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Survey: Local officials split on state emergency financial manager law

By Danielle Stoppelmann, Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 24, 2012

Local government officials across Michigan do not agree on the state’s contested emergency financial manager law, according to a survey released Monday by the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at the Ford School of Public Policy.

The poll, released as part of the fall 2012 Michigan Public Policy Survey, reported that 38 percent of local leaders support the law, 30 percent oppose it, 21 percent are neutral and 11 percent are unsure about their position.

The controversial policy — passed in March 2011 as Public Act 4 — gives the state government the power to appoint emergency managers to local governments and school districts experiencing economic crisis. It was suspended on Aug. 8, because its constitutionality will be decided on Nov. 6 as one of six ballot initiatives before Michigan voters.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder said in a video on his blog the emergency manager law has helped local governments, adding that the policy has improved with certain additions like the early warning system, which cautions local officials when their community is at risk of needing an emergency manager.

“We’re seeing the positive benefit of that law today,” Snyder wrote. “And I believe it’s very good public policy. We strengthened the powers the emergency manager would have so they could come in, do their work, finish their work and get out and get the community back in charge.”

Ann Arbor City Councilmember Sandi Smith (D–Ward 1), said she opposes the policy because she believes districts should be autonomous from the state in managing their governments, particularly due to the disconnect that often occurs between policymakers at different levels.

“Local communities still need to be able to have their own priorities in spending and somebody who is assigned from the state does not necessarily have the same values as those people that are within the community and the elected officials that, obviously, have been elected to represent those people,” Smith said.

Thomas Ivacko, the program manager for the research center at the Ford School, said when responses by officials who are unfamiliar with the law are excluded from the calculations, reported support increases from 38 percent to 47 percent and reported opposition increases from 30 percent to 32 percent.

“Those who are more informed about it are going to be able to give us more well-grounded responses whether they support or oppose different aspects of the law,” Ivacko said.

The survey also reported that belief in effectiveness jumps from 43 percent to 53 percent when the opinions of officials who know little about the law are not considered.

Ivacko said the variance in reports based on knowledge of the policy is important to take into account.

“That’s a fairly sizable jump in terms of support for the law and views about its effectiveness,” Ivacko said. “So among those who feel really knowledgeable about it, there’s more support.”

Ivacko said the survey is effective in capturing local leaders’ opinions on the contentious topic.

“This law really gets at some fundamental feelings about democracy and so even if people don’t have a great detailed understanding of the law, I think just tapping into some of these fundamental beliefs is still very interesting,” Ivacko said.

Ivacko added that even though the next Michigan Public Policy poll will focus on a different topic in a few weeks, the survey team will most likely continue to monitor and analyze opinions on the emergency financial manager policy.

“It’s such an important topic, both just about basic questions about democracy, but also about the role, the relationship, between state and local governments,” Ivacko said.


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