Successful referendum petition will immediately freeze PA 4; lawsuit challenges state constitutionality
By Diane Bukowski
June 30, 2011
DETROIT, – Labor and community groups from across Michigan are determined to deliver a fatal one-two punch to Public Act 4, popularly known as the Dictator Act.
PUNCH #1: VOTER REFERENDUM ROLLED OUT JUNE 18
“Voters around the state see emergency managers as a naked power grab by Lansing,” the Committee to Stand Up for Democracy said in a release June 17. “Thanks to PA 4, political opponents of officials on the local level don’t have to beat them in elections. They can simply circumvent the vote by getting Lansing politicians to appoint friends who support their political agenda. This is not democracy and it violates the right of Michigan citizens to elect a local, representative government.”
The Committee, a coalition of community, religious, labor and progressive organizations, rolled out a petition campaign at meetings in 13 cities across Michigan June 18, aiming to put a referendum vote on the state ballot in the Nov. 2012 elections. According to the State Constitution, once 161,000 signatures are collected and validated by the state elections bureau, PA 4 will be suspended until the state’s voters have their say.
Greg Bowens, media representative for the Coalition, said at an earlier meeting that current emergency managers would be forced to step down in the interim. He also explained that since the previous Local Government Fiscal Responsibility Act 72 of 1990, was replaced by PA 4, it is no longer on the book and will not be in effect either.
“Watch out, Joe Harris, Mike Stampfler, and Roy Roberts,” said one PA 4 opponent (who asked not to be identified), recently. “You are about to lose your fascist powers and you had better hope you don’t meet the fate of previous Emergency Financial Managers (EFM’s) for the Detroit Public Schools as well, because justice WILL be contagious.”
Former DPS EFM Kenneth Burnley, Jr., 69, who decimated the district with school closings, lay-offs, and massive privatization, died unexpectedly July 2 after undergoing knee surgery in Colorado. His successor, Robert Bobb, has been diagnosed with throat cancer.
Joe Harris is currently EM of Benton Harbor and has already stripped the city’s mayor and city commissioners of their powers, along with banning the city’s residents from beautiful PUBLIC Jean Klock park and beach during certain hours (see VOD story at http://voiceofdetroit.net/?p=8318.)
Roberts is the current EM for DPS and is carrying out more school closings and charterization of what little remains of the district. Detroit Federation of Teachers President Keith Johnson reported at an earlier meeting that Roberts told him he plans to abrogate the DFT contract.
All of DPS’ teachers have received lay-off notices and it is unclear who, if anyone, will be called back. Johnson said he is waiting to see what happens before taking legal action.
Stampfler, Pontiac’s EM, dismantled Pontiac’s City Commission in May and later proposed that Pontiac be dissolved and merge with Oakland County. Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, however, was averse to taking the majority Black city of Pontiac under the wing of the wealthiest (and predominantly white) county in the country.
At the AFSCME Council 25 hall in Detroit June 18, over one hundred union and community individuals showed up to get petitions and red and white T-shirts declaring “STAND UP FOR DEMOCRACY!” They marched into the hall chanting, “GET UP, STAND UP, STAND UP FOR YOUR RIGHTS,” taken from the famous Bob Marley song.
Attorney Herbert Sanders, who is also an international representative for AFSCME, addressed the gathering. Sanders, Detroit City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson, and a coalition known as “We Are the People” have already held massive rallies up to 10,000 strong in Lansing, Michigan to denounce PA4, Governor Rick Snyder and the state’s anti-labor, anti-community legislators.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON HOW PEOPLE CAN VOLUNTEER TO STAND UP FOR DEMOCRACY, AND COLLECT PETITION SIGNATURES, CALL 1-866-306-5168. The Committee is headquartered at 1034 N. Washington, Lansing, MI. 48906. Facebook page is at
PUNCH#2: STATE-WIDE LAWSUIT FILED IN INGHAM COUNTY JUNE 22
Four local law firms and New York City’s Center For Constitutional Rights filed suit against PA 4 on June 22 in Ingham County Circuit Court. There are 28 plaintiffs from across the state from all walks of life. Defendants are Governor Rick Snyder and State Treasurer Andy Dillon.
The lawsuit, #11-685-CZ, has been assigned to 30th Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie E. Aquilina, but no hearings have been set to date. Aquilina was elected to her seat in 2008 after serving as 55th District Court Judge since 2004. She is a major in the Michigan Army National Guard, where she received a commendation medal for Operation Desert Storm and the Army Achievement Medal, and also an adjunct professor at Thomas Cooley Law School.
Press conferences announcing the filing of the lawsuit took place in Detroit, Lansing, Benton Harbor, Pontiac, Flint, and Grand Rapids June 22.
In Detroit, City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson, along with three of the Detroit plaintiffs, Edith Lee-Payne, Evelyn Foreman, and Leslie Little, stood in front of the Spirit of Detroit statute outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center. They were joined by attorneys including John Philo of the Sugar Law Center and Darius Charney of CCR, who flew in from New York for the event.
“I marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 48 years ago both here in Detroit and in Washington, D.C.,” Payne said. “As a Christian, mother of two sons, grandmother of eight, and civil rights activist with experiences of racial and social injustices, I have a personal and moral duty to ensure my family and community continue to inherit the constitutional provisions they are entitled to morally and legally in every area of their lives. Countless Black Americans met their deaths with freedom papers in their hands because a select few people refused to acknowledge their rights and freedom.”
Payne has been active recently in battling DTE’s shut-off practices, neglect of Detroit neighborhoods, and takeover of the city’s public lighting provision.
Foreman is a retired Detroit Public Schools teacher who decried the damage that state takeovers have done to the district and the city’s youth, while Little is a long-time community activist, currently working with Hood Research.
A Benton Harbor plaintiff, The Honorable Juanita Henry, is a city commissioner who was stripped of her duties by EM Joe Harris.
“They are using Benton Harbor as a test case,” Henry said in earlier remarks. “If they have disenfranchised the people so badly they just don’t respond to anything, they can do this all over the country.”
Unionists and community activists confronted Governor Rick Snyder in person at the area’s Blossomtime Festival in Benton Harbor and St. Joseph (date go to), and previously protested outside City Hall (Click on http://voiceofdetroit.net/?p=7162 for story.)
Pontiac plaintiff Tameka Ramsey said, “At a time when every community is struggling and tightening their belts, what Michigan families need and deserve are real solutions from Lansing. Instead, they now face bagmen from big banks who will end services and cut jobs with zero input from local families.”
Philo said the country’s big corporations and financial institutions are behind the enactment of laws like PA 4, which will make it easier for them to pillage the assets of local governments during their own economic crisis.
They include the Nondelegation Doctrine, which provides that powers of legislative bodies (like Detroit’s City Council) cannot be delegated to the city’s chief administrative officer (like Mayor Dave Bing, who was recently exposed in a lawsuit claiming that he met with Gov. Snyder and others to make sure PA 4 would include such provisions.
The Nondelegation Doctrine also bars powers of local officials from being delegated to emergency managers, says the lawsuit.
It says PA 4 delegates more power than the legislature possesses by allowing emergency managers to repeal acts taken by local government bodies, abrogates the right of local electors to form charters such as the Detroit City Charter, and to elect their own officials.
It also cites the Headlee Amendment, which requires that new rules enforced on local governments must be accompanied by adequate financing. PA 4 requires local governments to fund all the expenses associated with emergency managers, without providing any additional funds .
The lawsuit asks for a declaration by the court that the Act violates the State Constitution, and for injunctive relief “restraining present and future emergency managers appointed under the act from implementing or exercising authority and powers” conveyed by the act.
Philo said the lawsuit does not ask for monetary damages to citizens, although it does ask for “attorneys’ fees and costs, and for such further relief as is just and equitable.”