After being appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder last week, Flint’s new emergency manager Michael Brown didn’t waste any time making changes to the city. By last Friday, his second day on the job, Brown had fired seven city hall officials and docked the pay of several others, including the mayor of Flint and City Council members. Flint is the fourth city in Michigan to fall under state takeover, and the policy seems to be expanding to more cities. Elected city officials should be the individuals who represent citizens, not appointed state officials. The state takeover law needs to have greater restrictions and should not give sole power to a state-appointed official.
As of Dec. 1, the state took over Flint’s finances. The city has been in bad shape since General Motors left the area, taking factory and assembly jobs along with it. This isn’t the first time Flint was declared to be in an economic state of emergency, as a financial manager was put into place from 2002 to 2006.
The emergency manager position was established under the state takeover law 20 years ago. Public Act 4 allows the governor to appoint a manager to assist cities in which finances have become overly burdensome. The holder of the position can circumvent city charters, fire current city officials and even interfere with collective bargaining rights.
The state takeover law jeopardizes democracy. Appointed officials are not able to speak for the citizens they represent. The purpose of having elected officials is for local residents to choose someone to represent them. But in the event of a state takeover, an appointed emergency manager calls the shots. State takeovers are negative for the state. They signify that Michigan cities are unable to succeed economically and instead must rely on state funds. Frequent state takeovers also set a bad precedent. Cities may choose to fall into state takeover — hoping the government will bail them out rather than try to fix their financial problems on their own.
Cities that are struggling to manage their finances should be helped by the state, but not in this manner. Giving one outside person the power to overhaul an entire city is not an effective management strategy. After the emergency manager is gone, the city can easily fall back to its previous status. Instead of having one state-appointed individual make unilateral decisions, there should be a consultation process, in which someone like an emergency manager works with city officials, instead of ruling over them.
While many cities need the help of the state government, complete state takeovers are not a viable solution. When the elected officials in a city can no longer represent their constituents, residents are left feeling a lack of control in their own governance. Rather than appoint one state official to have all the power, state takeovers should use a consultation process, in which qualified individuals come in and help a city, not take it over entirely.