Detroit’s Emergency Manager Law Challenged—Again

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — May 13, 2013 2 min read
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A law that allows the state’s governor to appoint emergency managers for cities and school systems in Michigan is being challenged by the Detroit branch of the NAACP.

The NAACP, or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is suing Michigan governor Rick Snyder, saying that the emergency manager laws have had a disparate impact on voters of color and have deprived voters of their ability to elect municipal and school leaders.

More than half of the state’s African-American population is governed by an emergency manager, according to a press statement from the NAACP. Only 1.3 percent of white residents live in areas that have been put under state control. Emergency managers are currently in charge of the cities of Allen Park, Benton, Detroit, Ecorse, Flint, and Pontiac and the school systems in Detroit, Highland Park, and Muskegon Heights. The emergency managers are appointed by the governor rather than elected or appointed by elected school boards.

In the lawsuit, the NAACP highlights the fact that the Detroit school board has been permitted to serve “in solely an advisory capacity.”

The lawsuit, filed in a district court in Michigan, says that cities with similar degrees of fiscal stress—the determinant of how a city is put under emergency management—but higher proportions of white residents have not been put under emergency management.

The NAACP also released a letter to Gov. Snyder and a number of other state leaders that included a list of suggestions to help remedy the budget situation in Detroit, including reinstating a residency requirement for city employees.

Detroit’s emergency manager announced earlier today that the city itself is close to broke, according to the Associated Press.

An earlier version of this emergency manager law was rejected by voters during the general election last November (you can read this blog post for more background). But a new law allowing emergency managers was passed this spring.

In Detroit, the largest school system affected by these laws, the challenges and invalidation of that emergency manager law meant that Roy Roberts, who had been appointed to be the Detroit school district’s emergency manager, was in a more-restricted role, emergency financial manager, for much of this school year. When the new law passed, Roberts assumed full authority as emergency manager again.

Roberts announced his resignation earlier this month. Gov. Snyder is currently determining who will be the next emergency manager for Detroit’s public schools.

Since 1999, Detroit’s school system has only been under the control of an elected school board for three years. The state is directly running another group of schools in the city under the auspices of the Education Achievement Authority.

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.