Lansing EM petition drive collects more than 200K signatures

By Tim Martin

Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- A coalition seeking to overturn Michigan's law giving more power to state-appointed emergency managers said Monday it plans to turn in petition signatures at the end of the month to put the law on hold and force a vote on it.

The Stand Up for Democracy coalition needs to collect roughly 161,300 valid voter signatures to get the issue on the November ballot. It said it has collected more than 200,000 signatures so far and plans to turn them in Feb. 29 for state officials to verify.

"The fact of the matter is we really can't wait anymore," said Brandon Jessup, the chairman of Michigan Forward and a member of the coalition seeking to overturn Public Act 4 of 2011. "We're doing great with the campaign and we want to move on to the next step."

The law's supporters say it's needed to help financially struggling cities and schools that have been unable to repair their budgets by themselves.

Critics say it's unconstitutional and gives too much power to state-appointed emergency managers, who have authority to toss out union contracts and strip power from locally elected officials.

Emergency managers are operating in Benton Harbor, Ecorse, Flint, Pontiac and the Detroit and Highland Park public school systems. The city of Detroit is under a state financial review that could result in an emergency manager.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's administration and Republicans who control the state Legislature have said they're exploring possible backup plans in case the law is suspended this year while awaiting a possible November vote. The Snyder administration says it expects that if the 2011 version is suspended, the emergency manager law would revert to its previous form. That would keep emergency managers in place, but they would not have the recently expanded powers.

The petition drive is just one way opponents are trying to slow down or derail the emergency manager law.

An Ingham County judge has issued a temporary order barring the review team analyzing the city of Detroit's finances from meeting unless it's done in compliance with the state's Open Meetings Act. Hearings in the case, which potentially could affect Highland Park and other entities with emergency managers or locations in the review process, are expected to resume this week.

Separately, the Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice sued over the emergency manager law in June, saying it violated the state constitution. Snyder has asked the Michigan Supreme Court to fast-track the case so it isn't hung up for years in the appeals process.

The Supreme Court has not yet decided whether it will review the case early.

Published: Wed, Feb 15, 2012