emergency manager

this one

User: Brother O'Mara / Flickr

The story about the emergency managers have been modified to clarify that the opinion is that of the Attorney General.

Emergency managers

If Michigan’s emergency manager law is rejected by voters in November, then Attorney General Bill Schuette believes the old law should take over. That law still allows the governor to name an emergency financial manager to run a city or school district.

Public Act Four of 2011 is a souped-up version of Michigan’s old local government takeover law, and the attorney general says that old law is back in effect once the referendum is officially put on the ballot.

Bill Schuette says the referendum challenges the entire law and not just the concept of emergency managers.

Part of the new law specifically repealed the older law. That clears the way for the state to appoint or re-appoint managers running seven cities and school districts. They will be operating with diminished authority. Governor Snyder will also ask the Legislature to make some adjustments to the old law.

The referendum campaign disagrees with Schuette's ruling and says the governor and the attorney general are writing their own rules to get what they want. They say the governor can expect a legal fight each time he tries to re-appoint a local government manager.

Grand Rapids may ease marijuana charges

Grand Rapids residents may only get a civil infraction instead of a criminal charge for the possession of marijuana. Enough signatures were gathered to put the measure on the November ballot. "The proposed charter change is modeled after Ann Arbor’s city charter. In Ann Arbor, fines for marijuana possession start at just $25 and are not more than $100. The proposed changes would not allow marijuana sales or overrule state or federal laws. It would only change how local police officers deal with marijuana possession within city limits. The city clerk has until mid-September to certify the signatures before the decision goes before voters," Lindsay Smith reports.

The new bio-based economy

Soybeans have been called the new "bio-based economy." "The U-S Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joined Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow Monday at Ford headquarters in Dearborn to push for more bio-based products. Stabenow chairs the Senate Agriculture committee. Vilsack and Stabenow say strategic partnerships between farmers and industry are full of economic and environmental promise. Vilsak says there’s “unlimited capacity and opportunity” in the bio-based economy," Sarah Cwiek reports.

Scott Kincaid, Flint City Council President
City of Flint / CityOfFlint.com

Flint's City Council President opposes the appointment of a new emergency manager for his city.

Joyce Parker

The Highland Park School District in Wayne County faces major financial problems. Emergency Manager Joyce Parker has selected a charter school provider, The Leona Group LLC, to operate the district’s schools starting this fall.

The decision to turn the district over to a charter operator is not without controversy. Parker says she considered several options, such as consolidating the school district with other districts and even bankruptcy.

Parker says the district is no longer eligible for state funding and adds she needed to make sure students were able to start classes in September.

“The charter district system is one that would allow financial resources in the form of state aid to come into the new system to support educating the students.”

The Leona Group, L.L.C.

Highland Park Public Schools contracted the Leona Group to run its charter system next year.

A press release issued by the school system's Emergency Manager, Joyce Parker, said that she met with the newly appointed board of education today who approved the Leona Group, LLC contract as charter operator unanimously.

From the release:

http://www.ypsd.org/district/superintendentsmessage/

Superintendent Dedric Martin says the school system could need an emergency manager, unless staff agree to deeper cuts. 

Martin acknowledges staff already took a 10 percent salary cut. 

“That comes on the heels of additional concessions that they've made. And we've had reductions at all levels. Unfortunately it's not enough to carry a balanced budget and pay back money that has already been borrowed and spent," he said.

Martin says he knows the "emergency manager" card could be perceived as a ploy to get further concessions from unions.

Julie Weiss

Updated 12:30p.m. - Scott Geerlings with Zeeland, Michigan based Geerlings Development Company says the company bought the parcel for around $102,000.

Benton Harbor’s emergency manager has sold a piece of land that was supposed to be open for public recreation. lot Now a dialysis center is being built on the undeveloped parkland instead.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The school board for the new charter school system in Muskegon Heights will likely adopt a preliminary budget Monday.  

Muskegon Heights schools’ emergency manager hired a for-profit charter school company to run the public school system for the next five years.

An attorney for the school board says Mosaica Education drafted the budget the school board will consider approving Monday. It's likely the budget will be amended throughout the school year if needed.

Wayne, MI

The state Supreme Court could decide soon whether a challenge to Michigan's new emergency manager law will go before voters in November.

State treasury officials are assuming that it will, and they are preparing for the worst.

Roger Fraser is Deputy State Treasurer. He oversees the work of the state's eight emergency managers.

Fraser says if a challenge to the law goes on the ballot, the state's old emergency manager law will go into effect until November.

Current emergency managers will keep their jobs, but they will no longer have the authority to suspend union contracts, which Fraser says is only done if absolutely necessary.

Fraser says a suspension of the emergency manager law puts into question the budgets that the emergency managers completed with the help of the new law. 

He also thinks things will go from bad to worse if voters repeal the law.

"Well, I think then you're gonna see more of what's happening in California," says Fraser.  "Local units will have no choice but to go to bankruptcy."

Fraser says if Michigan cities go bankrupt, it could raise interest rates for all cities' debt, as ratings agencies increase the risk associated with cities' municipal bonds.

And a city bankruptcy would put the state on the hook for paying the city's bills.

Opponents of the emergency manager law say it is undemocratic.  

There are five Michigan cities that have emergency managers right now - Highland Park, Pontiac, Ecorse, Benton Harbor, and Flint.

Three school districts are also currently run by emergency managers: Detroit Public Schools, Highland Park Schools, and Muskegon Heights Schools.

The state has entered into a consent agreements with the cities of River Rouge, Inkster, and Detroit.

The state also has a watch list for schools, counties and cities that are on the brink of requiring a financial review.

State officials are working closely with Wayne County to determine the state of its finances.

Allen Park, Hamtramck, Muskegon Heights, Royal Oak Township, Dearborn Heights, and Harper Woods are in shaky financial shape, too.  Two additional school districts are also on the list: Benton Harbor, and East Detroit.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The leader of a small, urban school district in western Michigan is completely privatizing the public school system there. The case may become an example for other school districts facing major financial problems.

The problems are academic and financial

The situation at Muskegon Heights Public Schools was dire. It ran $18,000 in the red each day school was open last year.

City of Allen Park

The state is moving ahead with the process that could result in an emergency manager for Allen Park.

Allen Park is a Detroit suburb with about 28,000 people. City officials there actually requested a preliminary review under the state's emergency manager law.

In addition to suffering declining property tax revenue, the city was also on the hook for millions due to a botched movie studio deal made by the city's former mayor.

Unsurprisingly, the preliminary state review found “probable fiscal stress” there. So Lt. Gov. Brian Calley took the next step, appointing a review board to take a deeper dive into the city’s finances.

The preliminary review found chronic cash flow problems, and says city officials haven’t come up with an effective deficit-elimination plan.

If the review team confirms those findings as expected, then Allen Park will almost certainly face some type of state intervention. It would be the eighth Michigan city where the state has intervened.

Flint, Pontiac, Benton Harbor, and Ecorse all have emergency managers. Three more cities, including Detroit, are under consent agreements.

DETROIT (AP) - Teachers in three school districts run by the state are laid off with many not knowing if they'll have jobs when classes begin.

Charter operators have yet to be selected to run new systems in Muskegon Heights and Highland Park.

State-appointed emergency managers have shopped Muskegon Heights in West Michigan and Highland Park near Detroit to charter operators as part of plans to pull the cash-strapped districts from near-fiscal ruin.

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.

biddergy.com

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.

Muskegon Heights High School (file photo)
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.

Muskegon Heights High School (file photo)
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.

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