The ongoing fight between Detroit and Lansing recently moved in Detroit’s favor. In 1999, the state Legislature replaced Detroit’s elected school board with an appointed board. But a bill recently sponsored by Sen. Martha Scott (D-Highland Park) would set this August as the election date for a retention vote on the appointed board. The state Legislature should pass this bill in order to preserve the voting rights of Detroit citizens.
Members of both parties now support moving the date forward. The vote would essentially seek up-or-down approval of the current board. If the state Legislature passes this bill, Gov. Jennifer Granholm will almost certainly sign it, as she supported the right of Detroiters to have control over their school board during the campaign.
Ostensibly, the state took over control of the elected Detroit school board in 1999 because it failed to improve the quality of the education that students were receiving in the city’s schools. The original decision to intervene in 1999, however, was fraught with controversy. Many believe that the action was a manifestation of the state government’s intent to eliminate the voting rights of blacks, as the population of Detroit is overwhelmingly black. This perception only further divided a state frequently split across racial lines. While the wisdom of the state’s decision to intervene in this situation and the manner in which it intervened is a topic for debate, by now, Detroiters deserve the right to regain sovereignty over their city.
This situation, as troubling as it may seem, is not unique to Detroit. Other cities throughout the state are experiencing similar confrontations with government. In Flint and Hamtramck, elected officials are powerless because state appointees with a tremendous amount of authority have essentially become the leaders of these cities. The state Legislature also recently took action that would revoke Detroit’s control over local water and sewer systems.
The state needs to respect the right of its citizens to choose local officials. The decision to intervene in the affairs of municipalities cannot be taken lightly, but often it seems that politics is the primary motivating factor influencing officials when they subordinate their local counterparts. The state Legislature would go a long way toward convincing Detroiters that its intentions are pure by rolling up the date when they can choose whether the school board intervention was in fact, just.