Lawsuit targets Michigan emergency manager law

By Tim Martin

Associated Press

LANSING (AP) -- Another challenge was filed Wednesday against Michigan's revamped law that gives state-appointed emergency managers more power over the financially struggling schools and communities they're assigned to run.

The revised law lets emergency managers strip power from locally elected leaders and scrap union contracts. A lawsuit filed on behalf of 28 citizens in Ingham County Circuit Court claims the law approved in March is unconstitutional in part because it takes away citizens' rights to vote for and petition local government on matters of local concern. The suit also says the law suspends "home rule" for cities by giving emergency managers the power to repeal local ordinances and contracts.

"It's basically appointing dictators where there are elected officials in place," Bill Goodman, a lawyer affiliated with the suit, said at a Lansing press conference across the street from the state Capitol. "That's an attack on democracy. That's a power grab by Lansing."

The Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice is the lead counsel for the citizens taking the case to Ingham County court. City of Detroit pension boards already have sued in federal court seeking to block emergency manager measures. A group called Michigan Forward has started a petition drive aimed at giving voters a chance to decide whether the law should be repealed.

Michigan has emergency managers in place in the Detroit public school system and the cities of Benton Harbor, Ecorse and Pontiac. Powers granted by the new state law have been used in some of those locations.

Supporters of the new Republican-backed law say it gives emergency managers necessary tools to fix financial problems that weren't adequately addressed by local officials. Other features of the revised law aim to get the state involved earlier, so crisis situations that result in the appointment of emergency managers can be avoided.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder says the measure is constitutional, spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said, and was "desperately needed" to help communities and schools.

Published: Fri, Jun 24, 2011