Michigan Emergency Manager Law to Stay on Ballot for Now

Opponents of the state's toughened emergency manager law scored a victory in the Michigan Court of Appeals on Thursday as they fight to get the repeal of the law on the Nov. 6 ballot. But the issue remains far from settled.
by | June 15, 2012
Pontiac, Mich., Emergency Manager Lou Schimmel, top right, meeting with his staff to discuss topics such as how the city will sell its property and reduce its electric bill. (Photo: David Kidd)
 

Paul Egan, Detroit Free Press

Opponents of the state's toughened emergency manager law scored a victory in the Michigan Court of Appeals on Thursday as they fight to get the repeal of the law on the Nov. 6 ballot. But the issue remains far from settled.

A poll of all 28 appeals court judges found a majority did not support convening a special panel to rule on whether organizers behind the Stand up for Democracy drive to repeal Public Act 4 used type with the proper font size on their petitions.

That means an earlier appeals court ruling that would place the question on the ballot remains in place for the time being.

But it doesn't mean the emergency manager law is suspended until voters decide the question. That can't happen until the State Board of Canvassers meets and certifies the ballot question, in compliance with the latest court ruling.

Bob LaBrant of Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, the group opposing the ballot initiative, said his group will appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court before the Board of Canvassers meets.

Still, opponents of the emergency manager law and the state's recent consent agreement with the City of Detroit, including Detroit City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson, were elated by the decision.

Detroit's lead city attorney, Krystal Crittendon, said Thursday afternoon that she had not read the court of appeals ruling and could not immediately say whether it would have an impact on the consent agreement.

Herbert Sanders, the Detroit attorney representing Stand Up For Democracy, said the ruling "means that there is hope for democracy in Michigan, and it's a tremendous victory."

If there is an appeal to the Supreme Court, "We will continue to fight very vigorously," he said.

Last week, a three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled the question should go on the ballot, saying it was compelled to reach such a decision by a precedent set in an earlier case. But the panel unanimously said it believed that earlier case -- which said a technical violation such as the wrong font size shouldn't keep a question off the ballot -- was wrongly decided.

In an unusual move, it asked that all 28 appeals court judges be polled to see whether they agreed a special seven-judge panel should re-examine the earlier ruling.

On Thursday, the full panel rejected that step without stating its reasons.

Opponents of the emergency manager law say it is undemocratic because it gives the governor the power to remove elected officials in financially troubled cities and school districts and gives unelected emergency managers the power to cancel labor contracts.

They collected more than enough signatures to get on the ballot, but the State Board of Canvassers, in a 2-2 vote along party lines, refused to approve the question for the ballot after hearing arguments the petition was not printed in the font size required by state law.

Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh said it wasn't clear what impact the latest ruling would have on the consent agreement negotiated under Public Act 4 between the state and the city in April, which avoided the appointment of an emergency manager.

Pugh noted that the consent agreement wasn't solely based on Public Act 4, and said large portions of the city's deal with the state may stay in place no matter what happens. Gov. Rick Snyder's administration has said much the same.

Watson said she was thrilled by Thursday's court decision. "I'm wearing my victory hat," she said.

©2012 the Detroit Free Press

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