Life on the Ol’ Plantation ain’t what it used to be.
In the spring of 2013, Detroit was groaning under the weight of its troubles. It had accumulated billions in debt, was riddled with crime and had seen much of its affluent tax base disappear. A former mayor, Kwame M. Kilpatrick, was convicted of racketeering and fraud.
Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, swept in with a rescue plan: the appointment of an emergency manager, Kevyn D. Orr, who was charged with saving a city in fiscal despair. Many Detroiters were furious that Mr. Orr, then a high-profile bankruptcy lawyer from Chevy Chase, Md., had been given a role with extraordinary power, usurping control from local elected officials.
That anger has been revived in Michigan this week. Public outrage over the tainted water in Flint and the decrepit schools in Detroit has led many people to question whether the state has overreached in imposing too many emergency managers in largely black jurisdictions.
Here’s one of those “Emergency Managers” you’ve heard so much about.
In the cases of both Flint and the Detroit Public Schools, governance was under the jurisdiction of the governor, rather than local officials closer to the ground.
In Flint, emergency managers not only oversaw the city — effectively seizing legal authority from the mayor and City Council — but also pressed to switch the source of the financially troubled city’s water supply to save money.
In Detroit, the schools are on the brink of insolvency after a series of emergency managers dating to 2009 repeatedly failed to grapple with its financial troubles, while also falling short on maintaining school buildings and addressing academic deficiencies. The current emergency manager for the schools, Darnell Earley, previously served in that role in Flint.
Under the administration of Mr. Snyder, who has held office since 2011, seven cities or school districts have been declared financial emergencies and placed under appointed management, state officials said. During the eight-year tenure of his predecessor, Jennifer M. Granholm, a Democrat, five cities or school districts were given emergency managers
Granholm’s now a familiar face on MSNBC.
Three school districts — but no municipalities — remain under the control of emergency managers, a state official said.
Residents of majority-black cities have long cried foul over the practice. They argue that it disenfranchises voters and violates a deeply felt ethos of American democracy that allows for local representation. They also say emergency management gives influence to what is now a mostly white, Republican leadership in Lansing, the state capital. And they worry that in their decisions, emergency managers are more concerned with fiscal discipline than public health.
“Tell me what race dominates in those communities that get emergency managers?” said Hubert Yopp, the mayor of Highland Park, Mich., which is 93 percent black and in past years has had an emergency manager. “People have a very real reason to question what that’s about. It would be one thing if the emergency managers worked with the local governments to make things better. But it’s about having dictator power in the city. The locals have no say.”
Mr. Snyder did not respond to a request for comment. But in an appearance on MSNBC on Friday, in response to questions about whether “environmental racism” had played a part in the government’s response to Flint’s water problems, he said his intent had been to help cities, and people, in need.
“Several cities — Detroit, Flint, Pontiac, Saginaw — I’ve made a focused effort since before I started in office to say, we need to work hard to help people that have the greatest need,” he said. “So we’ve done a lot in terms of programs there to go help the structurally employed get work. In terms of public safety, we’ve done a lot.”
Maybe giving Will Smith the Oscar will solve this vexing situation. Right Jada?
Meanwhile the S.S. White Privilege just keeps rollin along