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Defying Michigan Voters, Gov. Rick Snyder Takes Over Detroit

In November, Michiganders voted the state's undemocratic Emergency Financial Manager law out of existence. But that didn't keep Snyder and legislators from claiming control of Motor City.

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Opponents of the appointment of the EFM in Detroit have picketed press conferences and have garnered national attention by driving along some of Detroit's busiest highways at painfully slow speeds during rush hour.

Stephen Boyle, of the group FREE Detroit - NO Consent, explained the reason behind the actions, which are being referred to as "the slowdown in Motown": "If we slow down traffic, maybe people will stop and listen for a moment, as to what's going on. This isn't business as usual."

EFM Law Pushed by Mackinac Center

As early as 2005, the  Mackinac Center for Public Policy, an influential right-wing think tank in Michigan has called for emergency managers as a way of breaking public employee contracts and lowering wages for public workers. The Mackinac Center is a member of the State Policy Network and the American Legislative Exchange Council and has been funded by a number of  right-wing foundations including the Dow Foundation, the Bradley Foundation, the Walton Foundation, the DeVos Foundation, and the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.

Louis Schimmel, a former Mackinac employee who penned reports and articles on EFMs, was appointed the EFM of Pontiac, Michigan by the Gov. Snyder in 2011. Schimmel "pursued the most aggressive turnaround plan in the state,"  according to  Mother Jones. Schimmel proposed putting nearly every city property up for sale, "including city hall, the police station, fire stations, water-pumping stations, the library, the golf course, and two cemeteries," but Pontiac still faced a huge shortfall in 2012.

Will It Work?

There is at least one thing people agree on: Detroit is not doing well. Deindustrialization and the offshoring of manufacturing jobs led to high unemployment, loss of revenue for the city and public school systems, increases in crime, white flight from the city to better-off suburbs, and a snowball effect that has left Detroit a shell of its former self, with half its former population and with $14 billion in long-term liabilities. Increased revenue sharing and long term strategies are needed to rebuild the hollowed out city.

While Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is characterizing the appointment of an emergency manager as an "opportunity" for the city, others are not so sure.

"It is difficult to identify a single instance where an emergency manager has succeeded in turning around the financial fortunes of a city or jurisdiction. The history of the emergency manager law in Michigan is replete with fiscal mismanagement and conflicts of interest," says Rep. Conyers, who is demanding a federal audit of Michigan EFMs. "In the absence of any sort of checks or balances at the state level, it is vital that the GAO examine the law and its impact, particularly the impact on federal funding." Unions and others are prepping  lawsuits to challenge the new law.

Even though Orr is being touted as a professional and being paid a salary of some $275,000 a year, he is already off to a rocky start. Reporters discovered that he owed over $10,000 for tax liens on his $1 million home in Maryland.

Orr paid the balance and called the situation "remarkably embarrassing," but the Rev. Charles Williams II, president of the National Action Network of Michigan, noted: "It is quite interesting that [Orr] feels he could manage the city of Detroit, and he's having trouble managing his own affairs."

The Center for Media and Democracy's Mary Bottari contributed to this article.

Harriet Rowan is a reporter at the Center for Media and Democracy.

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