Public Act 4

Roy Roberts, the state-appointed emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools, will keep his job after the Michigan Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit attempting to remove him.

The Supreme Court refused to overturn an earlier decision by the Court of Appeals ruling that Roberts’ office remains in effect under Public Act 72—the state’s emergency financial manager law of 1990.

The lawsuit was brought by Robert Davis, a union activist and school board member in Highland Park.

Michigan House Republicans

The state House has approved a measure that would replace the emergency manager law that voters rejected last month.

Supporters of the measure say it gives local governments and schools more choices than Public Act Four. That law was rejected by voters last month.

The options now would include coming to a consent agreement with the state, mediation, an emergency manager, or bankruptcy.

Republican state Representative Al Pscholka sponsored the original emergency manager law.

“It is a significant difference from Public Act 4, because it allows the local elected officials to have a choice,” Pscholka said.

Democratic state Representative David Nathan of Detroit said he doesn’t see a real difference between the proposal and the original law.

“I think that both of those – (Public Act) 4 and this legislation – is imposing its will on communities and not allowing the communities to be a part of the decision-making process to get them out of the struggles that they have,” Nathan said.

A provision in the bill would make the measure immune to a voter referendum, like the one that repealed the original emergency manager law.

The bill now goes to the state Senate, where a vote is likely Thursday.

New emergency manager law moves to House floor

Dec 6, 2012
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A new emergency manager bill advances to the House floor after a partisan vote passed the legislation through the House Local, Intergovernmental and Regional Affairs Committee.

The Detroit Free Press has more:

An emergency manager has been operating Benton Harbor for over two years.
notashamed / flickr

In November, Michigan voters will decide the fate of Public Act 4 of 2011 (PA 4)—the controversial emergency manager law.

PA 4 is the latest of three Michigan laws that define the state’s ability to appoint emergency managers to oversee financially distressed local governments.

Under the law, emergency managers have the power to modify and terminate existing contracts, and in some cases, collective bargaining agreements.

Since August 8, when the Board of Canvassers placed Proposal 1 on the ballot, PA 4 has been suspended while awaiting the statewide referendum.

Detroit police officers have won a day in court—and the temporary suspension of new contract terms that were set to go into effect in the coming week.

The case’s legal outcome could have major implications for Detroit’s consent agreement with the state.

Mayor Dave Bing imposed new contract terms on most city employees, including police, last month.

Those changes included a 10% pay cut, and throwing out old work rules—which led the department to implement new 12-hour shifts for officers.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Public employee union leaders are ecstatic that a referendum challenging the state’s emergency manager law will be on the November ballot.

They’ve fiercely opposed the law in large part because emergency managers have the power to alter or throw out collectively-bargained contracts.

Supporters of a referendum to overturn Michigan’s emergency manager law want to make sure that question is on the November ballot.

They filed an emergency motion with the Michigan Court of Appeals Wednesday to speed that process along.

After a complicated legal process, the Court of Appeals ruled the question should go on the ballot last week, but without specifying it could take “immediate effect.” So the order could sit for as long as 42 days.

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.

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.”

Supporters of a ballot initiative to overturn Michigan’s emergency manager law say their petitions will withstand any challenges.

They gathered more than 226,000 signatures in an effort to put the law up for voter referendum.

Those petitions now await certification from the state board of canvassers.

Detroit NAACP lawyer Butch Hollowell says the petitions should easily stand up to the latest legal challenge: a claim, filed by the group Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, that petition headers were typed in the wrong font size.

Governor Snyder says he’s happy Detroit leaders have signed off on a “historic” consent agreement, but now it’s time to get moving on the restructuring plan the deal calls for.

But at a Thursday roundtable with reporters, Snyder said Detroit’s fiscal problems have been building for decades, and won’t be solved overnight.

Max Ortiz / Associated Press

It’s all but official: Detroit and the state have struck a deal to avoid an emergency manager for the city.

In a contentious 5-4 vote, the City Council approved a consent agreement with the state. The narrow vote came after an emotionally-charged debate that sometimes erupted into hostility.

But everyone agreed on one point: the city of Detroit will never be the same.