Saturday, September 3, 2011


               Lawtakers by Guy Mingo

               Its hard to say exactly how, or when, we arrived here. But suddenly, when the word 'fascism' is used to describe to political atmosphere, it doesn't feel like an exaggeration. In fact, when you examine the powers ascribed the emergency manager in Michigan under Public Act 4, you're faced with a textbook definition of the term.
              The banks have decimated our city's tax base through mass home foreclosures, led by the sub-prime mortgage scam. The state moves in with legislation allowing an appointed figure to manage the entire municipality's finances. The elected officials are rendered powerless-- none of the checks and balances built into a proper democratic government body are left intact.
              This is the anti-democratic atmosphere realized under Public Act 4. Drafted and rushed through Michigan's legislature, it was signed by Governor Rick Snyder in March. 'Emergency managers' can hire and fire city employees; privatize or cut city services; dissolve union contracts; negotiate city vendor contracts; consolidate city departments; sell community or public assets; and amend the budget, with no input from the public. EMs have the power to sever ties between the public and its governing bodies (the few that existed, that is).
              During a June 22 panel discussion sponsored by the National Conference of Black Lawyers, labor and civil rights lawyers briefed the public on a lawsuit they've drafted accusing PA 4 of illegally creating a new form of unrepresentative government. The constitutional basis of the suit against gives the people a fighting chance to win.
               Michigan's majority-black municipalities of Pontiac and Benton Harbor were assigned emergency managers only days after the legislation was signed by Governor Rick Snyder in March.  Pontiac City Councilman, Donald Watkins, testified at the June 22 NCBL event about the frustrations of operating under a system that, by design, excludes public participation.
               He said Pontiac EM Michael Stampfler has exercised all of the powers described above, including overseing the sale of the Pontiac Silverdome. Pontiac's Council, and thus the public, was not allowed to review, much less approve, the 2012 city budget before Stampfler released his version online.
              Detroit Public Schools are now operating under EM Roy Roberts, an ex-General Motors executive, after two years under EFM (emergency financial manager) Robert Bobb. During Bobb's tenure, he closed half the district's schools under the guise of financial responsibility. The budget deficit somehow grew $100 million, keeping DPS under further financial state oversight. Bobb had his hands in crafting the PA 4 legislation after a successful lawsuit by the Detroit Board of Education limited his duties to finance.
               Roy Roberts now has the powers granted by PA 4. He is currently supporting a proposal to establish a new statewide district for underperforming schools, starting with DPS' lowest performing in 2012-2013. This sweeping education reform will be implemented with no input from the Detroit Board of Education, parents, students or teachers.
                The track above includes portions of comments by Watkins, as well as Diop Olugbala, leader of the Philadelphia chapter of the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement and recent candidate for Philadelphia Mayor. I included Olugbala for his style of delivery which represents, to me, a necessary reaction to state infiltration and decimation of local democratic and home rule. If it is a modern form of fascism that we are fighting against, than we need to organize quickly, and we need to shout loud.