Letter to The Honorable Rick Snyder, Governor of Michigan - Ensure Local Taxpayers Don't Foot the Bill for Emergency Managers' Mistakes


Dear Governor Snyder:

As you know, many of us have previously written to you about our concerns regarding the impact the Local Financial Stability and Choice Act -- known as the Emergency Manager Law -- has on the constitutional rights of local citizens. Once appointed, Emergency Managers effectively replace duly elected public officials and are unaccountable to the citizens under their jurisdiction. Representational democracy is the cornerstone upon which our nation was founded. Indeed, many of us have introduced legislation intended to address the constitutional issues that this law presents.

Underscoring these concerns is the fact that the Flint Water Advisory Taskforce, commissioned by your office, issued a final report which found that the lack of public accountability for public decision-making by state appointed emergency managers directly resulted in the Flint water crisis. The task force report further recommended that the state review the Emergency Manager Law and included among its recommendations that the state reform or consider alternatives to the emergency manager model because state appointed emergency managers operate unconstrained by the checks and balances provided by representative local government.

Our constitutional and policy concerns are further compounded by the fact that a community under the control of an unelected Emergency Manager may be forced under the Emergency Manager Law to pay the Manager's legal fees, even if the community was harmed as a result of the Manager's mismanagement.

For example, we find it deeply troubling that the former Emergency Manager of the Detroit Public Schools and the City of Flint, Darnell Earley, requested that Flint reimburse more than $75,000 in legal fees that he incurred while under investigation by Congress regarding his role in causing the City's water crisis. It shocks the conscience that the citizens of this devastated community should also share the legal costs incurred by Mr. Earley as a result of his mismanagement pursuant to a state law that permits him to hire the very best attorneys that money can buy--including a "discounted" lead counsel who typically charges in excess of $1,000 per hour for his time.

Among other things, the Emergency Manager Law in this respect clearly exacerbates

a community's financial distress by potentially exposing it to vast liabilities that it cannot control much like the fact that it cannot control an Emergency Manager's actions.

In addition, it would seem inequitable to require citizens to support appointed officials who replace their elected leaders. By diverting local taxes from crucial priorities to pay for unelected officials' legal fees representation and damages, this law places a burden on local taxpayers even as it removes their control of that burden.

Further, it would appear to frustrate several federal statutes designed to protect the civil and constitutional rights of our citizens. And, it permits the State of Michigan to shift responsibility for its actions to localities by dipping into the local taxpayers' pocketbooks, even in cases where those taxpayers are injured by an Emergency Manager's conduct.

Fortunately, we understand that the Michigan Treasury Department, which approves Emergency Managers' indemnification requests, has stated that Michigan, not Flint, will pay for Mr. Earley's legal fees related to the Congressional investigation. It seems to us that in order to help protect citizens' constitutional rights going forward, this exception to the law should, in fact, be the rule, namely, in all cases Michigan should be the primary indemnifier of Mr. Earley for all future legal claims against him, as well as for other Emergency Managers appointed by the State.

It is clear that the citizens of Flint--as well as the parents, teachers, and students of Detroit Public Schools--did not appoint Mr. Earley nor could they fire him or direct his conduct. Accordingly, it would seem problematic if they are forced to pay for the cost of defending his actions, even when these citizens have been harmed by the Emergency Manager's actions.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.