Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

Coming soon to your community: corporate (or criminal) rule

Posted by Charles II on July 27, 2011

Adrienne (via Brother John) links this on Honduras’ “Charter Cities,” in which Hondurans cede control over their own territory to… whoever! It’s not out of the question to have a “Charter City” for each of the narcotics cartels.

But in many ways, Honduras’ “Charter Cities” is done under better controls than Michigan’s takeovers of localities by “Emergency Managers.” The Michigan law is (in my layman’s opinion) written very vaguely, such that towns could be signed over to…whoever…with even less oversight. A preliminary review can be triggered by an alphabet soup of conditions, including this gem:

The existence of other facts or circumstances that in the state treasurer’s sole discretion for a municipal government are indicative of municipal financial stress, or, that in the superintendent of public instruction’s sole discretion for a school district are indicative of school district financial stress.

Then a fundamentally political process proceeds:

the governor shall appoint a review team for that municipal government consisting of the state treasurer or his or her designee, the director of the department of technology, management, and budget or his or her designee, a nominee of the senate majority leader, and a nominee of the speaker of the house of representatives. The governor may appoint other state officials or other persons with relevant professional experience to serve on a review team to undertake a municipal financial management review.[and a similar process for schools]

And then? An Emergency Manager is appointed and basically, the law ceases to exist in that jurisdiction. Elected representatives no longer have any power, since they serve at the pleasure of the Emergency Manager. Unions? Forget about them! Have a contract with the city? Too bad! All of the civil mechanisms that serve as brakes on bad governance are stripped away, with the sole power to the will of the Governor residing in the courts… which are notoriously conservative and unwilling to engage the other branches of government. Your “Emergency Manager” could even, in theory, be Corporation Corrections of America(*). The law is just that vague!

It’s true that the way the law is written, it can only turn truly foul if all branches of government are in the hands of one party. But that’s where Michigan is, God help ’em. At least Honduras thinks it has to give some measure of deference to international norms, even if it’s only window dressing.

Only comedians can get the situation correct:

The law stipulates that:

(a) The emergency manager shall have a minimum of 5 years’ experience and demonstrable expertise in business, financial, or local or state budgetary matters.

(b) The emergency manager may but need not be a resident of the local government.

(c) The emergency manager shall be an individual.

(d) Except as otherwise provided in this subdivision, the emergency manager shall serve at the pleasure of the governor. An emergency manager is subject to impeachment and conviction by the legislature as if he or she were a civil officer under section 7 of article XI of the state constitution of 1963. A vacancy in the office of emergency manager shall be filled in the same manner as the original appointment.

(e) The emergency manager’s compensation and reimbursement for actual and necessary expenses shall be paid by the local government and shall be set forth in a contract approved by the state treasurer. The contract shall be posted on the department of treasury’s website within 7 days after the contract is approved by the state treasurer.

The provision that the emergency manager shall be “an individual” might seem to exclude corporations. However, (a) a contractor or employee of a corporation would certainly qualify, and (b) US law increasingly recognizes corporations as individuals, possessing for example free speech rights.

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