Michigan’s Financial SWAT Teams

Marshall Thompson

While most people were watching the protests in Wisconsin over collective bargaining rights for public employees, Michigan passed a very disturbing law that eluded much national media attention. The law creates emergency financial “SWAT teams” that have power to pre-emptively take over municipal governments to protect them from possible bankruptcy.

Laws that create emergency managers to help bankrupted or nearly-bankrupted municipalities are not new in the United States. One might even think of Rob Lowe, the cheerful municipal auditor on NBC’s Parks and Rec. The Michigan law goes even further, however, and allows hastily trained emergency managers take over whole municipal governments if the manager deems that the governments are financially stressed.

On April 14, the emergency manager for Berrien County issued an order (.PDF link) that took the power away from all municipal governments in the whole county. To be fair, the emergency manager did allow his new underlings the power to do three things: 1) Call a meeting to order 2) Approve the minutes 3) Adjourn the meeting.

Personally, I don’t understand why Joseph Harris, the emergency manager behind the order, is letting them adjourn meetings. What municipal government would ever want to waste money by starting a meeting if it was legally ordered never to adjourn? But I guess I’m just more power hungry than Mr. Harris. Thank goodness for his personal restraint in these trying times.


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