Imagine you moved to Northern Michigan several years ago. You and your
family settled into a nice little community. Lets call it the Village of
Niceville. Niceville came complete with a quaint Main Street full of
interesting and quirky little shops, lots of open space and parks for kids
and, of course, a beautiful lake.
The people were friendly, the little school district was fine and it was
the perfect place to plant roots and raise a family.
In fact, you so appreciated Niceville when nobody wanted to run for a
village council seat, you stepped in, ran and won the job. It was
challenging but fun and satisfying helping your adopted home.
Flash forward to the present. Times have been getting progressively more
difficult for Niceville. The recession has been especially difficult for
small towns and villages in Northern Michigan. Jobs, which were always at
a premium, have dried up. The annual boost from tourists has fallen away,
too, as the price of gas skyrockets and people stay home in droves. Even
worse, the shared revenues from the state, which Niceville and other small
communities depended on, have been slashed by the new governor and
Now, Niceville is in financial trouble. To balance the village budget,
cuts had to be made and some fees raised. The little school district has
laid off teachers, custodians and bus drivers. Your local public employee
union members have accepted salary and benefit cuts. Insolvency for both
the village and school district is a real possibility.
Times are tough but the good people of Niceville are pulling together.
Everyone is pitching in, sacrificing and trying to help. You know you
will figure out a way to make it work.
Then, you wake up one morning and discover a person called an Emergency
Financial Manager, appointed by the state treasurer, has come to
Niceville. Not to help, but to dismantle your little village and school
The Emergency Financial Manager disincorporates Niceville. Your little
village no longer exists. And since there is no Village of Niceville,
there is no need for a village mayor or council. In fact, the Emergency
Financial Manager eliminates all the elected officeholders, cancels all
union contracts, and disbands the school district. Your new overseer also
eliminates a few ordinances with a wave of the hand and stroke of a pen.
There is nothing you can do about it. The new and improved Emergency
Financial Manager, a creation of Governor Rick Snyder approved by the
Michigan legislature, appears to have almost limitless power. They create
their own budget and hire their own staff. They will now run what used to
be your village and your school district. If they choose, they can turn
over control of the management of your little home to a corporation.
Niceville has become Snyderville.
Of course, the above scenario is somewhat exaggerated. Niceville would be
notified before the Emergency Financial Manager came to town. The rest of
it is completely possible under the new Michigan law.
Governor Snyder warned us he thought Michigan should be run like a
business. The Emergency Financial Manager is the political equivalent of
a corporate hostile takeover, complete with downsizing, outsourcing and
the eventual distribution of the remaining parts. Snyder wont pocket
millions this time, like he did when he helped sell Gateway Computers to a
Taiwan company, but the destruction is the same.
In truth, it is unlikely many Emergency Financial Managers will be
descending on any Nicevilles any time soon. But the fact that our
governor and legislature thought this would be a perfectly acceptable
solution to a financial crisis speaks volumes about their lack of belief
in the people of Michigan and our system of electing public officials.
Summarily decon-structing the political infrastructure, elected by the
people, at the whim of a political appointee is about as far removed from
representative democracy as you can get.
Our esteemed legislative leaders tell us the law will serve as an
incentive to municipalities and school districts to keep their financial
houses in order. They are silent on how to rein in the Emergency
Financial Managers once they are unleashed. They are ineffectual when
trying to justify what amounts to a legalized political coup detat. One
wonders what their reaction would be should Congress enact a similar
federal law regarding states perpetually running big deficits.
We keep hearing from politicians who want to run some government unit
more like a business. But governments are not businesses. They serve
different constituencies for different purposes. Governments cant be
broken up and sold off like so many disposable parts for the benefit of
executives and shareholders. Governments cant ignore poverty,
homelessness, crime or any number of other quality of life issues.
Governments cant abandon roads and parks. Governments cant relocate to
another state for a more attractive tax rate nor can they ship jobs
overseas to improve the bottom line.
Governor Snyder and his allies have a different vision of government.
Their vision includes tax increases for retirees and low income earners
and $1.8 billion in tax cuts for businesses. It includes Emergency
Financial Managers who can disassemble a community, remove elected
officials and repeal laws and ordinances while being accountable to none
of the citizens being effected. It distrusts our citizens and disrespects
our traditions and values.
Emergency Financial Managers, as created by our governor and legislature,
are an abomination, antithetical to any representative form of government.
Those legislators who supported it are derelict in their sworn duty to
preserve Michigans constitution and protect the people they are supposed
to represent and serve.
Niceville is mythical. The possibility of a real community becoming a
Snyderville is not.