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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Benton Harbor Emergency Manager will lose some power after Supreme Court ruling

Published: Saturday, August 04, 2012, 8:30 AM
Ian Kullgren |

BENTON HARBOR, MI – Benton Harbor is one of four communities that will be affected by a Michigan Supreme Court ruling Friday approving a ballot referendum to repeal the 2011 emergency manager law.

The court ruled in favor of the petition group, putting to rest complaints from the law's proponents that the petition's font was smaller than the legal minimum. State officials said on Friday that the decision will suspend Public Act 4, the controversial law that expanded emergency managers' powers to include breaking union contracts and suspending local government, once the state Board of Canvassers officially approves the petition language.

Benton Harbor, along with Flint, Pontiac and Escorse, now must have someone reappointed as an emergency financial manager under an earlier version of the law passed in the 1990s.

But even under the older version, elected officials will not regain local control, Department of Treasury spokesman Terry Stanton said.

Under the old law, emergency financial managers do not have the power to break union contracts, which has proved to be one of the most controversial parts of the law.

Governor Rick Snyder and State Treasurer Andy Dillon rolled out a plan on Friday that would sidestep the possible repeal by pushing through a replacement law.

"It's not like we willy-nilly and recklessly used the powers of Public Act 4," Dillon said in a press conference Friday afternoon.

That could get underway as early as Aug. 15 when the legislature comes back into session. 

Although the Department of Treasury said all of the current emergency managers are expected to be reappointed, Benton Harbor Emergency Manager Joseph Harris' position is uniquely uncertain at this point. He recently told the Kalamazoo Gazette/MLive he was being forced out of office by political adversaries in Southwest Michigan, and the Department of Treasury was already interviewing other candidates for the position.

Harris said he was told during a meeting with the Department of Treasury in June that he would be replaced before Benton Harbor regained local control.
The Herald-Palladium reported State Rep. Al Pscholka met with Benton Harbor Mayor James Hightower and representatives from Whirlpool to explore the possibility of a change in the emergency manager position, but denied Harris' account that he was being forced out.

Both Harris and Hightower could not immediately be reached for contact Friday.


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