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Motor City Sadness
March 1, 2013 10:09 AM   Subscribe

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to appoint an emergency financial manager for Detroit.
posted by still_wears_a_hat (52 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Any word on whether he's going to contract remaining municipal services out to Omni Consumer Products?
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:12 AM on March 1, 2013 [25 favorites]


Sadly, I trust Kwame Kilpatrick more than I trust Ricky Snyder.
posted by HuronBob at 10:21 AM on March 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


So.. has anyone actually ruled on the legality of a non-elected official having that much authority over a municipality?
posted by edgeways at 10:24 AM on March 1, 2013


I am skeptical that anything can help Detroit at this point. Not sure what kind of long-term ramifications that would have for the rest of us in Michigan, though.
posted by royalsong at 10:27 AM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


So.. has anyone actually ruled on the legality of a non-elected official having that much authority over a municipality?

Quite a few cities have unelected city managers. I have no idea what the legal situation is in Michigan in this regard.
posted by jedicus at 10:29 AM on March 1, 2013


My guess is this a preemptive move to avoid bankruptcy and protect creditors. Whatever the restructuring, the creditors get paid and the rest (pensioners, employees, taxpayers, etc) will be screwed to some degree or the other. Democracy be damned...
posted by jim in austin at 10:38 AM on March 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


I am skeptical that anything can help Detroit at this point.

I propose a federal tax-free zone in the city. Any income that is earned (i.e. literally earned income, not investment income) in the city or immediate metro area by a person or business who is also a year-round resident would be untaxed. The earned income limitation and residency requirements would prevent the benefit from being gamed. It would only apply to people living and working in Detroit year-round.

For Democrats it's appealing because it's effectively a very large stimulus. For Republicans it's appealing because it's a chance to run the ultimate tax cut experiment. And after several years taxes could be slowly phased back in, so slowly that the marginal cost of staying never outweighed the marginal benefit of leaving.
posted by jedicus at 10:38 AM on March 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Sadly, I trust Kwame Kilpatrick more than I trust Ricky Snyder.

I assume that's only because you could throw Kilpatrick a few inches farther.
posted by The World Famous at 10:40 AM on March 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


So.. has anyone actually ruled on the legality of a non-elected official having that much authority over a municipality?

The fifteenth amendment only makes sure that if there's a vote, everyone votes and the seventeenth assures that senators are elected by the people. There's no real explicit right to vote in the constitution and states generally seem to be left to their own affairs when it comes to how voting is decided.

It's certainly an encroachment on the tradition notions of voting. So much so the voters slapped it down once and would slap it down again except the legislature inserted appropriations into the bill this time around to make it ineligible to be overturned by the voters directly.
posted by Talez at 10:43 AM on March 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


jedicus: The earned income limitation and residency requirements would prevent the benefit from being gamed. It would only apply to people living and working in Detroit year-round.
I have more faith in human ingenuity than that.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:45 AM on March 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


The legal situation is that in Michigan, emergency managers are legal and have been for some time, but a recent plebiscite curtailed their powers. There may be a case to be made that the powers they claim are a usurpation of voting rights, but unfortunately the Michigan SC is stacked with Republicans and is a fairly partisan body. Not as bad as Wisconsin, but still.

The other background is that Republicans in Michigan HATE Detroit, both because it's black and Democrat, and the GOP controls pretty much the rest of the state. It was an OK balance when Detroit was doing well, but a long, long, long period of mismanagement and fuckery from industry, racist suburbs and incompetent Detroit politicians themselves basically cut Detroit to the quick. But now Michigan GOP are jackals at the carcass of Detroit, and are trying to destroy the one thing that keeps them from having a permanent majority in Michigan.
posted by klangklangston at 10:46 AM on March 1, 2013 [12 favorites]


These guys are scumbags. The people removed the law, they put it back.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:51 AM on March 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


"I assume that's only because you could throw Kilpatrick a few inches farther."

It's because Kwame's not there anymore. He was probably the worst mayor I've ever heard of in a 20th century major city. I mean, when you find out that there are hundreds of millions of dollars in outstanding property taxes that haven't been collected because of a lack of manpower in the finance department, you don't then slash the finance budget and fire the director.

Someday, there's going to be a great book or movie about the tragedy of Coleman Young, and how he went from a crusader for African Americans for civil rights to a corrosive machine boss. Seriously, Detroit's 20th century political history is what would have happened if gothic novelists addressed urban race politics.
posted by klangklangston at 10:51 AM on March 1, 2013 [16 favorites]


The main mistake that Detroit made was not to enter in huge amount of derivatives with other financial institutions in the US and around the world.

If they had, you can bet that they would have been bailed out by now...
posted by Riton at 10:55 AM on March 1, 2013


Someday, there's going to be a great book or movie about the tragedy of Coleman Young, and how he went from a crusader for African Americans for civil rights to a corrosive machine boss. Seriously, Detroit's 20th century political history is what would have happened if gothic novelists addressed urban race politics.

I'm not even kidding when I say this: I would gladly collaborate with you to write that book or screenplay.
posted by The World Famous at 11:08 AM on March 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


So.. has anyone actually ruled on the legality of a non-elected official having that much authority over a municipality?

The way I've heard it, in the U.S. system, municipalities derive their power from the states (in Michigan in particular, cities are chartered by the state), and the states can therefore step in to remove elected officials of those municipalities under certain prescribed circumstances.
posted by Etrigan at 11:11 AM on March 1, 2013


Can someone who is more educated on this issue than me explain a) if this is what Rachel Maddow has been talking about for so many months and b) what the implications are? This man does not replace the mayor, does he?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:23 AM on March 1, 2013


For Democrats it's appealing because it's effectively a very large stimulus. For Republicans it's appealing because it's a chance to run the ultimate tax cut experiment. And after several years taxes could be slowly phased back in, so slowly that the marginal cost of staying never outweighed the marginal benefit of leaving.

Detroit has a lot of poor black people in it. Do you seriously think the Republican party would go for a massive tax cut for poor black people (and people who don't mind living around poor black people)? Like, this scheme is a wonderful idea in a universe where the Republican party actually cares about tax cuts. But I don't think we're in that universe.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:27 AM on March 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Riton: The main mistake that Detroit made was not to enter in huge amount of derivatives with other financial institutions in the US and around the world.

If they had, you can bet that they would have been bailed out by now...
They were bailed out. The money just wasn't used on Detroit, once it came.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:28 AM on March 1, 2013


In fact, the only way I can imagine the Republican party going for an economic stimulus scheme based around massive tax cuts in a city in Southeast Michigan is if the city in question was, like, Berkley or Birmingham.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:31 AM on March 1, 2013


Can someone who is more educated on this issue than me explain a) if this is what Rachel Maddow has been talking about for so many months and b) what the implications are? This man does not replace the mayor, does he?

A) Essentially, but it's less apocalyptic than it was before the voters overturned the more draconian version of the emergency manager law.

B) Oh, far more than that. The mayor will presumably be allowed to remain as the mayor, but for largely ceremonial reasons (and because he's awesome and no one puts Dave Bing in a corner). What this does is give this emergency manager far more power than the mayor ever had. This isn't saying "The current mayor is incompetent" or even "The current mayor and city council and everyone else is incompetent" -- it's saying "Detroit is in such a deep hole, dug over the last several decades, that not even Mayor David Copperfield could levitate it out." In particular, one of the major parts of that hole is contractual requirements, particularly union contracts (AFSCME fucking hates the emergency manager law, because AFSCME members are the biggest line item in any municipal budget) and pensions and the like. So the emergency manager gets power to kill those contracts, more or less unilaterally, because they're seen as bad for the city (truth be told, they probably are, since they're largely archives of when the city was twice the size it is now and fifty years younger, but they're not as bad as they're painted).

Basically, the emergency manager gets to do virtually anything he wants to the budget, regardless of whether a mayor or city council could do it, and he gets to do it right fucking now instead of waiting for contracts to end or bonds to mature or whatever.
posted by Etrigan at 11:34 AM on March 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Detroit has a lot of poor black people in it. Do you seriously think the Republican party would go for a massive tax cut for poor black people

Ah, but as Republicans are so wont to point out, "the poor don't pay taxes"* already, so the tax-free zone wouldn't particularly benefit them, at least at first. Caught between their classism & racism and their love of tax cuts, I think they could be persuaded to go with the tax cuts.

* Note: Not actually true.
posted by jedicus at 11:39 AM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


They were bailed out. The money just wasn't used on Detroit, once it came.

"They" meaning Chrysler (Auburn Hills) and General Motors (and to a much lesser extent, Ford (Dearborn)), not "they" meaning the city of Detroit. The Big Three are international mega corporations the vast majority of whose operations are nowhere near Detroit, and only one of which actually has its headquarters in Detroit (GM).
posted by The World Famous at 11:41 AM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Etrigan: Basically, the emergency manager gets to do virtually anything he wants to the budget, regardless of whether a mayor or city council could do it, and he gets to do it right fucking now instead of waiting for contracts to end or bonds to mature or whatever.
... which is both the magic wand that could be used to work wonders, and the frightening dark side of the Force that should not be left unfettered in uncaring hands...

...whoops.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:42 AM on March 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Basically, the emergency manager gets to do virtually anything he wants to the budget, regardless of whether a mayor or city council could do it, and he gets to do it right fucking now instead of waiting for contracts to end or bonds to mature or whatever.

So this is essentially our version of the Roman Dictator, someone you give absolute power under presumably controlled conditions when you can no longer pretend that the regular political system is able to resolve an issue.

Well, that never went horribly awry at least...
posted by Naberius at 11:42 AM on March 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


Jedicus: I would have been totally with you, if it weren't for the last n years of Republicans pushing really, really hard to raise taxes on the poor. "Lucky duckies," "skin in the game," and all that.

I think there's a more plausible argument for the Republican party trying to "save" Detroit by raising taxes there. Hey, actually: is this something the emergency manager is going to do?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:44 AM on March 1, 2013


Yeah, YCTAB has it. It looks like tax cuts are literally the only Republican policy position because tax cuts almost invariably help rich, old, white people at the expense of people who are none of those things. But this would be one of those vanishingly rare situations where a tax cut wouldn't really benefit the GOP constituency, none of whom would be caught dead anywhere near Detroit, while helping... let's call them "urban" people and Democratic voters.

So while "Republicans are all about tax cuts" overlaps almost perfectly, it's not quite a perfect match for their actual agenda, which would more precisely be "Republicans are all about transferring wealth to their wealthy constituents."
posted by Naberius at 11:54 AM on March 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


If the emergency manager isn't able to fix the fiscal problem, is there a back-up plan? Do they start selling off buildings? Build a wall around the whole city and make it a futuristic super-prison? Resign in shame and admit they're morons?
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:56 AM on March 1, 2013


Man, that word "urban." I'm from the west coast, though I lived in Detroit for a little while. Out here "urban" means hip and young and very, very expensive. There, though, it pretty much straightforwardly means "look out, there's black people here!"
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:00 PM on March 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


If the emergency manager isn't able to fix the fiscal problem, is there a back-up plan? Do they start selling off buildings? Build a wall around the whole city and make it a futuristic super-prison? Resign in shame and admit they're morons?

Bankruptcy, which seems basically to give the courts the powers assumed by the emergency manager. That's the dirty little secret (that's neither little nor a secret) of emergency manager status -- it's bankruptcy in all but name, which helps salvage the bond ratings of the state and the surrounding suburbs.
posted by Etrigan at 12:03 PM on March 1, 2013


Man, that word "urban." I'm from the west coast, though I lived in Detroit for a little while. Out here "urban" means hip and young and very, very expensive. There, though, it pretty much straightforwardly means "look out, there's black people here!"

Yeah, down here in "Little Detroit", too. And that has always set my teeth on edge. My University program insisted on calling any student teaching placements in predominantly Black schools "urban placements", even if the schools were out in East Bumblefuckia. grrrr

Back on topic, I'm doubtful that an EFM is going to be able to help the situation much. The one Granholm appointed to fix Benton Harbor was recently replaced, and from what I'm hearing from people up that way, it's still a clusterfuck.
posted by MissySedai at 12:38 PM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


What it comes down to is that cities are a terrible subdivision for a multitude of services. Small cities often overbuild their infrastructure financed by commuters sapping wealth from urban city cores while large cities that have jobs but no residents to tax fail due to insufficient revenue.

It's not like the Detroit CSA has been dramatically shrinking. The Detroit CSA has declined all of 3.5% since its peak of 4.4 million in the 2010 census. The problem is the rich whites head to Ann Arbor or Dearborn Heights and leave the large city with basically nothing to work with.

This won't change until we basically scrap the entire concept of municipal services and take them up to at least the county, if not the state level in the case of smaller states. Cities should be concerned with roads, rates and rubbish primarily and parks and libraries as a secondary.
posted by Talez at 12:46 PM on March 1, 2013


"Yeah, YCTAB has it. It looks like tax cuts are literally the only Republican policy position because tax cuts almost invariably help rich, old, white people at the expense of people who are none of those things. But this would be one of those vanishingly rare situations where a tax cut wouldn't really benefit the GOP constituency, none of whom would be caught dead anywhere near Detroit, while helping... let's call them "urban" people and Democratic voters.

So while "Republicans are all about tax cuts" overlaps almost perfectly, it's not quite a perfect match for their actual agenda, which would more precisely be "Republicans are all about transferring wealth to their wealthy constituents."
"

Part of the problem with all this is that Detroit has, actually, a massive (if crumbling) infrastructure capacity. Things like the Rouge plant drew a shit-ton of water and electricity, etc. and so the city is built to maintain that level of output, but since there's been an exodus of people and businesses, that capacity isn't really needed, and, more to the point, is proportionally more expensive. It's worse in Benton Harbor, but that means that it actually is more expensive than it should be to live in Detroit.

Something else to be aware of is that even before the Kelo decision, where Michigan among others passed reactionary laws about eminent domain, Michigan had some of the most unfriendly laws to annexation and expansion of tax base, which means that a lot of the suburbs acted as free riders on the Detroit infrastructure.

Really, a regional authority (along with externals like increased gas prices) is really Detroit's best hope at getting going again, so that it can pool resources that currently escape in order to fix the infrastructure and become a more compact city. Some real public transit wouldn't hurt either.
posted by klangklangston at 12:57 PM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The problem with the regional authority idea is that a significant fraction of the white population of Oakland County completely despises Detroit, and most of the people of Detroit (quite reasonably) totally mistrust white Oakland County. SE Michigan isn't a region, it's two separate groups (sort of) sharing the same space.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:09 PM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


This won't change until we basically scrap the entire concept of municipal services and take them up to at least the county, if not the state level in the case of smaller states.

An eminently sensible solution, but there's an additional problem in Michigan's case in particular -- what everyone thinks of as "the Detroit area" is between three and seven counties, depending on who you ask (as YCTAB points out, no one outside Wayne thinks of themselves as a Detroiter, except when the Red Wings make the playoffs). This is because Michigan was mapped out in the days when a 650-square-mile county was perfectly logical, but so was a 80,000-square-mile state (and that's just the Lower Peninsula). Putting together regional concerns inevitably gets drowned in how much power Wayne County (which is to say, Detroit) gets -- everyone thinks, "Yes, I understand that Detroit is important, but if they were able to handle their own shit, they wouldn't want my help with this 'regional' crap, so fuck them."
posted by Etrigan at 1:12 PM on March 1, 2013


There has been more active work to isolate Detroit from its surrounding suburbs than to connect it. Still going on - Livonia just approved building a new Walmart but wants to block regional buses that might bring black people to work there. Blog post here about the Emergency Manager appointment. Chris has blogged extensively about emergency managers in Michigan and has been quoted often by Rachel Maddow. Disclosure - he's a good friend. One of the issues about the emergency manager situation is the wildly disproportionate number of African Americans in our state without elected representation because of it. More than half now with the addition of Detroit. Benton Harbor, referenced up-thread, was largely a land grab to convert a public park on Lake Michigan into an exclusive golf resort. Ugly stuff. Chris has written a great deal about this in the past couple years.
posted by leslies at 1:25 PM on March 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Man, that word "urban." I'm from the west coast, though I lived in Detroit for a little while. Out here "urban" means hip and young and very, very expensive. There, though, it pretty much straightforwardly means "look out, there's black people here!"

As enshrined in the name of the Urban League (circa 1920), so this is not just recent Michigan racism.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 1:59 PM on March 1, 2013


If you've never lived in Michigan, its hard to understand how much people in the rest of the state dislike Detroit. That's why I can't see a regional government as a feasible solution in the medium-term.

Didn't Congress do something similar to D.C. years ago? There was still an elected government, but it was largely ceremonial. How did that work out?
posted by Area Man at 2:42 PM on March 1, 2013


Spirit lifter.
posted by spitbull at 2:57 PM on March 1, 2013


Conservatives would rush to embrace a Detroit free trade zone ... if that what it really was. You'd need to have low taxes on both investments and income, absolute school choice including selective schools (to attract and retain middle class families), strategic reduction of regulations on labor and industry, and a "fresh start" where the new government (and its new tax base) would have no liability for legacy costs of welfare, public housing, etc.
posted by MattD at 3:09 PM on March 1, 2013


That pansy Nugent (re: post title) likes to pretend he's tough. If he were really tough he would have moved to Detroit. Also, where are all of the other favorite Detroit musical sons and daughters who like to proclaim their musical heritage? Iggy, I'm looking your way.
posted by evilDoug at 4:08 PM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


See my video link evilDoug. Forget the oldsters. There is a new generation of Detroit musicians kicking it much harder for their town.
posted by spitbull at 4:54 PM on March 1, 2013


DC went through this under the final Barry term. Anthony Williams was appointed to head the Financial Controm Board setup by congress. This essentially sidelined Barry and the council. Later Williams was elected mayor as part of a deal to restore some of the democratic power in the city. Williams and Fenty after him made the city safe for gentrification. I have mixed feelings about it.
posted by humanfont at 5:12 PM on March 1, 2013


Maybe this is crazy, but this seems like exactly the sort of thing that Mitt Romney could do well, and he would have a better shot at talking GOP leaders into supporting whatever he needed. It ain't the presidency, but if he wanted to be useful, this could be his chance.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:42 PM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mitt Romney's family is still very active in Michigan politics. I suspect that, although he probably has the skill set necessary to do the job, it would be close to impossible for him - given who he is and his history with the Detroit area - to successfully get the necessary people within the city government to follow his leadership. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that there's a non-trivial number of people in city government in Detroit who would be less than thrilled to have their new boss be a super rich white guy from Bloomfield Hills who hasn't lived in Michigan since the 60s and who repeatedly insulted Detroit during his two Presidential campaigns. That dynamic would likely have an effect on his ability to lead, regardless of his general qualifications and leadership ability in other contexts.
posted by The World Famous at 7:12 PM on March 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Iggy, I'm looking your way.

While Detroit was walking to freedom, Iggy Pop was a Little Know it All on the Ann Arbor High School Debate Team. (Standing, second from right, wearing a shirt)
posted by ulotrichous at 8:07 PM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, where are all of the other favorite Detroit musical sons and daughters who like to proclaim their musical heritage?

And not just the white dudes. I remember when Motown Records moved to Hollywood.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:27 PM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


More on the track record of the emergency managers in Michigan - not succesful and shockingly corrupt. Maddow via Eclectablog. Somehow the lack of oversight implicit in democracy doesn't make for a solution. None of the emergency managers appointed seem to have done anything to solve the admittedly major problems facing these cities - selling off assets and privatizing institutions does not grow jobs or fix schools.

Particularly ironic in terms of the timing in Detroit since they're coming up on the first city elections by district instead of electing city council members at large. That will make them more accountable to their constituents - or would have if it hadn't been made irrelevant thanks to the imposition of an EFM.
posted by leslies at 5:32 AM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


As enshrined in the name of the Urban League (circa 1920), so this is not just recent Michigan racism.

Er, no. Do note the original name was National League on Urban Conditions Among Negroes, such "urban conditions" being city living - high population density and industrialization. The US Census Bureau even has an official definition for it.

The "Urban" in Urban League does not now, nor ever has meant "Black".
posted by MissySedai at 11:15 AM on March 2, 2013


Detroit: A Sad Tale Of Two Cities And Two Americas
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:08 AM on March 5, 2013


Detroit’s emergency manager begins 18-month term, extends ‘olive branch’ to City Council
posted by homunculus at 1:43 PM on March 25, 2013


Pro-Democracy Movement Rises Against 'Disaster Capitalism' in Detroit
posted by homunculus at 3:17 PM on March 25, 2013


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