Michigan Task Force Fights for Emergency Manager Rule Reform

In Media Mentions by Chris Kessel

Flint. Its struggles are known the nation over, but no one seems able to do much about it — though they try. The clean water crisis that began in the riverbed has inspired Democrats and Republicans as part of a Joint Committee on the Flint Water Public Health Emergency to put forth 30 policy proposals intended to limit the amount of lead allowed in public drinking water and to punish those who disregard these guidelines. One such proposal would reform the state’s emergency manager rule, which grants which grants a single individual, appointed by the governor, the power to step in and mitigate crises.

The rule was designed and enacted to protect Michigan and its people in the event of an emergency, but two such individuals appointed in Flint stood idly by while the city’s water safety deteriorated. Attorney General has been quoted acknowledging the rule’s failure in this instance, but still argues its overall value. An independent task force appointed by Snyder, however, found that this string of unelected managers made “key decisions that contributed to the crisis,” effectively hindering “the checks and balances and public accountability that come with public decision-making.”

Michigan’s Emergency Manager Rule needs reform.

The following content originally appeared in the Detroit News on April 6, 2017.

In a report released more than a year ago, the task force called for a review of the emergency manager law, urged policy makers to consider alternatives and stressed the need to ensure proper support and expertise to help appointees run local governments or school districts.

The special legislative committee echoed those calls in October, suggesting the state replace the single emergency manager with a three-person financial management team comprised of a financial expert, local government operations expert and local ombudsman.

Beyond informal discussions last year, there have been no substantive talks about reforming the law, which Snyder signed in late 2012 after Michigan voters overturned an earlier version.

“Based on the fact the Legislature’s own special committee recommended changes, I think the Legislature is going to be hard up to explain why they haven’t addressed it,” said Ken Sikkema, a Republican and former state Senate majority leader who co-chaired the governor’s task force. “It’s not that complicated.”