emergency manager

this one

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The emergency manager of Muskegon Heights Public Schools says he’s signed a contract with a charter operator that will practically run the whole school district next school year.

In a press release sent out this afternoon, Emergency Manager Don Weatherspoon says he’ll review the signed contract during a public meeting on Monday. The statement doesn’t say which charter school company got the deal. Weatherspoon was not available to discuss the release.


Students in Muskegon Heights Public Schools are still in limbo while the district's state-appointed emergency manager decides what charter school company will manage the system.

MHPS Emergency Manager Don Weatherspoon told parents in May he planned to turn the entire system over to a charter operator this fall. He also said he wanted to have a contract signed June 13.

There’s still no contract in place. That means parents don’t know yet if their kids will get bussed to class, if the district will offer athletics, AP classes, or band next school year.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Muskegon Heights Public Schools voted late last year to request a state emergency manager in an effort to sort out chronically troubled finances. Part of the plan emergency manager Don Weatherspoon eventually came up with involved turning schools in the district over to a charter operator.

But as the Detroit Free Press reports today, a study from a non-profit research group says the turnover amounts to little more than a state bailout.

Republican member of the Board of State Canvassers Jeff Timmer resigned this week without giving a reason. The Board of State Canvassers decides whether petition drives qualify for the state ballot.

Timmer is a partner in Sterling Corporation, a Republican political consulting firm, that represents ballot campaigns that are expected to appear before the board. Timmer also voted to keep the emergency manager challenge off the November ballot - even though his firm represents the campaign against the emergency manager referendum.

There something I’d like to ask the Emergency Managers of the school districts in Muskegon Heights and Highland Park. Simply, are you sure you know what you are doing?  Have you thought this through, not only from the point of view of your district, but in regards to the future of education and the state of Michigan?

What I am referring to is the decisions by both superintendents to turn their entire districts over to charter school systems. In other words, to essentially privatize education.

Now, there is no doubt that Muskegon Heights is in bad shape financially.

Another Michigan school district in deep financial trouble will be turned over to a charter operator for the coming school year.

The emergency manager of the Highland Park Public Schools announced the plan Monday.

Joyce Parker says the district  will likely start the next school year with a roughly $15 million deficit, and only about 800 students.

A week ago, it seemed possible that Detroit could be only days away from an Emergency Manager and bankruptcy. The city’s top lawyer had defied the mayor’s wishes and filed a lawsuit to stop the carefully crafted consent agreement designed to allow city and state officials to share power.

If her suit had dragged on, the city would quickly have run out of cash. But it was speedily thrown out of court, and with that, the consent agreement saved, just in the nick of time.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

A new bridge to Canada

Officials have struck a deal to build a new Canadian-financed bridge linking Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

The Associated Press released some details this morning:

A summary of the agreement provided Friday morning to The Associated Press states Michigan wouldn't be obligated to pay any of the costs of the bridge. Both countries would be represented on a bridge board, and a Canadian entity would handle design, construction and operation.

A formal announcement from Gov. Snyder and Prime Minister Harper will be made at a press conference later today. We'll post a live stream of the announcement.

Earlier this week, House Republicans took action preventing Michigan tax dollars from being spent on an international bridge project. Advocates for the bridge have been saying no Michigan tax dollars were needed for quite some time.

A referendum on Michigan's emergency manager law headed for November ballot

Michigan's Court of Appeals announced yesterday they will not convene a special panel to review last Friday's decision to allow the emergency manager referendum to go forward.

Challengers of the petition drive said the petitions should not be accepted because the font size was too small. The case could, however, go before the Michigan Supreme Court, as we reported:

The conservative group is challenging the ballot initiative on a technicality that the font size on the petition is too small. They say they will appeal the decision to the Michigan Supreme Court.

“This is a controversy of their own choosing. They chose not to go to the State Board of Canvassers in the beginning," Bob LaBrant said. He's with The Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, the coalition of business groups opposed to the referendum.

Vagina... there, we said it

Yesterday, two Democratic members of the Michigan House of Representatives were barred from speaking in the chamber. One was barred for mentioning her vagina during a floor debate on a package of anti-abortion bills.

Another for an outburst for not being recognized to speak.

MPRN's Rick Pluta reported "this is the first time in memory that lawmakers have been formally barred from participating in floor debates."

State Representatives Lisa Brown and Barb Byrum are both Democrats. Brown made a reference to her vagina in a floor statement.

“I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina,” she said, “but 'no' means 'no.'”

Byrum shouted at the presiding officer after she was not recognized to speak. 

Ari Adler is the spokesman for the House Republican leadership.

“It is the responsibility of every member who serves in the House of Representatives to maintain decorum on the House floor and when they do not do that, there can be actions because of that. And the action today is to not recognize either representative to speak on the House floor," he said.

The Representatives were barred from floor debate for one day.

The referendum on the state's emergency manager law is headed to the ballot...for now.

The state Court of Appeals has refused to convene a special panel that could have reversed a precedent that says the referendum campaign met the minimum requirements to qualify for the ballot. That could have prevented the proposal from appearing on the November ballot. 

Now that I’m in my sixties, I find myself forced to confront the sad truth that I am never going to be a concert violinist or play professional sports. So instead, I have decided to devote my life to urging our leaders to exercise common sense.

True, there are days when it does seem that trying to make the Detroit Lions might hold out slightly more chance of success.  But as an idealistic baby boomer, I refuse to give up.

 FLINT, Mich. (AP) - Flint's state-appointed emergency financial manager says police officers and firefighters are spared from cuts taking place this month ahead of the new budget year.

The Flint Journal reports that 98 layoff notices have been issued to city of Flint employees. The layoffs go into effect throughout the month of June. Emergency manager Michael Brown initially said 32 firefighters and 19 police officers could be laid off.

The city recently was awarded a $6.9 million federal grant for firefighters. And Brown says he hopes a grant to support police operations will follow soon. Brown included information about the layoffs in his updated financial and operating plan.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The teachers’ union at Muskegon Heights Public Schools has settled a lawsuit against the district. The union had alleged the district’s emergency manager was engaged in unfair labor practices.

Muskegon Heights schools' emergency manager Don Weatherspoon says allowing a charter school operator to run the public school district is the only way he can afford to keep school open next year. The deficit is more than $12 million. 

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Muskegon Heights Public Schools Emergency Manager Don Weatherspoon heard from parents, alumni, teachers, and taxpayers during and after the meeting. He reassured parents a free neighborhood school will be open this fall.

But most had questions he couldn’t answer yet. Like, will there be band, art or athletics? Busing and special education services? Although he’d prefer it, Don Weatherspoon says he cannot make any guarantees.

Muskegon Heights School Board

Tonight parents with students enrolled at Muskegon Heights Public Schools will get a chance to hear more about the new plan to turn the district's finances around.

The plan is to completely turn over operations to a charter school operator beginning this fall.

Muskegon Heights Public Schools is running a more than $12 million deficit.

The school board asked for a state appointed emergency manager after struggling for more than six years to close the budget gap.

Emergency Manager Don Weatherspoon said the only way to do that is to have a charter operator run things so that he can worry about paying off the district's debts.

"I think the most important thing for both students and parents and the community is that they have a neighborhood school system," said Weatherspoon.

Weatherspoon said consolidating with neighboring school districts was not an option because of Muskegon Heights' huge deficit. And he said cutting salaries, even by as much as 30 percent, wouldn't have gotten the district into the black.

I'll attend tonight's meeting and will update this story.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Some voting rights advocates say Michigan’s emergency manager law represents “the death of democracy” in the state.

So they symbolically laid democracy to rest at mock a funeral service in Detroit Monday.

The “funeral” included music and eulogies of sorts--all delivered from behind an American flag-draped coffin. A real hearse waited outside to take the coffin away.

Some might see this kind of display as a bit much. But organizers insist it’s totally appropriate, given what they see as a relentless assault on voting rights in Michigan.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

When Benton Harbor Emergency Manager Joe Harris took over the City of Benton Harbor two years ago, the city owed money to a bunch of different agencies; the library, the public schools, and the IRS, for example. Harris has made huge progress in paying off that old debt.

The Muskegon Heights School District could be completely turned over to charter schools this fall.   That would be a first in the state of Michigan.   

The district’s emergency manager is submitting his plan to replace the entire school district with charter schools with the state Treasury and Education Departments today.  He says that’s the only way to get the district out of its financial crisis.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled review teams can meet behind closed doors as they decide whether to recommend a state takeover of a city or school district. Opponents of Michigan’s emergency manager law filed the challenge. They say review teams should have to comply with Michigan’s open meetings law.

The ruling essentially upholds the decision to name an emergency manager to run Flint and the state’s consent agreement with Detroit.

Robert Davis filed one of the lawsuits. He says the court made a mistake.

“The financial review teams are able to exercise extraordinary powers, including issuing subpoenas and compelling testimony of local elected officials, and, certainly, since they are discussing financial management of a local unit of government certainly that should be open for every person and every citizen to be privy to,” Davis said.

Davis said he will appeal this ruling to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the Court of Appeals is still deciding whether to allow a referendum challenging the emergency manager law on the November ballot

Mike Russell / wikimedia commons

The question of whether voters should get to weigh in on the state’s emergency manager law now rests with the Michigan Court of Appeals.

A panel of the court heard arguments today both for and against putting the referendum on the November ballot.

A coalition of labor and other activist groups collected more than 220,000 petition signatures to do just that.

But the state Board of Canvassers blocked the question based on a complaint that some of the type on the referendum petitions was in the wrong size.

Highland Park School Board member and union activist Robert Davis was indicted last month on charges of theft by federal prosecutors.

They accused Davis of stealing more than $125,000 from the ailing Highland Park school district.

Today, more details emerged from the indictment.

Robert Snell of the Detroit News reports on "newly unsealed federal court records" the paper obtained.

The records allege Davis controlled a bogus nonprofit group, "Citizens United to Save Highland Park Schools." The feds say Davis used the group's bank account for "an $84,000 spending spree at car dealerships, hotels, bars, restaurants and a custom-clothing store."

From The Detroit News:

The financial information was included in an FBI search warrant affidavit requesting permission to raid Davis' home in Highland Park last year.

The affidavit does not specify which car dealerships were patronized. But Davis paid a St. Clair Shores dealership $21,450 for a used silver Mercedes-Benz CLK320 coupe in May 2009, according to the Secretary of State.

That's at the height of the time Davis was stealing money from the school district, according to federal prosecutors.

The sixteen-count indictment says Davis stole the school district's money between 2004 and 2010. If convicted, he faces the possibility of 10 years in prison on each of the counts of the indictment.

Davis made headlines before the indictment was made public by successfully winning a court battle against the state's financial review teams for violating the Open Meetings Act.

Davis has maintained his innocence and his lawyer did not offer a comment on the newly unsealed records, telling the News he had not seen them yet.

The state Court of Appeals heard challenges today to the determinations that Flint and Detroit face financial emergencies.

The challenges say state review teams violated Michigan’s Open Meetings Act by not deliberating in public.
Attorney Andrew Paterson says the public has a right to know how a review team goes about its job.

"It is determining the financial condition of a local unit of government and it is reporting on that financial condition,” said Paterson.

Attorneys for the state say the review teams are not public bodies under the open meetings law.

The state says the teams only offer advice, and it’s ultimately up to the governor to decide whether cities and school districts are in financial emergencies.
Flint is currently being run by an emergency manager and Detroit is operating under the terms of a consent agreement with the state.


The state is set to take a preliminary look at the financial situation of Pontiac's public schools, a step that could eventually lead to the appointment of an emergency manager.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Protesters gathered in Flint to voice their opposition to the emergency manager in their city.

Since last December, Michael Brown, Flint's emergency manager, has been making decisions normally reserved for city council and the mayor. He's expected to present his budget plan for the city during a public meeting with Flint City Council tonight.

Kristin Longley of the Flint Journal reports the protestors gathered outside Flint City Hall before moving inside.

The group of more than 25 Flint residents and community members braved the rain to protest what they consider "taxation without representation" under the emergency manager in Flint.

Brown adopted a budget plan last week that includes fee increases for Flint residents as well as a possible reduction of 19 police officers and 31 firefighters through layoffs and attrition. Overall, city personnel would be reduced by about 150 positions.

Longley reports lifelong Flint resident Ralph Arellano would be willing to pay more taxes for better public safety in Flint - Arello said the emergency manager system "is undemocratic and undermines voters."

"It's all about public safety. There's not one person who lives in Flint who doesn't have some story about public safety," said Arellano, who said his home has been broken into twice. "The decisions they're making are short-term and they're short-sighted."

Protestors put up garage sale signs with the names of some of Flint's assets (ex. Brennan Park and Hurley Hospital) that could be sold off by Michael Brown should he decide to do so.

Fourteen point font…

That is what is standing in the way, apparently, of you getting to decide whether or not the state’s emergency manager law stays intact. As Rick Pluta, co-host of It's Just Politics, notes the whole emergency manager repeal was stopped in its tracks, "by an attorney with a pica ruler." And it, quite literally means, size does matter... at least when it comes to petition drives in Michigan.

The back-story

The Board of State Canvassers yesterday morning deadlocked along party lines (two Republicans vs. two Democrats) on whether to put a referendum challenging the state's controversial emergency manager law on the ballot. Though Stand Up for Democracy, the group pushing to put a repeal on the ballot, had gathered more than 200,000 valid signatures (40,000 more than what was actually needed), Republicans on the board pointed to the use of an incorrect type size on the petition itself as grounds for denying it access to the November ballot.

In this week's edition of It's Just Politics, Pluta and I take a look at the politics behind the board's decision... and, I should tell you:  it's a little unsettling.


"There's this board, the Board of State Canvassers, it's bi-partisan: two Democrats and two Republicans. They get to decide whether or not a petition - in this case, the petition to repeal the state's emergency manager law - gets on the ballot. This board is not non-partisan. In fact, it is hyper-partisan. [These board members] are chosen by their parties to represent their party's interests," Pluta explains. But, it's not just their party's interests that these board members are representing... they're also representing their own paychecks.

Conflict of interest?

"Jeff Timmer, one of the Republicans on the Board of State Canvassers, [who voted against allowing the petition to go on the November ballot] works for The Sterling Corporation, the political consulting firm that was actually behind the challenge to this ballot's font-size," Pluta explains. "The opponents of the referendum, Citizens for  Fiscal Responsibility, is a Sterling client. Sterling and the Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility even share a business address."

But, Timmer isn't the only one with a possible conflict of interest. "There's a Democrat on the board, Julie Matuzak, she voted to to approve a different petition - one backed by unions. And her day job with the American Federation of Teachers was to run the signature-gathering for that petition drive. So, she voted to let a petition go forward when it was her job to get [that petition] on the ballot," Pluta explains.

Doomed from the beginning?

On the same day that the emergency manager petition was not approved, three other proposals were given the OK. It begs the question: was this emergency manager petition in trouble from the beginning? Was there anything that Stand Up for Democracy could have done to inoculate themselves?

"Well, actually, they could have gone to the election board before they even started to gather the signatures and make sure that they were in compliance [with the font size] but they decided against this. They said even if they had gotten the OK that it still would have seen legal challenges," Pluta explains.

"And, I have seen this before – this sort of paranoia that keeps people from going to the board first and then they get knee-capped like this after they’ve gone to the trouble and expense of gathering the signatures. Some campaign professionals I know are just smacking their heads over this. The attorney for Stand Up For Democracy says they didn’t want to get bogged down in legal challenges before they even got started. But, you know, two union-led petition drives that are just anathema to Republicans – including the one to preempt a right to work law – were recently approved," says Pluta.

What happens now?

So, here we are: for now, the state’s emergency manager law will not be on the ballot in November. But, the attorney for Stand Up for Democracy says they're going to appeal this decision to the state Court of Appeals. And, what will happen there? "More politics," Pluta explains. "People will be looking to see what appeals court  panel gets the case and whether it's made up of judges with Republican ties or judges with ties to Democrats," Pluta says.

And, wouldn't we all just be shocked - shocked, I say - if this repeal becomes politicized in the courts...

Sometimes it seems that everybody in the world is in favor of democracy, just as long as it gives them the result they want.

When that doesn’t happen, well, then they don’t like it so much. We saw two prime examples of this yesterday. The first was a state board of canvassers meeting, where the panel refused to put a repeal of the new emergency manager law on the ballot.

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers deadlocked 2-2 along party lines this morning on whether to allow a challenge to the state's emergency manager law on the November ballot.

Update 5:17 p.m.

MPRN's Rick Pluta filed audio on the scene at today's Board of State Canvassers meeting. Here's what it sounded like - first the chants of "Shame!" from the crowd after the Board had a deadlocked, which meant the question would not be put to voters in November - and then the response from Herb Sanders, the attorney for the Stand Up for Democracy campaign.

Sanders says the next stop is the Michigan Court of Appeals.

12:27 p.m.

The Detroit News has more on the scene at the Board of State Canvassers meeting this morning:

Democrats Julie Matuzak and James Water voted to approve the petitions while Republicans Jeffrey Timmer and Norman Shinkle voted against it.

More than 140 supporters of repealing Public Act 4 began chanting "Shame, Shame, Shame" and shouting down the board members as "fascists" as they tried to exit the heated meeting.

An attorney arguing for the Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, the group challenging the validity of the petitions, says the law uses the term "shall" - as in petitions "shall" use certain font and type sizes.

"'Shall,' in legal parlance, is a mandatory term," Pirich said. "It didn't say 'get in the ball park', it said it 'shall.' "We believe the petition is fatally flawed in that regard."

Herb Sanders, the attorney representing Stand Up For Democracy, a coalition of groups that launched the petition campaign, noted several Court of Appeals petition cases where the court used a standard of "substantial compliance" to determine a petition's validity.

11:59 a.m

The Board of State Canvassers has deadlocked along party lines on whether to put the referendum challenge to the emergency manager law on the ballot. Republicans on the board pointed to the use of an incorrect type size on the petition as grounds for denying it access to the November ballot. The ballot campaign can now go to the state Court of Appeals.

Every Thursday we take a look at Michigan politics with Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

The petition that would place Public Act 4, that's the emergency manager law, on the November ballot came before the State Board of Canvassers.  Earlier this week it was confirmed the group Stand up for Democracy had more than enough signatures to put the PA 4 up for repeal on the ballot. But then this question of whether the correct font size was used for the ballot was brought up.

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers deadlocked 2-2 along party lines on whether to allow a challenge to the state's emergency manager law on the November ballot.

“It’s not really a surprise on a matter like this that you would see a split decision,” Demas says.

Demas adds that supporters of the petition were very upset about the deadlock, and says “they could have avoided all this if they had just gotten their petition approved before they circulated it, and if there was really a font issue, they would have been told.”

This question will most likely head to the State Court of Appeals. Ken Sikkema believes it’s important the courts make a decision consistent with similar cases.

He says, “If they in fact decide to keep this off the ballot, yes they will be criticized that they made a political decision, but if they can rest their decision upon the fact that its consistent with prior decisions then I think they are in fairly decent shape, otherwise the confidence and trust that some people have in the court is going to soften.”

Sean Marshall / Flickr

Flint's state-appointed emergency financial manager has imposed concessions on two union contracts and pushed through a new city budget for the city.

The Flint Journal reports the changes were among a dozen orders issued Wednesday by Michael Brown.

Update 2:44 p.m.

A report from Michigan's Bureau of Elections confirms the group "Stand Up For Democracy" appears to have enough signatures from registered voters in Michigan to put a referendum on the state's emergency manager law on the November ballot.

The recommendation from the Michigan Bureau of Elections is to "certify petition as sufficient."

A challenge to the referendum drive still remains. The Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility has challenged the petition drive alleging five defects in the format of the petitions:

  1. The type size of the petition heading, REFERENDUM OF LEGISLATION PROPOSED BY INITIATIVE PETITION purportedly does not comply with the requirement of MCL 168.482(1) that it be “printed in capital letters in 14-point boldfaced type [.]”
  2. The summary that appears on the signature side of the petition form is, in their view, “incomplete and misleading.”
  3. The petition omits the prior law, 1990 PA 72, which will be revived if 2011 PA 4 is suspended.
  4. The petition omits the effective date of 2011 PA 4.
  5. The petition omits 2011 PA 9, which was tie-barred to 2011 PA4.

2:02 p.m.

Citizens in the Stand Up for Democracy Coalition say they were notified by the Board of State Canvassers that the group collected 203,238 valid voter signatures needed to place the repeal of Public Act 4 (aka the Emergency Manager Law) on the November 2012 general election ballot.

According to the report, the group exceeded the 161,305 valid signatures needed by more than 40,000.

The Coalition still faces a challenge from a Republican group that claims the petitions should be invalidated because the wrong font size was used.

From a Stand Up for Democracy Coalition press release:

 “This is an important step in the effort to stand up for democracy in Michigan,” said Herb Sanders, director of the coalition. “This report clearly shows that people across the state want the opportunity to vote to repeal the emergency manager dictator law. Now it is up to the State Board of Canvassers to honor the democratic process and let the people vote.”

   On Thursday, April 26, 2012 the members of the State Board of Canvassers will meet in Lansing to decide if the petition will be placed on the November general election ballot. They will also have the opportunity to review a memo from the Secretary of the Board of State Canvassers that dismisses the challenges of a republican group seeking to prevent voters from deciding the fate of PA 4.

Dave Hogg / Flickr

DETROIT (AP) - Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has laid out a budget proposal that would cut more than 2,500 jobs and shave $250 million from the city's annual expenses.

Bing's Chief Operating Officer Chris Brown told City Council members Monday the layoffs would be in addition to 1,000 job cuts Bing sought earlier. Brown says the city's general fund revenues will decrease from $820.5 million to $739 million.

Detroit has an accumulated budget deficit of $265 million and $13.2 billion in long-term, structural debt and is trying to fix its finances after agreeing to state oversight Bing's budget proposal also calls for privatizing the city's bus system and transferring its lighting department to an independent authority.

The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press say $75 million would go toward the city's accumulated deficit.