State officials had hoped Monday would be the day the Detroit City Council finally approved a consent agreement with the state.
Instead, it started out with a contentious public hearing about union contracts, and ended in a confusing mess of court challenges—with no clear answer about how the whole process will go forward.
The day began with Deputy Mayor Kirk Lewis confirming he won’t ask the City Council to approve new labor contracts for city workers.
That infuriated union leaders, whose members gave up historic concessions in an effort to save money and avoid an emergency manager.
Governor Snyder has said those concessions don’t go far enough. Under a proposed consent agreement, city officials would have broad powers to skip collective bargaining and impose union contracts.
And union leaders say they’re not coming back to the bargaining table.
Al Garrett, President of AFSCME Council 25 in Detroit, says the provisions the state is insisting on shows this is about breaking unions, not Detroit’s fiscal crisis.
“People don’t have to come to work if in fact their rights are being abridged,” Garrett said. “It is not unusual for strikes in the city of Detroit, and I’m pretty sure that they may be met with some stiff opposition with regards to taking away rights that folks have had for years.”
City unions then headed to federal court to try and stop any state intervention.
A judge denied their initial request for a restraining order, but set a hearing to consider whether to issue an injunction that could invalidate any consent agreement. That’s set for Tuesday afternoon.
In the meantime, Council sat down to consider the latest state’s latest proposed consent agreement.
Lewis, who is acting as mayor while Mayor Dave Bing continues to recover from surgery (he was released from the hospital Monday), told the Council this draft has the administration’s approval—and it’s time for a “thumbs up or down” vote.
The state’s core proposal remained the same as one submitted last week.
The agreement would grant broad powers over Detroit’s budget and future restructuring to an appointed, nine-member financial advisory board. It would also create two new powerful, appointed positions in city government, a Project Manager and Chief Financial Officer.
A slew of people, some more belligerent than others, used the public comment portion of the hearing to urge Council members not to vote on a consent agreement at all.
They think the state is trying to rush a vote before petition signatures to put the emergency manager law up for referendum are verified.
If enough signatures are cleared, the law would be suspended until a vote in November.
But Council member Saunteel Jenkins warns that’s not wise. She says even if that happens, that could still put an emergency manager in charge for up to a month.
“And in that month, the emergency manager could sell Belle Isle. Or the lighting department. Or…pick an asset,” Jenkins said.
The Council is supposed to vote on the agreement Tuesday morning.
Governor Snyder has until April 5th to make a decision on whether to appoint an emergency manager for Detroit. His spokeswoman said Monday that’s a hard deadline.
But that’s now being threatened by another court challenge, this time from union activist Robert Davis.
Davis has sued the state review team looking into Detroit’s finances for alleged Open Meetings Act violations. The review team was scheduled to meet in Detroit Tuesday morning.
But Davis filed a lawsuit seeking a restraining order, claiming the review team was dissolved, by law, on March 26th.
Now, Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Joyce Draganchuck has ordered the review team not to approve or even discuss a consent agreement before an April 11th hearing.
Snyder spokeswoman Geralyn Lasher called the order “disturbing.”
“We plan on appealing this ruling,” Lashed said in a statement. “The question is if we are able to have an appeal through in time before the April 5 deadline for the Governor to take action as required by statute.
“The Governor cannot issue a consent agreement on his own without the involvement of the Review Team. If the Governor is forced to act based on this action from the Review Team’s meeting March 26, we believe he will only have two options available: either 1) declare no financial stress exists, or 2) declare a financial emergency.”