Things Michigan Progressives Can Be Thankful For

Yes, they do exist! Here’s a couple of things Progressives can be thankful for this Thanksgiving:

First, voter-initiated ballot questions just got that much easier, plus — as it turns-out, voters aren’t quite as stupid as Jonathan Gruber, the president’s Affordable Care Act advisor, claims. At least not here in Michigan. (Hang on, don’t get your knickers in a twist — in spite of the recent midterms, sometimes they actually do get things right.)

Because so many didn’t bother to vote in the recent election, it will make citizen petition drives for constitutional amendments, referenda and initiated laws less of a chore. This could spell for a crowded 2016 ticket, but ballot questions are currently the only tool available to Michigan’s Progressives. Additionally, ballot proposals are among the few areas where voters of all political persuasions tend to use their heads to shape good public policy, that is, when not thwarted by obstructionist lawmakers.

The state’s constitution governs the process of ballot questions by requiring petitioners to gather certain percentages of signatures of the electorate based on the number of votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election. So, low voter turn-out translates into fewer signatures required.

GOP lawmakers have been bending-over backwards trying to make the process more arduous for citizens, unless of course, it is a cause they support — or more accurately — one their financial supporters support. The legislature has the authority to pass a citizen initiated question or referendum into law without putting it on the ballot — as they did with the Right to Life backed “rape insurance” law last year. They knew voters would never approve of such a reckless disregard for women’s healthcare and reproductive rights. Even Gov. Snyder had vetoed a similar legislative measure the year before.

Amy in LansingConstitutional questions however, are always put to the people. They require signatures in the amount of 10 percent of the number of ballots cast in the midterm election, which is now 315,184 — down by 7,425 from the previous 322,609. To ward of challenges on the validity of the collected signatures, a citizen ballot question committee will typically collect 150 to 200 percent of the minimum required.

Citizen-initiated laws have a lower threshold, requiring 8 percent, and referenda to challenge existing laws only demand 5 percent — both still high numbers, but now thousands fewer than before. They too, will gather many more signatures than needed.

GOP lawmakers have a habit of tacking unnecessary appropriations onto controversial legislation because, by a fluke of the Michigan Constitution, they render the law referendum-proof. This occurred with the latest emergency manager law after voters repealed a nearly identical version through referendum. (To be completely fair, the new version respected the law, in that it did not create an illegal, unfunded mandate as the previous incarnation had. They set aside money to pay for the emergency manager and their staff. Although, this could have been funded through a separate bill.)

It’s not just elected officials that play the appropriations game. A recent citizen-initiated law, funded by the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, in support of wolf hunting contained a completely extraneous appropriation of $1 million to fight Asian Carp. GOP lawmakers gave it the same treatment as the rape images[7]insurance petition drive and passed it without voter approval.

The wolf hunt law is now referendum-proofBut, it’s certainly not bullet proof.

A citizen-driven initiated law to overwrite the new law is well within reach. This would require a third petition drive from the tenacious folks at Keep Michigan Wolves Protected. They’ve accomplished this herculean task twice before, and now that it’s easier, they may do it again.

This brings us to the second piece of good news to be thankful for in Michigan.

Informed voters, across the political spectrum, resoundingly rejected the two ballot proposals on wolf hunting, both of which had been rendered moot through legislative chicanery. Sure, the election outcomes on props 14-1 and 14-2 carry no legal weight, but they clearly represent the will of the people standing in opposition to the unnecessary depredation of a marginal species — one that also serves an important role in keeping Michigan’s deer population in check. Why auto insurers aren’t all over this is a mystery.

Not only did voters widely reject wolf hunting at the ballot box, but a statewide poll backed-up the general unease Michigan voters feel about the gratuitous hunting of a species so recently removed from the endangered list. From the group Keep Michigan Wolves Protected:

There is a great deal of intensity around the fact that voters want to decide these issues and were unwilling to give up their right to do so. Overall, 85 percent of Michigan voters agree that, “Michigan voters should keep their right to vote on wildlife issues and should not hand over that power to an unelected, politically appointed commission,” including 71 percent who agree with that strongly and only 11 percent disagree, overall. This sentiment is consistent across party lines with 83 percent of Republicans, 85 percent of Independents, and 88 percent of Democrats agreeing. That is a remarkable level of agreement on anything.

There is also broad agreement that the NRC and Legislature should listen to the will of the voters on wolf hunting. Nearly two-in-three voters (65 percent) agree that, “The legislature and the Natural Resources Commission should listen to the will of the voters, and should not authorize a wolf hunting season,” with 50 percent strongly agreeing and only 29 percent disagreeing, overall.

There are some that would argue that this is strictly an Upper Peninsula question, and voters and poll respondents from the Lower Peninsula should have no say in the matter. This line of reasoning calls for a gentle reminder that Michigan functions under democratic principles, and this is a constitutionally protected statewide question.

There is also a legal challenge to the wolf hunt law in the works.

True, the petition language had an appropriation attached, which rendered it referendum-proof. However, that may prove to be the constitutional undoing of the law. There’s something called the “single object clause” which governs the content of laws in Michigan.

Article IV, Section 24 of the constitution states the following:single object clauseA constitutional challenge to the new wolf hunt law could be based on the fact that, as enacted, it included both an un-related appropriation to fight Asian Carp, plus a clause to allow active duty military personnel to get free hunting and fishing licenses. The attachments provided the added bonus of luring petition signers who weren’t interested in the wolf question, but wanted to do something about Asian Carp, or do a kindness for those serving our country. More trickery.

Give thanks for these small blessings now, because the upcoming lame duck session is sure to make your blood boil.

Happy Thanksgiving  to All!

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

 

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Snyder’s Skint School Budget = Unsafe Buses

GOP Budget Cuts Are Endangering Michigan’s Children

The grades are in, and they’re not good.

Under the requirements found in Michigan’s Pupil Transportation Act, as spelled-out in the Michigan State Police School Bus Inspection Manual, the state police department issues annual ratings on the condition of school buses.

The scoring falls into three categories: pass, yellow, and red:

MDE Bus safety

With a statewide failure rate of 10.2 percent, about 50 districts are in a very bad way, having a significant portion of their fleet, large or small, found to be in serious disrepair. More buses have flunked each year since Gov. Snyder took office. For the 2011-12 school year, 7.6 percent didn’t pass, and that increased to 9.5 percent the following year.

The problem is two-fold.

Michigan schools have been starved of funding under the Snyder administration. Yes, the governor can brag, as he surely does, that technically speaking, he increased education funding during his first term. But, those modest increases went towards underfunded retirement costs, and after inflation is factored-in, real school funding is flying cardown considerably.

The second contributing situation is the poor condition of Michigan’s roads, which, unless drivers possess a flying car, have put an undeniable dent in the motoring budget. School buses aren’t immune to the wear and tear brought-on by roadways riddled with cavernous potholes that would surely rival that of a war zone.

To earn a “Red Tag” from the state requires the vehicle to be in a state of gross disrepair. Some examples of unacceptable conditions are:

  • Floor pan or inner panels have perforated areas or openings. Any floor or body panel opening through to the exterior of the vehicle.
  • Absence of effective braking action upon application of the service brakes.
  • Missing or loose bolts on motor mount cross members sufficient to allow cross
    member to shift or move.
  • Any emergency door, roof hatch or window that does not open freely or completely
    as designed.
  • A fuel tank not securely attached to the vehicle.
  • Any missing window in the vehicle.
  • No operative stop lamps or tail lamps.

Too many of Michigan’s school buses are falling apart, and should be replaced, but at a cost of between $80,000 and $120,000 for a standard Type C or D school bus, districts are instead making do with derelict vehicles.

imagesCAV8XBNNOf the districts with bus fleets that require serious repairs, only two are among the 48 currently listed on the fiscal distress watch list. Hazel Park Public Schools have 7 of 12 buses either flunking, or teetering on the edge, and Taylor School District needs to send 40 out of 70 of their fleet of clunkers to the shop for critical repairs.

Many of the schools that flunked the inspection are smaller outstate districts which labor under the lowest per pupil funding apportionment, while also burdened with the greatest transportation costs due to serving larger geographic areas — add-on the physical abuse of navigating unpaved rural roads, and the school buses end up becoming a danger to the students and other drivers.

Narrowing it down further, of the approximately fifty districts with transportation troubles, half of them are seriously compromised, with 50 percent or more of their fleet not fully functional. A few of note are: the Lansing Public School District, with 72 of their fleet of 133 buses toe-tagged, and another 17 yellow-lighted; East Lansing Schools similarly can’t use 6 of their 12 aging buses; they are joined by Flushing Community Schools where only 15 out of 38 buses were deemed road worthy; and Chippewa Hills School District was ordered to park 24 of their 47 vehicles.

Bringing up the rear is tiny Vestaburg Community Schools, with their entire bus garage red-lighted by the state police. The mid-state district, with approximately 600 students, has seen its fund balance shrink from $6.5 million in 2007, to a projected balance of under $200,000 for FY 2015. Their Munetrix fiscal rating has gone from low risk to seeing deep red over the next two years. They are a likely candidate to trigger the new GOP law allowing the forced dissolution of small, fiscally distressed school districts.DSCF01761-300x195[1]

Money is the only fix for the statewide problem, and we can anticipate renewed calls from the governor’s office and GOP lawmakers for increased privatization of busing service as a means to squeeze a few extra nickels and dimes out of shrinking school funds. However, even the premier private vendor in the state, Dean Transportation, is having trouble with their combined fleet of 239 buses — 16 percent were flagged by the state police, with 11 percent of them deemed unsafe.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

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The Detroit News Overstates the Value of Privatization

(In addition to watchdog commentary on public policy and politics, Democracy Tree will also be on the lookout for bias and improprieties in the media, with a particular focus on an increased blurring of the lines between opinion pieces and articles in traditional media.)

Analytics and Editorials

The Detroit News ran an analysis piece in support of increased privatization of government services in Michigan. Here’s the online headline:

DN Favor Privatization

Most readers can easily distinguish between editorial writing and reporting, but this piece falls into a third category of journalism– an analysis, which is a hybrid of opinion and article, best described by Voxygen:

There is a specific type of article called an “analysis” that interprets information. This kind of writing goes a step beyond simple reporting because it presents an opinion about conclusions drawn from the information the reporter gathered. News analysis articles aren’t just reporting; they are analyzing and offering conclusions. Usually, though, they include substantial support from experts and they give more than one opinion in the article. So, it’s a step in between the biased tone of an editorial and the neutral tone of a news article.

In this case, the Detroit News analyzes a Michigan Public Policy Survey (MPPS) of local units of government conducted by the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy through the University of Michigan. Their report, Most Michigan Local Officials are Satisfied with Their Privatized Services, But Few Seek to Expand Further, is just as thorough as its lengthy title implies.

MPPS conducts regular surveys of Michigan municipalities on topical issues. They are strictly non-partisan and unbiased, leaving readers to interpret the compiled data — or to cherry pick it to fit their views.

A Matter of Semantics

Drawing from the survey report, The Detroit News reached the conclusion that increased privatization is good for local governmental bodies seeking to trim their budgets, and is favored by “Michiganians.” 

First, let’s point out the obvious: The survey was not targeted at the 9.896 million citizens of the Great Lakes State. From the survey:

These findings are based on statewide surveys of local
government leaders in the Spring 2014 wave of the
Michigan Public Policy Survey (MPPS).

The survey was not conducted on “Michiganians” at large, as the News implies, instead the results were based on responses from a select few leaders in jurisdictions across the state, including mayors, city managers, township supervisors, and others in positions of authority. In all, 1856 surveys were distributed, with a response rate of 1344.

Of the municipalities reporting, it was found that few of them even bother to conduct evaluations of privatized services, with only 39 percent of larger cities monitoring their success — and of those, only 6 in 10 seek citizen input. Based on the report, it cannot be said that Michiganians favor, or not favor, privatization.

The Survey Says

MPPS makes it clear at the outset that the evidence is still out on the efficacy of privatization:

Previous research is mixed on the outcomes of privatization, finding that private sector delivery of public services may or may not boost efficiency, cost savings, and service quality. These outcomes often depend on a variety of factors, such as the types of services being privatized, the level of competition among potential service providers, and the amount of monitoring and evaluation conducted by the governments that are contracting out services. In addition, research has found that “in-sourcing”—that is, bringing privatized services back into the government for public service delivery—is also a common practice among local governments.

Now let’s take a look at the conclusions the News deduced from the 15 page report.

They start with the statewide results, touting that “Among communities that outsource any service, local leaders in 73 percent [of the units of government] say they are satisfied with the results.” However, MPPS provides a pie chart which paints a slightly different picture, with 33 percent reporting they are fully satisfied, and 40 percent showing to be only somewhat so.

munis satisfied

The newspaper analysis focused primarily on the geographic area of its core readership — Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties in Southeast Michigan, whose combined 3.86 million residents comprise slightly over a third of the state’s population. At several data points, the report breaks-out the responses based on population density, which helps provide additional insight into the privatization picture for the greater Detroit area, and the newspaper’s bending of the survey’s findings to their way of thinking.

Buyer’s Remorse

MPPS found that Michigan has an overall rate of 15 percent of units of government reporting the “in-sourcing” of public services — that means the reversal of previously privatized services. With 27 percent of larger municipalities canceling failed contracts.

jurisdictions that reverse privatization

This by no means implies that all privatization initiatives are flawed — clearly more of them work than not, or are at least functional at some level, but they certainly require very careful evaluation and regular monitoring. They are not the panacea the News portrays them to be.

So, why do municipalities back-pedal on their privatization policies? The reasons given for reversal reveal that, by and large, about half the time it’s due to a lack of savings and/or low quality of service.

reasons for reversal

Mistaken Thinking

The News article laments that only 10 percent of local units of government anticipate increased privatization of their services in 2014, calling that attitude “mistaken thinking.” 

In the five years MPPS has been tracking public sector out-sourcing in Michigan, there clearly is a new lull in the momentum. A trend that even the conservative think tank, Mackinac Center for Public Policy, understands may indicate a point of saturation. As a strong proponent of public-private partnerships, the Mackinac Center admits in their report on the public education sector, the Michigan School Privatization Survey -2014, that the rate of privatization is slowing for good reason:

It could be that school support service privatization has topped out. In other words, there may come a time when all the districts that could contract out for quality services while simultaneously saving money have.

It appears the Detroit News is the one suffering from “mistaken thinking”, especially when they further extrapolated the following fanciful notions from the data:

[T]he message is clear: These practices will help municipalities trim budget costs and operate at a more efficient level while still providing services to residents.

It would bode well for state, county and local municipalities to explore more fervently and frequently inter-government cooperation and privatization.

These are proven fiscal options that will continue to be valuable factors in balancing governmental budgets.

One can’t help but wonder if they were reviewing the same report at all.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

 

 

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MICHIGAN: Another Day, Another Aramark Scandal

food trayNow that the election is over, we can expect to see fewer attempts to leverage the unending stream of Aramark scandals intended to shame the Snyder administration over their disastrous decision to keep-on with the failed prison food contract. Right?

Apparently, some inmates didn’t get that memo.

Over the weekend, approximately 40 prisoners held at the Marquette Branch Prison, a high-security facility in the upper peninsula, launched a peaceful protest demanding an audience with Warden Robert Napel to discuss the poor quality of food service under the private provider. The Detroit Free Press reports that corrections spokesperson Chris Gautz described the incident thus:

“Before the warden arrived, staff had talked further with the prisoners and they left the yard. The prisoners agreed to give their grievances to their block (representatives) who then had a chance to speak with the warden about them.”

The Aramark contract should serve as a blue print for how to get it all wrong. Yet, Gov. Snyder won’t let it go, insisting the problems are merely “hiccups.”  It would seem the only hiccups to be found are from the indigestion suffered by Michigan’s bloated incarcerated population (double entendre intended). At the same event where he made the remark downplaying the seriousness of the Aramark problem, Snyder called for action:

“Let’s make sure we’re showing appropriate oversight and let’s get it resolved.”

Last week, that’s exactly what House Democrats did when they introduced a package of bills designed to provide the much-needed regulatory oversight of the privatization of state services.

  • HB-5889 would require the state to produce a reliable, detailed and accurate cost-benefit analysis for all privatization proposals. The Aramark contract has a dark cloud of suspicion hanging over it because it appears they sealed the deal by low-balling their bid, and are now taking dangerous shortcuts in order to turn a profit.
  • HB-5890 would require an impact study prior to any privatization project detailing any potential job losses, effects on state and local businesses, and possible degradation of services.
  • HB-5891 provides for cancellation protocols of failed contractual agreements.
  • HB-5892 and HB-5893 will bring transparency to the process by requiring public disclosure for contracts over $500,000, and will create an online database.
  • HB-5894 would prohibit automatic renewal of privatization contracts.
  • HB-5895 would prohibit bad corporate actors from being awarded a contract.

These bills were introduced by lawmakers who were recently recognized by the watchdog organization In the Public Interest for their work. They are among a group of state lawmakers across the country that have taken a stand against the reckless waste of taxpayer dollars on failed privatization projects. ITPI noted that, nationally, 132 of the 136 legislators that ran for re-election on this issue won their seats. The above bills were introduced two days after the election, and two of the seven Michigan representatives were termed-out, with the others sailing to victory in overwhelmingly Democratic districts.

Democracy Tree would be remiss if we didn’t bring our readers up to date on the latest Aramark scandals. (Sorry, no sex or maggots this time folks.) These incidents all involve theft of some kind. One of the chief areas of complaint against the food vendor has been for underpaying their employees, thereby creating an environment that encourages misbehavior.

  • Yesterday in Tennessee, an Aramark employee was accused of stealing checks totaling $1,285, along with a camcorder, from the Owen Graduate School at Vanderbilt University. The camcorder was recovered at a pawn shop.
  • A couple of weeks ago in New Jersey, an Aramark employee working at Rutgers University was found to be collecting unemployment benefits while employed by the food company.
  • Also two weeks ago, a former Aramark employee was indicted on charges of slowly pilfering $14,000 from a petty cash fund at the University of Maine in Farmington.
  • A month ago in Michigan, an Aramark employee was accused of stealing between $50,000 and $100,000 from Aramark in the form of Walmart gift cards paid for by their client Oxychem. The cards were intended to be given as gifts to employees and contractors.

*sigh*

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

 

 

 

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Michigan Term Limits Still a Good Idea? Think Twice

Mr. SmithOne of the issues likely to surface in Michigan’s upcoming lame-duck legislative session will be the easing, or wholesale lifting, of the state’s constitutionally mandated term limits on lawmakers.

Although the restrictions remain popular among the electorate, this is perhaps the only issue where legislators, on both sides of the aisle, actually know better.

A deep disdain for “career politicians” is the persistent refrain heard from proponents of term limits on elected officials — often voiced in the same breath as a call for a part-time legislature. These voters long for the false nostalgia and naiveté of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington — because surely, a fresh-faced, honest, work-a-day, regular kinda fella would do a better job than a seasoned, and most certainly corrupt — politician — a title that’s taken-on a sinister meaning in all circles. Candidates routinely campaign on their political ignorance, as if a lack of job skills were a favorable attribute.

jeff irwinAnn Arbor area incumbent lawmaker Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-53) finds term limits troubling, referring to them as “mandatory inexperience laws”, explaining that they “wouldn’t work well for airline pilots or surgeons and they don’t work well for public officials either. Experience usually leads to better performance and I would think we would want better performance from our elected officials.”

The Michigan House and Senate are poised to welcome nearly fifty green (not in the environmental sense) lawmakers among their ranks this January — that’s one-third of their collective bodies — with none knowing their way around Lansing, nor possessing the most rudimentary knowledge of basic legislative protocols. Incumbent lawmakers will try to act as mentors for their freshmen brethren, yet they have precious few years experience to draw-on themselves. It would be the nearly blind-leading-the-blind, except there’s a whole class of skilled educators at the ready to assist the latest bolus of rookies.

They’re called lobbyists — Lansing is overrun with their ilk, and is flush with their ready supply of cash, booze and sundry perks.

Under Term Limits, Lobbyists Run Michigan

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network reports, according to Michigan Department of State documents, that “spending by Michigan lobbyists totaled $20,574,448 in the first seven months of 2014.” In the category of just food and drink alone, lobbyists literally wined and dined lawmakers to the tune of $442,182 during that short period, with yet much of the money still going undisclosed because it flew-in under the reporting requirement threshold.

Rich Robinson of the MCFN, a reform advocate with an amusingly wry sense of humor, refers to the feeding frenzy as the Lobbyists’ SNAP program — Supplemental Nutrition Assistance for Politicians:

SNAP

In addition to the caviar and champaign, the latest group of GOP neophytes now await their plum committee assignments. Soon to be termed-out lawmakers understand it’s become time to hand over the reigns to the least experienced among their ranks in order for them to take a crash course in legislative leadership.

Inexperience = Very Bad Public Policy: A Case Study

Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons (R-86) was put in charge of the House Committee on Education within months of her election. In an editorial she penned last year, the 34 year-old lawmaker explained her qualifications — she didn’t cite her scant real estate background, nor her degree in agriculture, or even the closest she’s come to “leadership” in public education — her position as point guard on her high school basketball team. Nope, the one shining skill Lyons boasted she brings to the job is her ability to successfully breed. Lyons postulated that as a mother of four children she has “a great interest in public education and an immense passion for the kids in our schools.” By that measure, the Octomom would be twice as qualified.

Recently re-elected to serve her final term, Lyons intends to use the lame-duck session as a prime opportunity to forge her brief House leadership legacy. She is determined to ram through her signature legislation which intends to impose  an “old school” letter grading system on Michigan public school teachers — à la the failed federal program, No Child Left Behind. HB-5112 calls for the development of an A through F scale to be deployed by 2016. The specifics are troubling: the plan encourages more testing; and therefore, more teaching-to-the-test; it mandates that schools in the lowest five percent will continually be penalized; it ignores the detrimental effects of poverty; and it encourages elitism by allowing top-performing schools to opt-out of the testing.

That is, part and parcel, the level of maladroit lawmaking Michigan has come to expect since term limits forced Lansing leadership to play off the bench. Voters are getting what they pay for. And, they’re going to continue buying more substandard governance with the latest arrivals. Rep. Irwin describes the steep learning curve:

“I would point out the state of Michigan budget is about $52B annually. To get one’s arms and head around an enterprise that large is difficult.”

Send in the Clowns

Brian Dickerson recently opined in the Detroit Free Press about some of the top issues on the agendas of incoming GOP lawmakers:

… many of the Republican newbies have expressed enthusiasm for new restrictions on abortion rights, expanded privileges for gun owners and concealed-weapons permit-holders, and increased privatization of public services, none of which appear on any second-term agenda that Snyder has shared with voters. [emphasis mine]

There’s the other P-word: privatization — the budgetary elixir of every bright-eyed sophomoric Republican swept into office by virtue of gerrymandering. Even the ultra-conservative think tank, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, understands there are limits to its applications. In their report, the Michigan School Privatization Survey -2014, they concede that the rate of privatization is slowing for good reason:

It could be that school support service privatization has topped out. In other words, there may come a time when all the districts that could contract out for quality services while simultaneously saving money have.

Here’s a sprinkling of the kinds of rhetoric and public policy ideas Michigan can expect out of the 2015 incoming freshmen class:

Jim Runestad (R-44) is worried about Canadians swarming our borders. He wants to devote resources to shore-up our northern border to keep-out those pesky Canucks who intend to steal our good American jobs .

Jason Sheppard (R-56) shares Lyons’ solution to the sky-rocketing cost of higher education — trade schools. “We should encourage students to look into the skilled labor force.”

Eric Leutheuser (R-58) — Hopefully the healthcare plan offered to lawmakers will help him remove the big-ol’ stick up his butt — “I promise to you that, whatever the subject of proposed legislation, or whatever problem it seeks to address, it will have to pass my “Family, Church and Local Community” test.”

Saving the best for last, like a delicious dessert topping…

Aaron Miller (R-59th) wants to protect zygotes, including those resulting from rape and incest — not an unusual GOP position, but just hear how he describes it: “This is not an issue of government intruding into mothers’ lives; this is a case of society accepting a horrible tragedy as a normal way of life. Each person is fearfully and wonderfully made and deserves a fair chance at life. A baby is a person and deserves life every single time.” 

Gary Glenn (R-98th) reportedly wants to criminalize homosexual behavior. (Hmmm, yet another homophobic lawmaker… doth he protest too much?)

These officials would seem to embody the defining argument in favor of term limits, yet reality dictates just the opposite. Term limits rush inexperienced lawmakers, fresh off the campaign trail, into filling key policy making positions, where they are not only ill-prepared, but can’t seem to distinguish the difference between campaign rhetoric and serious statesmanlike behavior.

Partisan bickering increases under term limits when lawmakers know there’s no need to forge working relationships with those with whom they may disagree. Rep. Irwin has found that in his experience they reduce “collegiality and civility in politics and make it harder for compromise.”

Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-17) has been floating the idea of easing, or eliminating term limits, and is likely going to introduce legislation to accomplish that in the lame-duck session. In 1992*, voters amended Michigan’s Constitution to adopt term limits, thus it will require more than a simple up-down legislative action to rid the state of their deleterious effects. The bill would demand a two-thirds approval by lawmakers, and would go on to become a statewide ballot question.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

*Correction 11-13-14 to indicate term limits were adopted in 1992, not 1994 as originally reported.

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Three Possible Recounts for Michigan’s House and Senate

einstein countingMichigan Democrats might want to keep a watch-out for three potential recounts of this week’s election results — two in the state House, and one in the Senate.

Starting with the House races, the 71st and the 101st both produced Republican contenders up by razor-thin margins of under .o9 percent each.

The 71st House District, located north of Lansing in the Grand Ledge area, saw a tight contest between incumbent Democrat Theresa Abed, and her Republican challenger Tom Barrett. With just over 35,000 votes cast and all precincts reporting, the unofficial count shows Barrett over Abed by 310 votes. Barrett of course declared victory, but Abed has not publicly ruled-out the recount option, nor has she made a formal concession. A recount can not even be ordered until the vote is certified.

The Lansing State Journal reports that the press secretary for the House Dems, Katie Carey, said that a re-examination of the results remains an option. Abed did not mention that possibility in her official statement through the her caucus:

“I am disappointed that I will not be returning to Lansing in January to represent the people of House District 71, but I am not disappointed in the campaign we ran or the great effort that my supporters gave over these last months… I may not be returning to the Capitol, but I will remain active in our community and will work to ensure that incoming state Rep. Tom Barrett is held accountable to work for what is best for all the voters and families of the 71st House District.”

If defeated, Abed could potentially be the only incumbent to lose her seat in the House, with 66 others, for the most part, sailing to re-election. However, she may not be alone if another recount in the 101st district unseats its GOP incumbent.

Two-term Republican Ray Franz found himself in a tight race for survival in his Northwestern Michigan district. The 101st covers a lot of Michigan real estate, encompassing four mostly rural counties — Leelanau, Benzie, Manistee, and Mason. His Democratic challenger, Tom Stobie, inched within 321 votes — out of the nearly 37,000 cast. This race too, lacks a formal concession speech.

The Michigan Senate provided only one toss-up — but it’s a doozy. A recount there could win the Dems a coup — a former GOP seat is enticingly within reach. Among the 9 open seats, the 2oth truly remains too close to call, and most certainly the subject of a recount.

It’s a complicated district, with the 2011 reapportionment (i.e. gerrymandering) taking effect this election year in the Senate. The incumbent Republican, Tonya Schuitmaker, ran and won in her new district, the 26th, effectively leaving the 20th an open seat. Two former House members vied for the post, and came within 60 votes of each other.

Republican Margaret O’Brien, formerly of the House 61st district, barely nosed-out Democrat Sean McCann from the neighboring 60th.

A total of 80,461 votes were cast in the Senate’s 20th, with a Libertarian spoiler candidate earning over 7,000 of them — the bulk of which would typically have otherwise gone to the Republican contender — thus giving the Dem a fighting chance, landing within a 60 vote margin. (For those stat-geeks — that’s .007 percent of the total vote. Absolutely recount material.)

All-in-all — by the numbers, there’s precious little new to report in terms of the political control of both Michigan chambers. If the current vote count holds, the Senate will remain the same with a super-majority of 26 Republicans to 12 Democrats, and the House will lose some progressive ground, moving from a 59-51 GOP grip to a 62-48 makeup.

And the Republican lame duck legislative orgy has yet to commence.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

 

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Ethical Questions Arise Over Snyder Appointee’s “Guest Column”

(Updated 8:00 pm on 11-2-14. See below)

Just days before Michigan’s midterm elections, MLive ran two articles from “guest writers” which overtly favor Gov. Snyder — a journalistic breach that casts a dark shadow over their professional ethics, and brings into question a more serious matter as to whether one of them is a violation of Michigan’s campaign finance law.

Both read like campaign ads for Gov. Snyder — so much so, that they could easily have had the “paid for by” disclosure at the bottom. Appearing as ordinary columns — the only place which hints as to their true nature is in the url (web address), where the word “opinion” appears:

www.mlive.com/opinion//index.ssf/2014/10/guest_column_snyder-environmen.html#incart_river_news

The first guest piece was penned by a Snyder appointee, Dan Wyant, the Director of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality. In a gushing homage to the governor over his environmental record, Wyant extolls his many virtues:

[T]he Snyder Administration has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into thoughtful, common-sense improvements that will pay off huge for Michigan’s water, air and land quality – today and in the years ahead.

The Snyder Administration did what several previous administrations could not do – address Michigan’s dead-last status among Great Lakes states for residential recycling. Forging an alliance among key interests, Governor Snyder produced a plan to double Michigan’s residential recycling rate in just two years, and secured $1 million to seed the effort.

The column concludes with:

Michigan residents deserve to know that Rick Snyder’s fearless, common-sense approach to challenges has delivered big gains for the natural resources we all recognize as the state’s crown jewels.

The legal questions are many: Was this written on the state’s dime?– at taxpayer expense? Was it submitted to MLive using state resources? Was it written in the director’s official capacity? If not, where is the expected disclaimer?

The questions surrounding the journalistic ethics of the Wyant column are equally disturbing.

The MLive Media Group, a division of Booth Newspapers, has broad reach across lower Michigan, with online readership extending well beyond the state’s borders. Last week, their editorial board endorsed Gov. Snyder, which is fine and proper — as it was clearly intended as an opinion piece.

Not so, the Wyant column, where he is titled a “guest writer.”

The Society of Professional Journalists official Code of Ethics has several provisions which expressly discourage, if not outright prohibit, this kind of “guest column” — primarily because it is not clearly labeled as an opinion piece, but also owing to it creating the appearance of an impropriety. Additionally, this kind of commentary, dressed-up as an article, is especially troubling appearing so close to an election.

The code calls on journalists to:

  • Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.
  • Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
  • Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.
  • Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
  • Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
  • Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.

Just hours after the Wyant piece was published, incumbent Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons (R-86), chair of the Michigan House Committee on Education, penned a similarly opinion pageglowing report as a “guest writer” to MLive in praise of Snyder’s policies. She promoted many of the same points that the editorial board had cited as reason to re-elect Snyder, including a lower unemployment rate, job growth, tax reform and a “fairer” pension tax.

Bonnie Bucqueroux, a faculty member at the MSU School of Journalism and a pioneer of online journalism in Michigan, expressed surprise and concern over the “guest columns”, finding the DEQ director’s piece the more disturbing of the two — with it leaving “so many unanswered questions.” Acknowledging that journalism is evolving with technology, Bucqueroux has long “argued that the web has changed the ethical standards that all people should be able to comment as long as the person’s situation is clear and transparent”, adding that in this case she is “concerned the author’s situation is not clear and transparent.”  

This isn’t the first time Booth Newspapers has crossed the line with an election impropriety. In 2008, the day before the presidential election, they caused an uproar over delivering papers wrapped in an advertising circular paid for by the National Rifle Association, with the words: “Defend Freedom, Defeat Obama” printed on the outside.

The simple solution here would seem to be to clearly mark these “guest columns” as opinion pieces. However, there is some question as to whether it is even appropriate to publish lengthy opinions advocating for a particular candidate or position without reciprocating with the same opportunity for those with opposing points of view. As a former campaign manager, I am well aware of the rules most media outlets follow in the run-up to an election. To avoid the appearance of bias, they carefully govern what kinds of opinions are allowed, and when.

That’s a question for the MLive editorial board to ponder.

In the case of the Wyant piece though, a dark cloud remains hanging over the origins of his remarks. Perhaps an MLive reporter would care to tackle that question.

UPDATE: A reader (also named Amy) contacted Democracy Tree with the following information — regarding her submission of an op-ed dated Oct. 16th to the MLive editor. She was told by MLive, on Oct. 24th, that they had decided not to run any more pro-candidate op-eds.

The two “guest columns’ were published on Oct. 31st. So, there’s no way they can retroactively call them opinion pieces. See below:

Amy Hunter MLive reply

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

Please find the Amy Hunter op-ed MLive refused to run at Eclectablog, by clicking HERE.

 

 

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One Newspaper Editorial Board Said “NO” to Snyder

thumbs downSocial media has been abuzz with questions and complaints over mainstream media’s political endorsements in Michigan this week. Last Sunday, the traditional day for many print newspaper gubernatorial endorsements, produced a monoculture of opinions — all supporting Gov. Snyder (spare one), most accompanied by a variety of convoluted explanations and complicated caveats.

A number of Michigan’s major publications that gave Snyder their support are owned by, or affiliated with the holding company Gannett Inc. — including the Battle Creek Inquirer, Lansing State Journal, Port Huron Times Herald, and the Detroit Free Press. And for twenty-five years now, The Detroit News, also affiliated with Gannett, has operated under an agreement with the Free Press, merging operations as a combined company called the Detroit Media Partnership. Their editorial boards were supposed to operate independently, with firewalls, but that no longer seems to be the case.

The Free Press endorsement of the governor is a tortured exercise in cognitive dissonance, with the bulk of the column inches devoted to slamming his every last policy move, while praising Schauer’s values and priorities. It was a particularly curious endorsement in light of previous op-eds that read like directives for the electorate to send the governor packing in 2014.

In December of 2012, the Freep editorial board collectively penned an op-ed titled “A Failure of Leadership”, bemoaning Snyder’s about-face on right-to-work legislation as a gross betrayal of voters. In January of this year, Freep editor Stephen Henderson authored the screed, “Snyder’s broken promises don’t give us a reason to trust him” — describing how the governor would need electoral “forgiveness” or “forgetfulness” to get re-elected.

It’s not just the Gannett-owned papers though.

In a blatant quid pro quo, The Michigan Chronicle gave their nod to Snyder, with this qualifying statement:

Arriving at this decision has not been easy for the Michigan Chronicle. Mark Schauer is an attractive candidate in many respects, and we agree with him that some of the priorities of the Governor and his party were wrong and, at times, patently undemocratic. Like many Michiganders, it is hard for us to forget the rank power plays of our legislature’s last lame duck session, later signed into law by Governor Snyder. No doubt that episode disappointed many and tarnished his appeal.

In the summer of 2013, Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr awarded Real Times Media a $4.1 million contract, through a closed process, with no details available to the public. Real Times Media is the parent company of The Michigan Chronicle. As reported in The Michigan Citizen:

The $4.1 million would represent a significant revenue boost for the weekly publication. According to a pension board proposal in 2006, Real Times Media’s total sales was $9.8 million for all of its media properties, including the Michigan Chronicle, Chicago Defender and Pittsburg Courier.

Not all editorial boards are bought and paid for in Michigan — at least one isn’t.

John Lindstrom, Publisher of Gongwer News Service, brought to our attention that the Traverse City Record-Eagle may be the only sizable paper in the state that did not endorse Gov. Snyder. Lindstrom wrote of the Freep endorsement, as compared to Record-Eagle’s refusal to renew their support for the governor:

That the paper criticized Mr. Snyder almost more than it praised him, didn’t really bother Mr. Snyder’s campaign, which issued an email release saying Mr. Snyder was “running the table” on endorsements from Michigan newspapers (the Toledo Blade, which has many readers in Monroe and Lenawee counties, endorsed Mr. Schauer).

Except for one Michigan newspaper – one ball if we continue the billiards analogy – sitting in the middle of the table, seemingly untouched by the cue ball at any point.

The Record-Eagle, a corporate outlier, is the only Michigan paper owned by Community Newspapers Holdings Incorporated. Formerly owned by Dow Jones, the Northern Michigan paper’s editorial board has a history of independence, and a reputation for boldly playing with fire.

In a multi-year series of articles the paper exclusively reported on, they exposed a scandal involving Meijer Corporation and their manipulation of a local government — an exposé that cost the paper dearly. The former editor of the Record-Eagle, Bill Thomas, described the critical lack of coverage of the story by other papers. As reported in MLive:

Thomas criticized statewide Michigan media outlets, suggesting that other newsrooms tiptoed around the story for fear of reprisal by Meijer, which pulled its Sunday ad circular from the Record-Eagle and gave it to a community feature-driven upstart paper “less interested in the messy business of journalism.” The move cost the Record-Eagle about $250,000 in annual advertising revenue.

He alleges that local politicians tried to “throttle” the coverage by lobbying Dow Jones & Co. executives to have him fired during the paper’s reporting.

With this week’s pan of the Snyder administration, the Record-Eagle has clearly demonstrated its independence anew, apparently being the only paper in the state bold enough to tell the emperor he has no clothes. In their words:

Though he promised voters that right to work legislation wasn’t “on his radar,” he immediately signed right to work bills that had been shamefully rammed through a lame-duck Legislature in a single day with no hearings and zero public input. It was a dark day for democracy in Michigan.

Snyder oversaw a $1 billion tax break for businesses, much of it at the expense of new taxes on retiree pensions. He failed to convince Republican lawmakers to make any meaningful headway in fixing Michigan’s crumbling roads, his No. 1 agenda item.

Publishing in a moderately conservative market-area, the Record-Eagle editorial board can hardly be described as a bunch of lefty idealogues — they gave Snyder their full support four years ago. But, not so this year.

At least one newspaper isn’t under the corporate thumb.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

Read the full Record-Eagle op-ed Here.

(Note: This writer’s family was personally involved in the Record-Eagle series on the Meijer scandal. The story in Harper’s magazine is Here.)

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Betsy Coffia – A Democratic Powerhouse With Strong Principles

A little over a year ago, several public policy and watchdog groups assembled in Traverse City, Michigan for a statewide conference on campaign finance reform. One of the event organizers was local resident Betsy Coffia, a democrat, who is now running in a tight race for the 104th Michigan House seat against Republican Larry Inman.

Milliken & MooreHome to the Milliken family, the Grand Traverse County district is moderately conservative, and among one of the few places in the state that has not been thoroughly ravaged by the Great Recession.  In the small town atmosphere, it’s not uncommon to cross paths with former Republican governor, Bill Milliken, or to bump into filmmaker Michael Moore — sometimes at the same event.

The 2013 campaign finance conference featured a number of distinguished speakers — among them were a couple of former Michigan Supreme Court Justices — Elizabeth Weaver and Alton Davis.

Davis served for a brief time when appointed under Gov. Granholm after Weaver had stepped-down. One of the more passionate speakers at the event, he described his shock and horror over the campaign process back in 2010 when he lost, in spite of the dizzying $6 million spent in supportJudicial panel of his re-election — the bulk of it in the form of negative third-party issue ads. He lamented “It’s corrupted by money. It’s absolutely corrupted by money.”

In the Q & A session that followed, I asked Davis whether, as a judicial candidate bound by the tenets of the Michigan Judicial Code of Conduct, had he considered demanding the third-party sponsors pull their negative and untruthful ads? He seemed utterly dumbfounded by the question, and was unable to supply a direct response. Presumably, the notion had not even crossed his mind as a plausible remedy. He’s not alone in his inaction though.

It would indeed be a remarkable thing for a candidate for public office to turn-away unsolicited support based on principle alone.

Yet, that’s exactly what Betsy Coffia has done this week.

Her opponent, a well-known, mild-mannered Republican with 22 years of public service, has a consistent record of moderate public policy positions — well in keeping with the “Milliken Republican” tradition. The community was shocked, and a little bit appalled this week, when the Michigan Democratic Party’s State Central Committee launched a blistering attack campaign against Inman, which flagrantly mischaracterized his record as extreme.

In truth, it was surprising that they took an interest in the race at all — a rarity for the 104th, historically being considered a GOP lock. The attention is likely attributable to Coffia’s robust and well-organized grassroots campaign — a model for how it should be done. Additionally, the state party had recently conducted a push-poll in the district, and it seems the results impressed them. Yet, had they taken the time to speak with their candidate, or even spent a moment on her campaign website, they would have discovered how poorly their negative approach would be received.

Betsy speakingCoffia’s swift response to the toxic ads came as no surprise to her supporters. From her website:

These ads were run without our campaign’s knowledge, consent or approval.

I strongly oppose these ads, along with all negative political advertising.

Negative ads are part of the problem with politics today. I decided to run for office with a very clear commitment to doing things differently for different results. These negative ads represent business as usual and I reject them. I believe they are offensive to all who have worked so hard to help build a positive, people powered campaign. I immediately called the state party chair when I learned of these ads and urged him to remove them. These ads in no way represent this campaign.

Not one for half measures, Coffia went-on to launch a call-in campaign urging people to contact the party asking them to stop the ads.

Betsy Coffia

(Watch her Youtube video here. In less than two days, it’s had well over 1,200 views.)

Coincidentally, Coffia isn’t alone in experiencing a difference with her party. Inman felt abandoned by state Republicans when they left him twisting in the wind in an eight-way primary, rife with various Tea Party elements. But, he is now flexing the strength of his new-found independence — today telling the Traverse City Record-Eagle: “They’re not going to tell me how to vote.” Coffia, however, came by that same conclusion well prior to this recent incident. Her principled response to the negative ads is sound proof of that.

Find Betsy on Facebook here, and her website here.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

 

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Gov. Snyder – The Nation’s Poster Child for Privatization Gone Wrong

As News of Another Aramark Scandal Breaks, A New Report Nails Snyder Over his Failed Privatization Policies

When it comes to monetizing the public sector, Michigan’s governor is the worst of the worst. In a recent Source Watch report from the Center for Media and Democracy, titled Pay to Prey: Governors Facilitate the Predatory Outsourcing of America’s Public Services, Gov. Rick Snyder was singled-out of the group of seven privatization-minded governors, and held-up as a template for how to get it all wrong.

The report describes the 2010 “electoral landslide” of corporate-sponsored governors bent on pushing the “envelope of outsourcing and privatization, selling public services to for profit firms.” The privatization debacles of each of the seven governors are detailed in the report, but Snyder received top-billing with his misdeeds consuming the bulk of the report’s introduction. Michigan’s failed Aramark prison food contract, along with ALEC-based legislation the governor signed into law expanding the destructive growth of cyber schools, earned Snyder the notoriety.

Snyder fooled many into thinking privatization, much like Right-to-work, wasn’t on his radar. He achieved this policy hoax through semantic chicanery. The governor initially said “I don’t believe in privatization. I believe in being competitive.” He carried the deception further with: “Simply privatizing a prison is not on my agenda.” For all his claims of not being a politician, the governor certainly understood that the label “privatization” needed some rebranding — in the form of a free market definition makeover.

The competitive bidding process was how Snyder justified signing onto the Aramark contract, although ironically, recent reports indicate the governor does seem to enjoy his fair share of private sector favoritism through a series of no-bid contracts.

The Aramark deal was ushered along by Tea Party lawmaker, Rep. Greg MacMaster (R-105), the chair of the House Department of Corrections subcommittee. He pushed hard for privatization, claiming a potential savings of $100 million for the state. privatization mag

The genesis of widespread privatization in Michigan, particularly in the corrections sector, has roots that go back decades. The conservative group, Mackinac Center for Public Policy, spearheaded the movement with a publication on the topic targeting elected leaders over the course of many years.

The Michigan Privatization Report, a quarterly magazine, abruptly disappeared with its final issue five years ago — at about the same time the term “privatization” took on an ominous connotation with the public — coinciding with the devastation of the middle-class as the Great Recession brought a deep distrust of corporate America.

Issue after issue of the magazine touted the benefits and savings to be had through privatizing Michigan’s public sector services and assets. Not just the usual suspects — prisons, utilities, and public safety — the list included parks, civic centers, zoos, airports, lighthouses, teacher certification, museums, road systems, bridges, dormitories, ice arenas, fair grounds, animal shelters, cultural arts, ports and marinas. If the public owned it, there was a profit-center to be tapped by the private sector.

Mackinac Center celebrated its first real inroad into privatizing prisons in its March 1997 issue when legislation was passed allowing private companies to open prisons in Michigan. At the time, they predicted 10 to 15 percent in taxpayer savings. Subsequent issues regularly peppered their readership with promises of vast savings — always citing multi-million dollar estimates.

One article assured public officials that the free market would keep private vendors in check, claiming the stock market would demand accountability. By way of example, they referenced a major prison break at an Ohio facility in 1998 under the watch of the private vendor, Corrections Corporation of America. The market spanked the company with a 25 percent drop in stock value, and a downgrade from PaineWeber.

Fast forward to 2014 — not so Aramark.

Post Great Recession investors simply don’t care about accountability. They know there are no real consequences to be had for corporate corruption and incompetence. Indeed, in the case of Aramark — they reward it. A recent glowing market analysis of Aramark, earned the company a “Bull of the Day” rating. Aramark CEO, Eric J. Floss, effused with this statement:

“I am pleased to report another quarter of strong business results achieved within a challenging consumer and economic environment. Our performance reflects solid execution against a sound strategy and was broad-based across the segments and geographies of our portfolio. Based upon this strength and our overall business momentum, we are increasing our full-year 2014 earnings outlook.”

Yet, hardly a day goes by where the private food vendor isn’t in the news over some form of scandal — incompetence, corruption, quality of service, breach of contract, among other illegal activities.

Today, another story of Aramark mismanagement in Michigan’s prisons is making the news. The Detroit Free Press reports a former employee of the company has filed an OSHA complaint against Aramark, claiming:

“[She] was harassed and retaliated against for complaining about a lack of temperature monitoring in cooking; the serving of raw or undercooked meat; falsified records related to dishwater temperature and cleaning solution quality; the serving of meat that had been dropped on the floor; changing the dates on stored leftover food so it could be served after its throw-away date; suspected inflating of the count of meals served.”

It’s not just prisons, though.

Schools are suffering under Aramark contracts. Just this week, students at prestigious American University in Washington DC launched a protest over Aramark’s abusive and inappropriate treatment of student workers in campus cafeterias. Referring to it as a “culture of disrespect”, a student group hand-delivered a letter to Aramark outlining their grievances. From the AU student paper, The Eagle:

“The letter detailed workers’ complaints about potential mistreatment at AU’s dining facilities. The Student Worker Alliance was informed by one or more dining facility employees that managers were saying homophobic and racial slurs to workers. There were also incidents of managers yelling at employees in front of other employees, according to Sean Reilly-Wood, a senior in CAS who participated in the demonstration.”

Aramark handles food contracts at schools and universities across the world, including Chicago Public Schools, where earlier this year they failed to adequately respond to a Freedom of Information Act request. A local radio station inquired about the ingredients in their chicken patties, to which the response was: “chicken patty, and bun.”

Last month, Mayor Rahm Emanuel told Aramark to clean-up their act in Chicago Public Schools where they also hold a $260 million janitorial contract. Citing reports of  “filthy conditions, including dead rodents and bugs, and mouse droppings”, the Sun Times quotes the mayor:

“Aramark’s job is to clean the schools, so our principals and teachers can focus on their fundamental responsibility: education. They will either live up to that contract and clean up the schools or they can clean out their desks and get out.”

In Michigan though, Aramark has been mostly getting a pass from Gov. Snyder, who wishing to avoid a public policy failure so close to an election has referred to troubles with the private vendor as mere “hiccups.”

Even a dusty 1997 issue of Mackinac Center’s magazine advised public officials that they should know when to fold’em on a failed contract. From the article:

“Contracting out by government to private companies carries the same risks and benefits that private businesses assume when subcontracting to outside firms. For example, a private company might contract with a janitorial service because it believes the service can clean at less cost and higher quality than the company’s in-house janitors. The company in essence transfers to the janitorial service payroll costs including wages, Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicaid, and benefits. If the janitorial service fails to properly clean the building or if the company fails to pay the negotiated price, the contract may be breached and become a matter of litigation.”

There are some Michigan leaders who, in the face of the negative reports on Aramark, are putting the brakes on privatization contracts. Oakland University’s custodial service contract is on hold after board member, Ronald Robinson, expressed concern over recent reports about the vendor:

“As a trustee, one of the factors in deciding how I will vote on a controversial matter is assessing the university’s reputational risk associated with my vote. Two reputational risk factors associated with the vote are the impact on our employee relations and the implication of inviting an outside contractor to campus to be a part of the university community after the contractor has been associated with serious and controversial problems.”

Mr. Robinson appears to possess more basic business acumen than the self-described accountant and nerd who wishes to again earn Michigan’s vote for four more years at the helm.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

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