BALLOT BOX: The 'Emergency Dictator' law is bad for schools and municipalities

By Lawrence Roehrig

Elections are usually contests between candidates for a certain elected office. Each candidate puts his or her best face forward and tries to "wow" the perspective voters. In the end, unfortunately, it comes down to a popularity contest and not a decision based or core beliefs and values -- let alone past records.

Ballot questions, on the other hand, are different kinds of "candidates."

A ballot question doesn't usually shoot itself in the foot by making some ridiculous statement at a campaign fundraiser.

A ballot question doesn't usually get to shake hands with undecided voters and make promises that are sure to garner votes.

A ballot question doesn't usually square-off as a voter litmus test of the current state of American democracy ... usually!

Proposal 12-1 is not your usual ballot proposal.

Proposal 12-1 (Proposal 1) is the result of a grassroots, home-grown, in-the-streets, in-the-rain, in-the-snow, in-your-face signature campaign that demanded the constitutional opportunity to vote on a law (Public Act 4 -- the Emergency Manager Law) that was passed by the Lansing Legislature and signed by the governor.

This may not seem all that unique what with five other proposals on the 2012 ballot as well. What makes this voter choice on the Emergency Manager Law so different and important is that this vote tears off the glossy cover from a very undemocratic piece of legislation.

Pubic Act 4 (the subject of Proposal 1's vote) is also appropriately known as the Emergency Dictator Law.

Under Public Act 4, Emergency Dictators are appointed by one person (the state treasurer) after an investigation that is not open to the public and supposedly not subject to the Open Meetings Act.

Once appointed, the Emergency Dictator has the authority to remove all elected officials in the jurisdiction (school district, city, county township, authority), raise fees, assess special levies, void contracts (not just union contracts but any contract) and here's what we call the "payoff" -- dispose of or liquidate or sell off any assets and (here's the final "out") dissolve the jurisdiction entirely.

This is an unacceptable selling-off of our self-rule, our right to democracy and our American reason to have a constitution.

"Aw shucks," the keepers of the keys say, "We would never go that far with Public Act 4!"

Oh yeah? Well tell that to the cities of Pontiac, Benton Harbor, Highland Park and Flint. They have all been led to the top of the cliff to see the pretty sunset and have all been shoved off of it.

Pubic Act 4 is bad for cities and schools.

Public Act 4 is bad for townships and authorities.

Public Act 4 is bad for democracy.

Stand up for democracy. Vote "No" on Proposal 1 and defeat the Emergency Dictator Law.

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Lawrence A. Roehrig has been secretary-treasurer of Michigan Council 25 since 1979. An AFSCME member since 1977, he served as first vice president of Local 1600 and on the Executive Boards of AFSCME Councils 29 and 25. He was a Council 25 vice president, an IVP from 2000 to 2004, and also served on the International Union's Judicial Panel from 2004-2007.

Published: Wed, Oct 31, 2012