Looks like Benton Harbor City Commissioners will soon have power again
Posted: Feb 24, 2012 10:01 PM EST | Updated: Nov 5, 2014 5:16 PM EST
BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – It looks like there will be city commission with power again in Benton Harbor but there is confusion over how much power they’ll have.
Michigan advocacy groups led by the Rainbow-PUSH Coalition plan to turn in 220 thousand signatures Wednesday from people who oppose Public Act 4, the bill that expands power for state-appointed Emergency Managers in Michigan.
If 162 thousand signatures are deemed valid, Public Act 4 would be suspended until voters decide the bill’s fate in November. Confusion is over whether Public Act 72, the former Emergency Financial Manager law would still be in effect.
Joseph Harris, Benton Harbor’s Emergency Manager has had complete power in the city since Public Act 4 passed in March 2010.
“Once the signatures are verified Emergency Managers in the State of Michigan will be suspended,” said Rev. David Bullock with Rainbow-PUSH, Jesse Jackson’s advocacy group.
“That’s not how I understand it,” said State Representative Al Psholka.
Governor Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette have said they think the bill will revert back to Public Act 72 where Harris and other emergency managers would still control finances but elected officials would be able to make other decisions.
“You can’t have the wild west out there,” said Psholka. “It won’t be ‘OK come on back in and act like nothing’s changed.’”
Benton Harbor would be in a strange position if both Public Act 4 and Public Act 72 were repealed. Harris got rid of Benton Harbor’s City Manager and commissioners never controlled day-to-day operations in the city.
Bullock said he thinks the commission would need to make a quick hire but said if there’s not total local control after signatures are turned in there will be resistance. “We’ll fight in the courts… and march in the streets unless there’s democracy,” he said.
Psholka likened Benton Harbor’s situation to Highland Park’s School District, where an Emergency Manager was just eliminated and bankruptcy is now on the table. “Chaos is created if you have a municipal bankruptcy,” he said. “It’s messy (and) it’s expensive, it’s not the way to go. The Emergency Manager Law is a much better way to get things done.”
Michigan has 60 days to verify signatures after they are turned in.
An appellate judge could decide which form of government Benton Harbor will revert to before the November election.