Emergency managers are governor-appointed administrators who have sweeping powers to govern cities or school districts determined to be in financial distress. That’s the textbook definition.
In practice, however, these emergency managers have the legal ability to run their jurisdictions like autocrats. They have the power to relegate elected city councils to figurehead status, rip up labor contracts, sell off city assets like parks or museums (remember the near raid of the Detroit Institute of Arts?) and make decisions that have disastrous consequences. It was an emergency manager who decided to switch Flint’s water source to the Flint River, resulting in the poisoning of an entire city.
So it wasn’t exactly a surprise that Michiganders voted in 2012 to get rid of Michigan’s emergency manager law in a statewide ballot initiative. But Michigan Republicans, who always think they know better than us plebs, acted quickly to pass a new emergency manager law to keep the system in place.
A new study from Bridge finds that Michiganders are still wary of emergency managers’ powers.
Michigan residents look with deep suspicion on the state’s emergency manager law and think it should be reformed, according to a Center for Michigan report released today.
Entitled “Fractured Trust: Lost faith in state government and how to restore it,” the report found that 81 percent of roughly 2,750 state residents engaged in a series of community dialogues across Michigan in 2016 had “low” or “very low” trust in the emergency manager system. A separate telephone survey of 2000 residents found nearly two-thirds had similar lack of trust in the system.
Support for changing how emergency managers operate was substantial, with more than half the people interviewed in community conversations approving of “more checks and balances” and “shared decisions” between emergency managers and local officials. The views were collected over nine months in 2016 at 125 town hall meetings and in a phone survey of 2000 residents across the state.