Michigan Rep. Gary Glenn Carries the Gamrat Battle Flag on Guns

There’s a sad irony to this story — one that is surely lost on disgraced lawmakers, Cindy Gamrat and Todd Courser

It didn’t take long for Michigan’s most patriotic lawmakers to pick-up the battle flag of expelled lawmaker Cindy Gamrat. As Democracy Tree predicted back in August, Rep. Gary Glenn (R-98) has adopted Gamrat’s orphaned project — making concealed carry a right for all in Michigan, completely free of any form of registration.

Glenn’s not alone in this though. He’s co-sponsoring a package of bills, along with seven other star-spangled Republicans who apparently find gunz-everywhere a greater priority than potable drinking water and safe roads. After all, when the masses rise-up in anger over Lansing’s relative inaction on basic infrastructure issues — they may well find 2nd Amendment solutions necessary. Very forward thinking of these lawmakers.

House Bills 5301-5304 would eliminate the requirement to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon in Michigan. However, co-sponsor Rep. Lee Chatfield (R-107) generously offers the disingenuous caveat that if an individual still wishes to obtain a permit, they are free to do so:

“This is common-sense legislation to give lawful gun owners another option for self-defense. People who desire a permit to carry a concealed weapon, perhaps because it is necessary to carry a concealed pistol in another state, could still take the necessary training and obtain a permit. A license to carry just would not be required in Michigan.”

The rationale behind the legislation is that tired old argument that since bad guys don’t need to get permits, why should good guys who only wish to protect themselves be required to do so?

Rep. Jim Townsend (D-26) took to social media, calling the legislation “absurd.”

Rep. Townsend on CPL

To reap what one sows…

There’s a sad bit of irony to this story. Rep. Glenn’s fallen fellow Tea Party patriots, Cindy Gamrat and Todd Courser, were featured last week on ABC’s 20/20 — where concern over what “good guys” could do with guns in real life was a recurring theme.

The former representatives’ aides, Keith Allard and Ben Graham, expressed fear of their mutual boss, Courser. Allard advised Graham to secretly record conversations with the lawmaker, explaining to 20/20:

“This is a guy who has been showing increasingly unstable signs in terms of his anger. There’s a 20 percent chance he might act out violently towards himself or others. He keeps a loaded gun in his office.”

The ABC special ended with Gamrat sleeping in her freezing-cold car in a parking lot near her home as recently as a few weeks ago, fearing what her soon-to-be ex-husband would do to her. Presumably, there were weapons in the Gamrat household.

Watch the entire 20/20 episode HERE.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

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A New Michigan Leader for Campaign Finance Reform Emerges

Michigan, the state that earned an “F” for governmental transparency, and under Gov. Snyder’s reign vastly expanded the influence of dark money in politics, is very much in need of an ethics overhaul. Lansing was a national joke with the Courser-Gamrat affair dominating the 2015 news cycle, right up until the Flint water scandal sobered-up the media — putting the focus back on the seriousness of the corrupt atmosphere in Michigan’s capital city.

craig mauger

Craig Mauger, executive director of MCFN, Photo: Simon Schuster

The Wolverine State sure could benefit from a few honest heroes keeping an eye on its elected officials. The nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network has a new leader who intends to do exactly that — Craig Mauger, executive director of the watchdog organization has hit the ground running with a new social media campaign designed to put information on campaign and lobbyist spending directly into the hands of Michigan voters.

Concerned citizens may now follow MCFN on both Facebook and Twitter. Please support the important work of the organization under Mauger’s leadership by following and sharing their social media. You may also subscribe by email to MCFN here.

Mauger comes to MCFN from the Michigan Information & Research Service (MIRS News), where for the last three and a half years he focused on the growing role of money in politics. In that position he investigated the purchase of a new Senate office building and he uncovered the story of a top Snyder official taking primary residence tax breaks in two states. Mauger sees his new role at MCFN as a natural continuation of the kind of work he did at MIRS.

“As more money flows into Michigan politics in evolving ways, MCFN’s mission is becoming more important. I look forward to continuing to follow the money, to being a watchdog for the public and to doing it with objectivity, accuracy and integrity.”

In addition to launching social media in his first two weeks, Mauger has been busy putting his investigative journalism skills to work at MCFN. As National Sunshine Week fast approaches, Mauger has been gathering and reporting data about who’s spending what and where.

To that end, Mauger reported this week on Michigan’s 2015 contributions to presidential candidates, a list that reflects some of the usual suspects, including the DeVos Family who lined the coffers of Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush. A couple of sizable contributions came from Dan Gilbert of Quicken Loans, and ETC Capital, giving $750,000 and $150,000 respectively to America Leads — a committee backing Gov. Chris Christie.

Here’s the line-up of the top ten recipients:

Jeb Bush, Republican, $985,067
Ben Carson, Republican, $692,068
Hillary Clinton, Democrat, $640,070
Marco Rubio, Republican, $567,645
Ted Cruz, Republican, $375,635
John Kasich, Republican, $226,292
Bernie Sanders, Democrat, $193,573
Rand Paul, Republican, $183,603
Carly Fiorina, Republican, $96,923
Martin O’Malley, Democrat, $30,287

And, that’s just the beginning.

Mauger looks like a great fit for the helm of MCFN — a sentiment expressed by Lynn Jondahl, President of the MCFN board.

“Our board is proud and excited to be joined by Craig Mauger, who comes to us with years of award-winning work, finding the information critical to a democracy,” said Jondahl “Craig knows the subject, and he knows Michigan government. His proven skills, passion and integrity will serve all of us well.”

Democracy Tree looks forward to following the work of the MCFN under Mauger’s leadership. This election year is sure to keep him very busy.

Find MCFN on Facebook HERE, Twitter HERE, and their website HERE.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

 

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Worst GOP Lawmaker in Michigan is at it Again With Sham Legislation

While colleagues from both sides of the aisle are offering sincere legislative efforts to repair her damages, the state’s worst lawmaker teed-up a sham “fix” for her bait-and-switch campaign finance law. 

She’s at it again — the Michigan lawmaker who likened public school teachers to “pigs” while she served as chair of the House Education Committee in 2013, recently topped that feat as the current chair of the House Elections Committee by insulting her fellow GOP lawmakers through offering a bait-and-switch campaign finance bill.

Under her guidance, a modest 12-page proposal secretively swelled into a 53-page law, which fellow legislators had not been able to review when presented for a vote — literally at the eleventh hour, but it came with assurances from Lyons that the changes were minor.

Lisa Lyons

Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons

Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons (R-86) is facing strident demands to amend one particular portion of her shady law — a segment which thoroughly enraged local leaders, along with a number of her GOP colleagues who told the media they felt duped by her covert actions.

Many want a full repeal of the section which gags school districts and municipalities from using public resources to educate the electorate about local ballot questions during a 60-day period prior to elections. The level of concern is so great that 17 local leaders from schools and municipalities have filed a lawsuit asking the court to block Section 57 of the legislation prior to the upcoming March elections. They claim it violates the first and fourteenth Amendments — in their case, protecting neutral political speech. By long-standing campaign finance law, officials have been prohibited from advocating for a particular position on a ballot question, but as it stands, Lyon’s new law prevents them from simply stating what the proposal is even about.

Just check the box and move on folks.

In spite of the hue and cry of local government officials, and many of their professional organizations, Gov. Snyder signed the bill into law earlier this month, with a limp request to have the gag provision clarified… maybe, kinda. In his letter to lawmakers, the governor affirms his support of banning public bodies from using the kind of language legally permitted in third-party issue ads, and then attempts to assuage concerns about a resulting under-informed electorate by suggesting that PACs and issue ads from third-party sources could fill the information gap:

“As I interpret this language, it is intended to prohibit communications that are plain attempts to influence voters without using words like “vote for” or “support. With this clarified prohibition, there remain many other mechanisms, including private entities, associations, and political action committees to encourage support or opposition to a ballot proposal that do not rely on public resources.”

Much like Lyons’ original bill, which went largely unread by lawmakers before the vote, one wonders if Snyder took a moment to review the language of his letter prior to affixing his name to it.

In response to the governor’s flaccid urging, Lyons introduced her notion of a “fix” with HB 5219 – a proposal that maintains the 60-day ban on ballot issue communications, with the following miserly exception:

A discussion of a local ballot question during a meeting of a public body, including a meeting that is broadcast using public access medium, provided that both proponents and opponents of the local ballot question have an equal opportunity to discuss the local ballot question.

Lyons would allow no public resources be spent to remind voters of an upcoming ballot proposal or to provide basic factual information on the issue. Officials are prohibited from unpacking the knotty legal language that is typical of ballot proposals. Voters are left to guess, or base their decision on openly biased third-party mailers and robo-calls, — as the governor advises.

Thankfully, several lawmakers have stepped-in to do the right thing with a number of thoughtful proposals — a move strongly advocated by the Michigan Municipal League. The Lyons’ sham proposal is now joined by a crowded field of contenders to amend her campaign finance boondoggle. In order of submission, here’s the line-up:

  1. Sen. Dale Zorn (R-17) didn’t mess around, his proposal would strike-clean the offensive section from the law.
  2. Similar legislation from Rep. Andy Schor (D-68) was introduced which would also walk-back the entirety of the troubling provision.
  3. A third proposal is also being considered. Offered by Rep. Holly Hughes (R-91),who produced a more nuanced approach to amending Lyons’ handiwork — by both reducing the time period from 60 to 30 days, and carving out a number of allowances for specific types of communications.
  4. A fourth comes to us from Sen. Ken Horn (R-32), whose bill is the Senate version of the above Hughes proposal.
GOP Roads graphic

Graphic found on Rep. Lyons website accessed through state operated and funded site.

It’s worth noting, Lyons uses government resources everyday to “educate” the public. The Michigan Legislature website is a portal to the Michigan House Republicans and the Michigan House Democrats individual lawmakers’ websites which are chock-full of educational material that doesn’t advocate “vote for” or “support” but is clearly intended to influence the reader.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle regularly avail themselves of franking privileges to inform voters — mailing out materials at taxpayer expense to keep voters up to speed on issues, a tool put to use especially during the lead-up to their re-elections. This is why Lyons’ law, and the governor’s tacit approval, are so very disingenuous.

All five bills are under consideration — four thoughtful proposals, and the one from Lyons.

logoAmy Kerr Hardin

 

 

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A Symbolic Move to Repeal the Emergency Manager Law — Appreciated

In a purely symbolic exercise of democracy, Michigan House Democrats proposed a bill today to wholesale repeal Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law. Their effort reflects the majority opinion of Michigan voters who repealed Snyder’s law at the ballot box back in November of 2012, only to have Republicans pass a nearly identical version a few weeks later — an act which is likely a violation of Michigan’s Constitution.

Here’s the text of today’s measure:

bill to repeal

That’s it — all it would take to do away with this scourge on democratic principles. But, it won’t happen until voters replace those lawmakers standing in the way of democracy.

The current scandal in Flint, and the soon to blow-up situation in Detroit Public Schools, will lead to increasing cries for reform of the failed emergency manager policy. Snyder’s law is simply unable to address even the basics of these fiscal problems.

As occurs every two years in Michigan, the entire House is up for re-election in 2016. Local leaders are fed-up with Lansing’s inability to legislate anything beyond increasing restrictions on women’s healthcare — all while cities, schools, and roads continue to crumble. The time for a sea change in Michigan’s governance may be at hand. It doesn’t hurt that there’s a presidential election on the horizon.

Today’s attempt at righting a horrific wrong may turn into real change in 2017. In the meantime, we appreciate those Democratic lawmakers who support Michigan voters, along with its most vulnerable citizens.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin 

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Water Wars — How Gov. Snyder Pitted City Against City

The uncertainty created under Gov. Snyder’s emergency manager model of governance fostered dangerous fear-based public policy decisions — Michigan municipalities were pitted one against another — facing trial by fire — of the cut-throat corporate variety. 

Of all the departments in the City of Flint, why was the water supply fund strategically targeted to find cost savings by Gov. Snyder’s emergency managers, possibly more than other struggling departments?

This is an important question, especially in light of the wall-to-wall media frenzy of blame-games politics. Conspiracy theories abound. Thus far, Republicans are taking the bulk of the heat, but right-wing media types are pushing back — placing fault for the city’s crisis on elected Democrats. Just this week in the National Review, there was an article defensively titled Flint is Not a Republican Scandal which attempted to pin the blame on incompetent Democrats for running Flint’s finances into the ground.

That premise is dubious at best, given the actual circumstances under which Flint became the “canary in the coal mine”, as many have tagged the city — with its infrastructure issues and ominous debt reflecting what is surely to come for other communities — and not just the predictable rust-belt cities.

What happened in Flint is a familiar story to other declining manufacturing meccas in the Midwest — loss of jobs, loss of population, loss of property values, all led to a dramatic decline in tax revenues. Pile-on the real estate bubble of the Great Recession, arguably caused by the de-regulation fever gripping the financial sector during the Reagan years and beyond, and we find Flint and Detroit, among others, in a fiscal death spiral that no local official could possibly have cut their way out of –Democrat or Republican.

It doesn’t take a financial wizard to note that dramatically declining expenditures could never have kept pace with the free-fall of revenues during those years leading up to Flint’s receivership:

Flint Balance sheet

Recession-era Flint, just prior to the 2011 state-appointed emergency manager, found local leaders scrambling to cover budgetary gaps. They tapped heavily into one of the few funds that were “unrestricted”, meaning it was not locked-in for that purpose — in this case, the water supply fund. From the state Financial Review Team report provided to Gov. Snyder in November of 2011:

“The City relies upon transfers from the water supply fund and the sewage disposal fund for general City operations… This amount of annual appropriation was not a loan and was not expected to be repaid to these funds… In addition to the transfers out, both the water supply fund and the sewage disposal fund had lost money in their operations, the latter having lost over $61 million since 2001, and the former having lost almost $10 million since 2009. City officials recently [2011] had implemented a 35 percent increase in water and sewer rates.” (emphasis mine)

The state report clearly demonstrates how the water supply fund was raided during the height of the recession. During fiscal years 2010 and 2011 it racked-up a $15 million deficit. The Flint general fund drained the water supply fund dry — but it wasn’t nearly enough to stave-off the inevitable.

Flint leaders had no other choice. There were no new revenues and no assistance was expected from the state. They went from being financially wobbly, along with every other Michigan city, to tipping well over the brink in a matter of months.

Unbeknownst to them, their source of clean water was about to potentially become unaffordable. Lake Huron water, via Detroit, was at risk of price hikes due to the fiscal crisis brewing in Detroit.

In a highly suspicious move in early 2013, just as the Motor City was about to get its own emergency manager, the U.S. District Court abruptly terminated its oversight of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) — an arrangement that had been in place for 35 years due to repeated EPA violations. The move ceded operations back to the city’s purview — and the newly assigned emergency manager, who could potentially discover untapped assets and revenues there to shore-up the struggling city.

At that time, the DWSD Board passed a resolution expressing grave reservations about the scope of authority of the incoming emergency manager. There was speculation that the emergency manager would part-out Detroit assets for a quick sale, including the DSWD. Not an unreasonable speculation –Detroit’s emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, also threatened to put priceless artworks at the Detroit Institute of Art on the auction block. The DWSD resolution specifically asked for clarification on a number of critical points, among them:

  • Whether the City Council will continue to have a role in approving contracts under the DWSD procurement policy in light of the fact that the EFM can exercise legislative functions under state law?
  • Whether the DWSD is required to remain a department of the City of Detroit as envisioned by the November 4, 2011 Court order or whether it is subject to sale by the EFM with approval of the State Treasurer as detailed within the new EFM law?

No matter how favorable were any potential contract terms DWSD offered the City of Flint, Orr likely had the power to negate them under the provisions of the Emergency Manager Act — he could raise the rates at will, contracts be damned. He was all-powerful, and Flint knew that, having already had years of experience under Snyder’s law. Darnell Earley, Flint’s emergency manager, was in contact with DSWD regarding terms, but opted instead to draw water from the Flint River. How high up the food chain that decision went in Lansing, is still a matter of speculation — a question which may only find an answer through depositions.

Michael Pitt, a trial lawyer leading a number of class action lawsuits against the State of Michigan over the horrific lead poisonings in Flint was on WKAR Off the Record this week, calling-out state leaders, including the governor, over their feigned ignorance. Pitt also revealed, as part of his argument, why Flint felt so urgently compelled to switch water systems to the yet-to-be-built Karegnondi Water Authority pipeline, and to stick with the decision a year later — before problems with the Flint water had surfaced. Although not yet constructed, the pipeline seemed the better prospect over the potentially skyrocketing rates anticipated if they stayed with DSWD. Flint officials were rightly alarmed about the potential for reckless actions of the state-sanctioned emergency manager to their south — in the City of Detroit, whose financial imperatives were sure to vastly eclipse any concerns for the welfare of the people of Flint.  In Pitt’s words:

“Now keep in mind what was going on in Detroit in April of 2014, when [Flint] made the switch. Bankruptcy. There was an emergency manager in Detroit. His name was Kevyn Orr. What was Kevyn Orr trying to do with the City of Detroit water department in 2014? What was he doing? — He had it up for sale. He had put it out for investors to come in and buy the City of Detroit water department.”

Off the Record 2

Atty. Michael Pitt appearing on WKAR Off the Record

Flint’s decision to move to the KWA pipeline wasn’t the problem, it’s those decisions that occurred in the wake which proved to be so disastrous. The move away from DWSD may have been solid fiscal policy given the knowledge they had at the time, emergency manager or not, regardless of political affiliation.

The uncertainty created under Gov. Snyder’s emergency manager model of governance fostered dangerous fear-based public policy decisions — an atmosphere where conspiracy-based politics are now the norm, and transparency is a casualty. Michigan municipalities were pitted one against another — facing trial by fire — of the cut-throat corporate variety. As much as the governor wished them to be, the fiscal woes of Flint which triggered his Emergency Manager Law were not a result of dereliction of local leaders.

The foremost expert on Michigan municipal finance, Michigan State University economics professor Eric Scorsone, specifically studied Flint in an exhaustive 2011 report — Long-Term Crisis and Systemic Failure: Taking the Fiscal Stress of America’s Older Cities Seriously — Case Study: City of Flint, Michigan — a report that apparently was not fully consulted by Lansing. Dr. Scorsone revealed the following:

  • Flint’s revenues from property taxes, income taxes, and state revenue sharing had been cut nearly in half.
  • With $775 million in unfunded legacy costs, each remaining Flint resident would have to pay $8,000 a year for three decades to satisfy the debt.
  • Flint would require the equivalent of five GM-sized companies, creating 40,000 jobs, to bring the city out of the woods.

Scorsone noted this of the revenue-side of the problem:

Few businesses would survive the revenue losses that cities like Flint have sustained. Yet “going out of business” is not an option for the City. The core purpose of a city is to provide for the safety, health, and welfare of the community. Restructuring the revenue side of the municipal budget equation can happen overnight by legislative action.

Though not likely to happen, legislative action is an imperative — the only remaining option is bankruptcy, as exercised by Detroit. Appointed dictators cannot balance the budget through their only tool: cut-back management. That’s why Flint and Detroit Public Schools have grown worse under Snyder’s law, and will never get better without legislative support.

lost revenues

Source: Michigan Municipal League

Unfortunately, lawmakers not only refuse to increase revenue sharing, but Lansing has become addicted to robbing cities of their due revenues. Last year, the Michigan Municipal League reported that Lansing has diverted billions in revenues since 2003 — taking money away from statutory revenue sharing for local units of government to bolster other state spending priorities. Referring to the diversion of funds as a “heist”, the author of the report explained:

This data begs the question: did municipalities ignore their duty to manage or did someone else change the rules of the game and then throw a penalty flag at them? I see yellow flags all over the playing field.

The figures, based on Michigan Department of Treasury data, adjusted for inflation, found that an estimated $6.2 billion had been robbed from Michigan cities from 2003-14. Currently, the annual take is about $700 million.

Many in the world of Michigan media daily mourn the loss of Bonnie Bucqueroux, missing what her insights might have been in this time of crisis. She left us a rich legacy though — she saw this one coming. In a three-part interview she conducted with her colleague Dr. Scorsone back in early 2011, Bucqueroux offered this prophetic wisdom :

“One of the arguments [against] the emergency manager is that the governor might be well advised to scale-back on his tax cuts for business in order to use some of the new revenue he wants to generate in order to be able to share more with cities — [they] wouldn’t be in this financial stress if the state were more willing to use the revenues that it could take-in to share with cities.”

Five years later, even if Snyder where to come around and acknowledge the error of his ways, he’s squandered all of his political capital, and the short-sighted GOP leadership in Lansing isn’t in the mood to hear him out.

Like any addict, Michigan leaders must hit rock-bottom before any meaningful changes occur. They’re pretty close now, pretty damn close.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

See Bonnie Bucqueroux’s 2011 interviews here, here, and here.

 

 

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Michigan’s Number One Budget Priority Must Be Flint — Survey Says Voters May Agree

While politicians, pundits, candidates, and the media yammer on and on about how best to help Flint, and who may or may not be doing enough — now would be a good time to take the temperature of Michigan residents on their priorities. With a substantial state budget surplus recently reported, and the annual budgetary process right around the corner, do voters really support investment in services and infrastructure?

The pressure’s on. Flint native, Congressman Dan Kildee, just put out a press release asking Gov. Snyder to earmark funds from the state’s budget surplus to aid Flint in their time of need:

“Flint residents and children deserve to hear Governor Snyder take responsibility for this man-made disaster that was created by his administration, I appreciate the federal government declaring a state of emergency, but the state must step up and do more. The state of Michigan has a $575 million budget surplus and the Governor should dedicate a portion of that money to help the victims of this terrible crisis.”

Michigan’s GOP lawmakers have been loathe to help in any serious way. But they, like the rest of the nation will be paying close attention to tomorrow night’s state of the state address from Gov. Snyder. It will likely receive more attention nationally than any previous speech from a governor in recent years. And, it won’t be the good kind of press Snyder prefers.

Over the last week we’ve also seen GOP lawmakers backpedal away from threats to legislatively punish Detroit Public School teachers over their “sickout” strikes. When both mainstream and social media exposed the squalid conditions in DPS classrooms resulting from years of cruel cut-back management under the Emergency Manager Law, Republicans grew suddenly quiet.

So, it would seem that politicians of all stripes would want to know how Michigan voters really feel about budget priorities. Once again, this is a job for nerdy public policy wonks — and anticipating the need, they’ve already done it. The University of Michigan Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy published results of their recent survey on this very topic just last month.

First, they asked local leaders about their spending priorities during flush financial times, then they asked them how they thought voters felt about the topic, next they conducted a simultaneous survey of the public. While Lansing officials seem to get it wrong every time, local leaders apparently have a good feel for the pulse of their communities, even though they were willing to admit they weren’t perfectly sure, they pretty much nailed it. Lansing should pay close attention to these numbers.

By a wide margin, both local leaders and voters pinned the spending tail on the services and infrastructure donkey, with every other option polling like a third-tier Republican presidential candidate. (Apologies for the low resolution of the chart — U of M should invest in a little infrastructure upgrade in its graphics department — hint.)

MPPS Budget Surplus

Source: Michigan Public Policy Survey

The looming annual budget war in Lansing will be heavily informed by the shifting political priorities of the state — priorities now closely scrutinized and judged by the rest of the nation. As is the case, every two years the entire Michigan House is up for grabs, and 2016 has many of the same factors at play which scored well for Democrats in 2008 — meaning Republican candidates may wish to think twice before running to the far right.

Politics aside, the moral imperative should rule — Flint needs and deserves the money.

logoAmy Kerr Hardin

 

 

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Michigan: GOP Bills Would Strip Emergency Managers of Their Immunity

Last week, Democracy Tree broke the story on the Michigan Emergency Manager Law’s immunity from civil liabilities — individuals acting under the aegis of the law are shielded from personal lawsuits, even if they cause grave harm — as long as they are operating within the parameters of their duties. Most notably, Michigan and the nation have been aghast at the poisoning of an entire city under emergency management. An additional insult to communities is that they are currently obligated to pay for any and all litigation that may occur in spite of the legal immunity. By law, the state is required to deduct these costs from the revenue sharing of the already fiscally distressed public body.

Not if one Republican lawmaker has his way.

Today we learn that a legislative remedy has been introduced by Rep. Peter Lucido (R-36). House Bills 5209 and 5210 would strip emergency managers of their immunity, and would provide at least some modicum of accountability through tort law. The proposal additionally requires an emergency manager to post a $5 million bond, which must be forfeited in the case of “gross negligence” or “willful and wanton misconduct”, causing the emergency manager to become personally responsible for all damages, instead of the tax paying public.

Excerpt from the HB 5209:

AN EMERGENCY MANAGER APPOINTED BY THE GOVERNOR UNDER SECTION 9 SHALL POST A SUITABLE BOND OF NOT LESS THAN $5,000,000.00, ISSUED BY A RESPONSIBLE BONDING ENTITY, FOR THE FAITHFUL PERFORMANCE OF THE DUTIES OF THE OFFICE. AN EMERGENCY MANAGER FORFEITS THE BOND IF HIS OR HER CONDUCT AS AN EMERGENCY MANAGER AMOUNTS TO GROSS NEGLIGENCE OR IS WILLFUL AND WANTON MISCONDUCT, AND THE EMERGENCY MANAGER IS RESPONSIBLE FOR ALL DAMAGES, EXPENSES, AND COSTS ASSOCIATED WITH THAT GROSS NEGLIGENCE OR WILLFUL AND WANTON MISCONDUCT.

There’s more:

Another GOP proposal, with bipartisan support, was introduced in the House to make legislators subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Rep. John Bizon (R-62) offered HB 5216, a bill that will kick open the door on one of the least transparent government bodies in the nation.

And something from the Dems:

Flint lawmaker Rep. Phil Phelps (D-49) announced plans to introduce legislation making it a felony for state employees to manipulate data — based on concerns that there may have been willful malfeasance in the Flint water disaster.

Sensible bills? Bipartisan cooperation? Pinch me.

logoAmy Kerr Hardin

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The Emergency Manager Law: Snyder’s Monstrous Hoax on the People of Michigan

The very first sentence of Public Act 436, Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law — not the second or third, or some obscure subsection buried within — the actual primary legal premise of the act, is a bald-faced lie. The leading statement of the preamble has proven to be one of the greatest hoaxes perpetuated on the citizens of Michigan in known history.

Here it is verbatim:

AN ACT to safeguard and assure the financial accountability of local units of government and school districts; to preserve the capacity of local units of government and school districts to provide or cause to be provided necessary services essential to the public health, safety, and welfare;… 

As we learn about the 200 children in the City of Flint, all under age six, testing with dangerously elevated levels of lead in their bloodstreams, and another 9,000 having been exposed through toxic city water, those hollow words bring home the criminal negligence that is occurring across Michigan under Gov. Snyder’s emergency managers.

In Flint, we are talking about the “health, safety, and welfare” of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the social leaders and activists who pioneered advances in the work place for the greater good, those who personally sacrificed to build the American middle-class, ground-up — the men and women of the Flint sit-down strike of 1936-27.

It’s not just the children of Flint suffering at the hands of Snyder’s hired goons. Students at Detroit Public Schools are attending classes in under-equipped, vermin-infested, poorly heated classrooms, with crumbling ceilings and roof leaks leaving buildings reeking of mold and mildew.

On Detroit’s east side, the students at Hutchinson elementary and middle school have been wearing winter coats in the classroom. In frustration, Principal Stanley Johnson resorted to asking parents to launch a letter writing campaign to DPS administrators demanding repairs to the failing heating system. This week DPS has indicated they intend to fix the problem, but Johnson isn’t holding his breath.

At Spain Elementary School, teachers are calling in sick — not just in protest, but because they truly are ill due to the mold and mildew from constant roof leaks at the school. Teacher Lakia Wilson described the conditions at the school as “inhuman, deplorable, dilapidated. It is not healthy.  We are literally sick.”

Much like the Flint crisis, Michigan leaders are slow to respond. State Superintendent Brian Whiston has just this week issued a statement instructing DPS Emergency Manager Darnell Early to set-up meetings to discuss the problems. While they talk and talk about the deplorable conditions, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has vowed to inspect the buildings and enforce health and building codes.

Flint and DPS share a long history under emergency management — suffering years of brutally reckless cut-back management, with nothing to show for it but sickness and sorrow — proof that Public Act 436 is more than just a failure, it’s a lying failure.

logoAmy Kerr Hardin

Update from MLive on Mayor Duggan’s Tuesday visit to DPS schools:

“Duggan told the Associated Press after touring schools Tuesday that he saw a dead mouse, cold children wearing coats in classrooms and a warped gym floor. He said the schools he visited with building safety officials were a “mixed bag,” with some in good shape.”

 

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FLINT: How Gov. Snyder Insulated His Emergency Managers from Your Lawsuits

Michigan residents, particularly those living in Flint, are taking some small measure of comfort in this week’s news. With the contaminated water fiasco being officially recognized as a state of emergency, the city will likely be receiving federal funds to help remediate the crisis. Additionally, on Tuesday the media exploded with reports of the U.S. Department of Justice stepping-in to investigate what happened — probing who knew what and when. Also this week, Flint lawmaker Rep. Phil Phelps (D-49) announced plans to introduce legislation to make it a felony for state employees to manipulate data — based on concerns that there may have been willful malfeasance in the Flint water disaster.

While there is a chance some officials will be found guilty of some form of criminal negligence, will there be any recourse for citizens to take civil action against those errant public officials?

Probably not, and here’s why:

It’s important to remember that all of this occurred under the agency of Gov. Snyder’s “Local Financial Stability and Choice Act” — PA 436 of 2012, aka the Emergency Manager Law. Itself, a lengthy document that few have read in its entirety, yet there are carefully worded provisions in the law specifically designed to shield officials from certain lawsuits over decisions made and actions taken under its aegis.

Section 20(1) of PA 436 states: An emergency manager is immune from liability as provided in section 7(5) of 1964 PA 170, MCL 691.1407. — That’s Section 7(5) of Public Act 170 of 1964.

Public Act 170, Section 7(5) states the following: A judge, a legislator, and the elective or highest appointive executive official of all levels of government are immune from tort liability for injuries to persons or damages to property if he or she is acting within the scope of his or her judicial, legislative, or executive authority. (emphasis mine)

That’s pretty clear.

Yet, in spite of conferring immunity to emergency managers, and incidentally, their employees, the authors of the Emergency Manager Law anticipated the potential wrath of citizens over harmful actions under the law, and doubled-down with costly extra protections to fight-off any litigation.

Let’s go back to Section 20 of the Emergency Manager Law, where we find subsection (4), which states that emergency managers may procure, at the local public body’s expense, a variety of personal protections, including general and professional liability insurance.

It gets uglier: Subsections (3), (5), and (6) deal with specific provisions under which the state treasurer may mandate that the local unit of government must additionally cover insurance gaps and fully indemnify individuals acting under PA 436 on their behalf. And furthermore, the state is permitted to deduct amounts owed out of the revenue sharing due to the local government. It is also of interest that certain types of lawsuits would fall under the state attorney general’s jurisdiction — meaning the AG would act as defense for the emergency manager and their employee(s) and bill the local government for his services.

That last part is important. If subsections (3), (5), and (6) were invoked, the City of Flint could bear the financial burden of civil litigation.

How about suing the state then? They covered that one too. Section 32 of the Emergency Manager law shields the state.

The particulars of the Emergency Manager Law beg the question: Was the original intent one to cut corners and put public safety at risk?

It’s a valid question. The fact that they stacked the deck, giving citizens no recourse whatsoever for abuses found at the hand of an unelected dictator says a lot about the values of the elected officials in Lansing who sanctioned this law. It is clear their primary concern was to protect the personal interests of the emergency manager — public health and safety be damned.

logoAmy Kerr Hardin

 

 

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Michigan Democrats Combat GOP Thuggery

MICHIGAN HOUSE DEMS PUSH BACK WITH A PROPOSAL TO AMEND THE CONSTITUTION AFTER REPEATED GOP DECEIT

“There aren’t going to be any profiles of courage passed out to this chamber.” House Minority Floor Leader Sam Singh (D-69) on the duplicitous actions of Michigan’s GOP lawmakers.

Under Republican leadership, Michigan’s legislature has become increasingly brazen in their use of down and dirty tricks. Most recently, they exploited a loophole in the legislative process which allows them to enact repeal-proof laws through the simple act of attaching a meaningless appropriation to the proposal, thereby conferring constitutional protection from a voter-initiated referendum. They employed this skullduggery to ram through a bill that more than once in recent history has been repealed by popular vote.

We’re talking about a law to ban straight-ticket voting, of course.

First, GOP lawmakers double-crossed their colleagues across the aisle by eliminating a no-reason absentee ballot provision, then they passed a bill that Michigan voters have previously rejected twice — voting to repeal it in 1964 by a 65 percent majority, and again rejecting the notion in 2002 by just under 60 percent.

Justifiably angered, Democratic lawmakers pushed back this time with a House Joint Resolution to amend Article II, Sec. 9 of the state constitution to close the appropriations loophole. With strong partisan support, Rep. Jim Townsend introduced HJR FF prior to the holiday break, saying this on social media of the bill to end straight-ticket voting:

“In what is becoming a standard practice this bill contains an appropriation, which would prevent voters from challenging and overturning it, which tells you precisely what the sponsor and supporters of this bill intentions are – to suppress the your right to vote in an effort to win elections.”

The current abuse of power is certainly egregious, but it arguably is not the worst example of this form of legislative chicanery in recent years. Upon the successful repeal by referendum of the Emergency Manager Law in late 2012, GOP lawmakers already had a new bill written, in the wings, and ready to go, but this time with an appropriation — rendering it bullet-proof. And now, as a direct result of that act, the children of Flint have been poisoned at the hands of an emergency manager. In recent weeks, many commentaries have laid the blame squarely at the governor’s feet, but there are plenty of lawmakers that are complicitous in that crime too. Snyder did not act alone.

The likelihood of the passage of Townsend’s resolution to prevent future subversion of the democratic process is zero. A politically hollow exercise in ethics, yes — but it’s the only card Michigan Dems have to play.  Gongwer News Service just issued a gloomy forecast for the prospect of any bipartisan cooperation in 2016 in the Michigan House, in spite of the predictable cheery rhetoric to the contrary. There always remains the possibility of a citizen initiated petition drive to amend the constitution. An attempt was made to do just that back in 2013, but they failed to garner the kind of institutional support necessary to successfully navigate the arduous and expensive process of a ballot proposal.

Possibly the only way Michigan can put a stop to this breed of legislative thuggery is to elect honest lawmakers — a feat now made that much more difficult with the end of straight-ticket ballots.

NOTE: Gov. Snyder signed the GOP bill into law earlier today.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

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