Students lined the hall outside the packed Eldersveld Room in Haven Hall last night to listen to government leaders and state officials discuss the progress of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s controversial emergency financial manager law.

In the forum, hosted by the Undergraduate Political Science Association, participants discussed issues surrounding Public Act 4, reformed Michigan legislation that outlines protocol for dismissal of city leaders during times of economic duress and grounds for appointment of an emergency financial manager.

The panel consisted of State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor), Howard Ryan, director of legislative affairs in the Michigan Department of Treasury, Washtenaw County Commissioner Conan Smith and Flint Mayor Dayne Walling. State Rep. Mark Ouimet (R–Scio Township) was unable to attend due to a school board meeting.

Public Act 4 was passed last March, and since then emergency financial managers have been appointed in Benton Harbor, Three Oaks, Flint, Hamtramck, Ecorse, Pontiac, Detroit Public Schools and the Highland Park School District.

Ryan, who contributed to writing the legislation, said the law provides leeway for the local government to work with the financial manager to solve financial problems.

“(The) provisions (are) there to allow flexibility for local units of government,” Ryan said. “The emergency manager himself does have a lot of power, but gets to that position after everything has been systematically broken in one way or another.”

Ryan added that an emergency manager is appointed to municipalities that can no longer salvage their debt, a problem most frequently caused by population decentralization in the wake of the automobile industry’s downfall.

Appointed financial managers have a higher salary than local elected officials, due to the rigor of the occupation, Ryan said.

“(The financial manager position is) one of the hardest, most difficult jobs imaginable,” Ryan said. “You are going into an environment where no one wants you there.”

Walling said he faced disapproval from Flint residents after a manager was appointed in November, though reaction from labor unions were mixed, adding that the city’s work force dropped from 1,200 to 750 over the past five years.

“We’re dealing with so-called emergencies with tools that haven’t been court tested,” Walling said.

Irwin said the process for passing the legislation was rushed and the end product was not as objective as the initial vision.

“At the same time as we’re talking about changing the rules to make it easier for (financial managers) to come in, we’re cutting school districts at a time when we don’t have to,” Irwin said.

He added that the power of financial managers to void contracts and sell public assets is a potential danger to the residents of cities with financially unstable local governments.

LSA junior Christopher Thomas said as that as a citizen of Clinton Township, a Detroit suburb, he is concerned about the potential ramifications of Public Act 4.

“I was eager to become a more competent citizen by learning firsthand from community and state leaders about the complex implications of the emergency manager law.”

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