Detroit’s Money Woes Draw Support From Civil Rights Leaders

Rev. Jesse Jackson and U.S. Rep. John Conyers are among opposition of Michigan's emergency manager law, a measure they say targets communities with large minority populations.

Posted: 12/23/2011 11:23 AM EST

Detroit’s money woes just keep getting worse.

 

In an effort to prevent the city from declaring bankruptcy by April, state lawmakers have proposed stripping power from city officials and entrusting a non-elected emergency manager to carry out the city’s financial affairs. However, according to civil rights activists, religious heads and politicians who oppose the move, it could lead to a dictator-type takeover of communities with large minority groups.

 

On Thursday, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rep. John Conyers held a press conference in Detroit promising protests and even legal action against the state’s law.

 

"We are prepared to go from education, mobilization, litigation, legislation, demonstration and civil disobedience," Jackson said at a news conference at Detroit's Bethany Baptist Church, the Associated Press reports.

 

“We are going to mobilize and continue to organize around this issue,” Rev. Charles William II of Detroit told the The Detroit Free Press the day before. “We are going to send [Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder] a strong message that we care about our communities and our democracy and we won’t tolerate dictators in our community. This is not Alabama. Now our vote isn’t good enough?”

 

Since the 1990, Michigan governors have used the ability to appoint an emergency manager to run financially distressed cities, though the law has been used sparingly in recent years. This year, the powers were expanded greatly. Currently, the cities of Ecorse, Flint, Pontiac, and Benton Harbor and the Detroit Public Schools are being operated by emergency mangers. To implement the law, a governor would essentially strip financial responsibility from that city’s elected mayor and transfer it to an unelected official.

 

Jackson and Conyers argue that the law targets communities with large minority populations. Jackson is seeking intervention from the U.S. Justice Department.

 

Detroit’s budgetary problems have been brewing for the past few decades.

The Detroit Free Press reports:

 

The simmering fiscal disaster has its roots in former Mayor Jerome Cavanagh, who started a tradition of borrowing and bonding to pay the city's bills, provide services to residents and make improvements in the city, political experts said Thursday -- a day after a scathing report from state Treasurer Andy Dillon chastised the city for years of budgeting missteps.

 

In the last 45 years, there have been 19 years of surpluses and 26 years of deficits, said Eric Foster, a Detroit native and political consultant.

 

In November, city officials alerted that things had gotten so bad that the city could run out of money by April due to its shrinking tax bases and rising benefit and pension obligations. Upon that alarming scenario, the state launched a financial review earlier this month. State officials will continue with deeper investigation in January that could lead to the appointment of an emergency manager or a “consent agreement,” a move favored by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder because it instead gives the city council and mayor additional tools to cut the budget.

 

A petition drive is underway to have the controversial law repealed.

 

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