It's been four years since the state appointed an emergency manager to run Benton Harbor’s dismal finances.
With a new state loan, Benton Harbor now operates with a budget surplus. It’s made contributions to its pension fund for the first time in years, cut city staff nearly in half, and paid off its old debts.
Today Governor Snyder appointed a team to help with the transition.
It includes Berrien County Treasurer Bret Witkowski, Michigan Department of Treasury audit manager Cary Vaughn and two former managers at Whirlpool; the world’s largest appliance maker that’s headquartered in Benton Harbor. Sharon Hunt is a former Whirlpool human resources/trade customer support manager, and Marvin Raglon is a retired manager at the company.
Snyder attributes Benton Harbor’s success, in part, to the new emergency manager law he signed after voters repealed a former version.
The law gives managers broad powers to fix the finances of cities and school districts.
Snyder also gives Benton Harbor’s most recent emergency manager credit for building trust in the community.
“Tony (Saunders) has done an outstanding job. So it’s a combination of the right person at the right time with the right abilities and relationships to be built working well with people within the city to say let’s get this wrapped up,” Synder said.
The team serves at the pleasure of the governor. So it is not clear exactly how long it’ll be in place. While it is, all of the executive orders issued by the former emergency manager will remain. The team is expected to advise the governor when its involvement isn’t needed anymore. At that point, the governor would remove the city from the state receivership process.
“If the city is following best practices for a number of years, hopefully there’s a track record and culture put in place to make sure that will continue for the long term,” Snyder said.