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Saturday, February 25, 2012

The case against Michigan Public Act #4 and why a Constitutional Referendum vote is right

ROJS News Op/Ed

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Fmr. MI Gov. William
As a public official, my appreciation for Michigan's Public Act #276 of 1976, known as the Open Meeting Act is paramount.

The first paragraph of this statue, clearly explains the duties of any state official elected by its' citizenry or appointed by a governmental body, should uphold the act build on principles of Democracy.
"(The) ACT to require certain meetings of certain public bodies to be open to the public; to require notice and the keeping of minutes of meetings; to provide for enforcement; to provide for invalidation of governmental decisions under certain circumstances; to provide penalties; and to repeal certain acts and parts of acts."
People should indeed have rights in a democracy elected governmental entity to address their grievances before the body. Similar to what Founding Father's envisioned for this great country we live in.

In 1976, Michigan's longest serving Governor William G. Milliken (R) signed this piece of vital legislation into law. A Google Archive newspaper report from The Michigan Daily on January 21, 1981, detailed why former Gov. Milliken believed defending this groundbreaking legislation, Michigan's Open Meeting Act, was important.

From The Michigan Daily on January 21, 1981:
"Gov. William Milliken has vetoed bills letting public bodies close job interview and employment evaluation sessions, calling them a "step backwards" for open government. 
The vetos were a victory for reformed minded lawmakers and journalism organizations in what was considered a major test of the state's commitment to it tough 1976 Open Meeting Act."
Speaking on the bill, Gov Milliken cited the following: 
"These changes represent an unnecessary step backward from the Open Meeting Act legislation adopted four years ago after a careful and detailed legistative consideration. Few decisions made by public policies are as important as those involving the selection of key administrators or evaluating the performance of those individuals." 
"The former governor continued is vehement stance on his justification of the statue, by stating the process of selecting public officials will not be "unduly inhibited" by Michigan's Open Meetings Act law."
Nearly thirty-one years later, on March 16, 2011, Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signed into law Public Act #4. What a difference in leadership decades make.

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Public Act #4, allows a closed "financial review teams" appointed by Gov. Snyder with the assistance of state Treasurer Andy Dillon to decide if a Emergency Manager should be appointed as the sole operational and legislative auditory for a Michigan city, township, county or school board. 

Discussions leading up to what encompassed the "financial review teams" findings are confidential.

Similar to local or state government appointed officials, the "financial review team" is paid by Michigan Taxable Revenue received from residents to provide for fiscal operations. Yet Governor Snyder, state Treasurer Andy Dillon and members of the Republican controlled Michigan House and Senate believe otherwise.

"The ruling only really addressed review teams and the Open Meetings Act, and we don't believe it affects the appointment by the governor of Jack Martin as emergency manager at this point in time," Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said on February 15th to the Detroit News."
State Treasurer Andy Dillon in January 2012 stated he believed, wrongly, financial review team meetings held under Public Act #4 should held in the strictest confidence from the public-at-large. 
"Under Public Act 4 the meetings that we hold are confidential and we're not subject to the Open Meetings Act," he said Jan. 10th, during the public introduction Detroit's review board", State Treasurer Andy Dillon stated during a introduction meeting of Detroit 'Financial Review Team' in January.
On February 6th, a ruling by Ingham County Court Judge William Collette, using provisions contained in Michigan's Public Act #276- Open Meetings Act of 1976" found that  previously closed "Financial Review Team" meetings on whether to appoint a Emergency Manager to a city, township, or county, are subject to open public meetings.

Interesting enough less than three weeks later on February 22nd, Gov. Snyder who one should assume had legal statue counseling between February 6th and 21st, decided to "de-activate" Highland Park Public School District Emergency Manager Jack Martin appointment. 

In the small bedrock lake-front community of Benton Harbor, Michigan, Emergency Manager- Joe Harris was the first appointment under the newly passed Public Act #4.

On April 15, 2011, less than a month after P.A. 4 was signed into law, E.M. Harris striped Benton Harbor's elected officials of nearly all of their entire  doily elected duties.

From the Michigan Messenger Newspaper: 
"The Emergency Financial Manager of the city of Benton Harbor has issued an order stripping all city boards and commissions of all their authority to take any action. 
The order, signed Thursday, limits the actions available to such bodies to calling a meeting to order, approving the minutes of meetings and adjourning a meeting. 
The bodies are prohibited under the act from taking any other action without the express authority of the Emergency Financial Manager, Joseph Harris. 
Actions such as Harris’ are explicitly allowed under a newly approved law which granted sweeping new powers to emergency financial managers. That legislation had drawn large protests, including attempts by some protesters to take over the state capitol building. The sit-in resulted in numerous arrests."

The legality of Emergency Manager Joseph Harris appointment would be a open question rightfully, in light of Ingham County Circuit Court Judge William Collette's ruling. Regardless, E.M. Harris has decided to go-forth with other questionable actions that implement democracy for Benton Harbor's residents.
From the Michigan Forward website on February 23rd: 
"In a Feb. 14 order, Emergency Manager Joseph Harris removed several people, including Commissioners Juanita Henry and David Shaw, from 10 city boards and committees, appointed others and appointed himself to serve four of those boards. 
Harris said the removals, appointments and reappointments were part of an annual update to the city’s boards."
Photo Credit-Michigan Forward
Time will tell if E.M. Joseph Harris near power-hungry behavior is redeemed in some fashion; if  its' found that his appointment by Gov. Snyder should have never occurred in the first place.

The decision on if the re-appointment of Harris under P.A. #4 (Harris previously served as a Benton Harbor's Emergency Financial Manager under Michigan Public Act #72 of 1990) after Benton Harbor's closed "financial review team" process in March 2011, could ultimately result in any actions he taken since to be illegal in nature. 
On February 29th, the Stand Up for Democracy Team, lead by the non-profit public policy organization Michigan Forward, Chairman Brandon Jessup, plan on submitting upwards of 250,000 signatures to place a Constitutional Referendum vote on P.A. #4.

If the signatures are validated by Michigan's Secretary of State Office headed by Ruth Johnson (R), a probable vote on Tuesday, November 6th general election ballot will test if P.A. #4 should remain state law or be repealed.

A review of the ruling by Judge Collette leaves a open question remaining on if P.A. #4 in its' current form not only violates Michigan legal statues but, possibly Michigan Constitution via the following sections:
Article VII-Local Government-Section 32-Budget, Public Hearings-states: 
Any county, township, city, village, authority or school district empowered by the legislature or by this constitution to prepare budgets of estimated expenditures and revenues shall adopt such budgets only after a public hearing in a manner prescribed by law.
The appointed Financial Review Team reviews a city, village, township, county or school districts fiscal operational budget recommending if a Emergency Manger should be appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder and/or Treasurer Andy Dillon. Those fiscal findings are followed up by the Emergency Manager, who's paid by the taxable revenue base received on behalf of Michigan residents.

Section 32 of Michigan Constitutional document demands for meetings on budgetary manners be open for public review.

Article IX-Finance and Taxation-Section 23 states: 

Sec. 23. All financial records, accountings, audit reports and other reports of public moneys shall be public records and open to inspection. A statement of all revenues and expenditures of public moneys shall be published and distributed annually, as provided by law

According to an Q&A about Public Act #4, the appointed financial review team performs an audit of an city, town, village, county or school boards level of maintain fiscal solvency. 

10. What is the purpose of a Review Team?  

If a preliminary review of a unit of local government results in a finding of probable financial stress, the Governor appoints a Review Team to conduct a more detailed review of the financial condition of the unit of local government. 

A Review Team has 60 days to complete its work and file its report unless the Governor requires an earlier date; the Governor also may grant one 30-day extension. 

11. What authority does a Review Team possess?  

A Review Team has full authority to do all of the following:  

-- Examine the books and records of the unit of local government.
-- Utilize the services of other State agencies and employees.
-- Negotiate and sign a consent agreement with the chief administrative officer of the unit of local government.

With the "financial review team" audit of a localized entity budgetary records, Article IX-Section 23 of the Michigan Constitution forwards to a conclusion that such actions are subject to public review.
Last section of Michigan Constitution this Op/Ed addresses, is where the power of state government functions lies and specifically, who's duties should they serve.
Article I-Declaration of Rights-Section i-Political Power states: 
Sec. 1. All political power is inherent in the people. Government is instituted for their equal benefit, security and protection.
When governmental officers forget they're serving at the will of the people, not corporations, owed favors or other financial entities; unjust actions or statues they enacted should be ceased by a vote of the electorate. 
This leads to our conclusion Michigan Forward's & Stand Up For Democracy Team drive to place a Constitutional Referendum vote affirming or repealing Public Act #4, is indeed correct in nature.

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