On Friday, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announced that he would appoint an emergency manager to take over Detroit’s city government. “The EM will assume the suspended powers of the mayor and city council, and will take unilateral control of municipal finances, union contracts, pension systems, and more,” according to The Atlantic.
I’ve been pondering this all weekend. I grew up less than 10 miles from Detroit; I now live about 30 miles from the city, and I was born the year the charter was approved to create the city council. I love our once-great city, and I worry that I’m a little too close to the issue be objective. That, and I’m the farthest thing from a political expert, so I’m hoping some of you might offer some insight. Here’s my somewhat garbled thought process thus far:
Something obviously went wrong somewhere. Ever since the riots, things have headed south. As of 2012, Detroit’s the most dangerous city in America, and I can tell you from first-hand experience that, if you’re going to enter its borders, then you’d better know what you’re doing and where you’re going. This is no town for side-trips. Detroit has reportedly known plenty of corruption and financial mismanagement over the years and, given the current state of affairs, I don’t think anyone would argue that something has to change.
The Atlantic article goes on to assert that the takeover move, “has racial and political overtones.” This is tough. Personally, I don’t believe it’s a race issue; I believe it’s a negligence issue. But, after working years for a Fortune 500 company’s public relations team, I know that it will be nearly impossible to separate race from the equation. Detroit’s population is 80% African American, and the city council is 100% African American – and they’re the ones slated to lose power.
And here’s the part I’m really struggling with: The Atlantic article says, “Detroit will be the largest city in the country to lose the ability to govern itself.” This statement upsets my stomach, liberty-wise. Does it violate the rights of Detroit residents to pull the proverbial rug out from under the city government? I did a little homework.
I came across Dillon’s Rule, which I learned about in high school but have long since forgotten. According to Dillon’s Rule (established by Judge John Forest Dillon in 1872), state governments can restrict local governments as they see fit, so long as they don’t contradict the state’s constitution. However, The Cooley Doctrine (which was initiated in Michigan) implies that local municipalities have an inherent right to self-govern (a.k.a. Home Rule), and that the state Constitution should be viewed from this perspective inasmuch as this is possible. From what I’ve found, Michigan allows for both Dillon’s Rule and home rule, though we appear to lean toward home rule. So, it will likely come down to Constitutional interpretation and a big, expensive legislative mess.
The whole thing is just so ugly. I guess, if I may don my rose-colored glasses for a moment, I would love to see the existing city government succeed. To see them to step up and make the hard choices, to right wrongs, and hoist the Motor City out of desolation. But it looks like they’ve taken too long. It’s too bad. While I’m not naïve enough to discount the years-old rumors of city corruption, I want to believe the best in people.
And obviously, how this simple Midwestern girl views the situation makes nary a difference; this is happening. The issue is so complex, I couldn’t possibly cover it – let alone comprehend it. Still, I think the big question is, constitutionally, do Detroiters have the inherent right to self-govern – even if that self-governing has resulted in a city’s devastation?
I would love to hear any and all perspectives on this.