. To date, according to a Conyers’ aide, Mr. Holder has not even sent a courtesy response.
Instead of visiting Detroit as part of his campaign kick-off tour in January, President Barack Obama went to well-to-do, majority-White Ann Arbor. Mr. Obama has made no statement denouncing the takeovers in Michigan.
Gov. Snyder moved to the second step of the EM takeover process Dec. 21, announcing a 60-day review.
Wall Street’s Moody’s and Fitch Ratings agencies have said that an EM takeover of Detroit will cause the banks to call in $400 million of outstanding city bonds immediately, one-third of the city’s budget.
“The state appointment of an emergency manager would in turn trigger a termination event (default) under the city’s swap agreements,” Moody’s said Dec. 13. The “swap agreements” relate to $1.5 billion in pension obligation certificates the city borrowed in 2005.
Detroit is paying $579 million on its debt to the banks in the current fiscal year. The city’s total outstanding debt is an estimated $12 billion, including pension obligations.
“Detroit has lost one-fourth of its population, because of the criminal, illegal and fraudulent practices of the banks,” Mr. Goldberg said. “Eighty-seven percent of Detroiters who bought homes have been victims of racist, predatory mortgages which resulted in foreclosures. We want to recover the billions the banks have stolen from us.”
On Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Jan. 16, over 3,000 marchers from all over the state converged on Gov. Snyder’s home in an exclusive gated community near Ann Arbor.
“The EM law desecrates the memory of Dr. King and all he died for,” said marcher Edith Payne, who marched with Dr. King. “Our government needs to obey U.S. and state laws, and Public Act 4 violates those laws.” Ms. Payne is one of the litigants in a lawsuit against the act, which Gov. Snyder has stalled by getting the state Supreme Court to override the Ingham County Circuit’s right to hold an initial hearing on the suit.
Marchers chanted, “Who who who are we? We are the people’s army!” “Dictators and Snyder say good-bye, we’ll run this state and occupy!” and “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!”
“Other cities with financial problems way worse than Inkster, like Allen Park, have not faced EM takeovers,” Bishop Walter Starghill Jr. of the Face to Face Outreach Ministries in Inkster said. “We want elected officials, not anyone who does not know Inkster and what it can be. We want our share of the state surplus.”
Some of the young participants from Occupy Detroit and By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) began an occupation blockading the entrance to the compound. March organizers announced the end to the march at that point, but young people continued to rally.
Mari-Cruz Lopez of BAMN read parts of Dr. Martin Luther’s speech to the Aug. 28, 1963 March on Washington.
“When the architects of our Republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir,” Dr. King declared. “Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds.’
“But we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us on demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. ... there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.”
Petitions to overturn PA4 can be picked up at AFSCME Council 25’s office at 600 W. Lafayette in downtown Detroit. For further information, contact the office of Councilwoman JoAnn Watson at 313-224-4535, AFSCME Council 25 at 313-964-1711, Moratorium NOW! at 313-319-0870 or go to http://michiganforward.org.