Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Repeal of Michigan emergency manager law could go to ballot after 200K signatures gathered

By Suzette Hackney andMatt Helms/Detroit Free Press

A citizens group fighting to overturn the state’s emergency manager law announced this afternoon that they have enough signatures to have the question placed on the November general election ballot.

The group collected 203,238 valid voter signatures – more than 40,000 more than the 161,305 that were required, leaders of Stand Up for Democracy say a state official has reported. The group has been working to repeal Public Act 4, which gives Gov. Rick Snyder sweeping authority to appoint emergency managers to oversee troubled cities or school districts.

“This is an important step in the effort to stand up for democracy in Michigan,” Herb Sanders, director of the coalition, said in a press release today. “This report clearly shows that people across the state want the opportunity to vote to repeal the emergency manager dictator law. Now it is up to the State Board of Canvassers to honor the democratic process and let the people vote.”  Fred Woodhams, spokesman for Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, said today that the Bureau of Elections staff reviewed the signatures, selecting random signatures for verification, and will notify the Board of Canvassers that the petition group raised enough signatures to proceed.

“It's not an official determination,” Woodhams said, but the elections staff examination “found that there’s a sufficient number of valid signatures filed” for the issue to appear on the ballot.

While the number of signatures hasn’t been questioned, Woodhams said, the size of the type used on the petition forms was challenged as improper.

On Thursday the Michigan Board of Canvassers is expected to meet in Lansing to decide whether the petition will be placed on the November ballot.

“It’s entirely up to the Board of Canvassers” whether the font size issue is enough to stop the petition, Woodhams said.

On April 4, Detroit and the state entered into a consent agreement that gave state officials significant power to dictate the city’s financial future. Snyder and city officials said the agreement was put in place to avoid the appointment of an emergency manager. Detroit officials opted to call the pact a financial stability agreement in an effort to avoid any connection with, or adoption of, Public Act 4 language.

Terry Stanton, spokesman for state Treasurer Andy Dillon, said the governor and other state officials believe that even if Public Act 4 of 2011 is ultimately overturned, previous laws on the books would provide enough legal groundwork for much of the consent agreement to stand.

“The administration’s position has been and continues to be that if P.A. 4 is suspended then pending a statewide vote, Public Act 72 of 1990 would be revived,” Stanton said today, and that law gives the state and city many of the same powers to create a consent deal.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing's office said: “We understand there are outstanding issues in the certification of the petitions, but if Public Act 4 is successfully challenged, we'll simply follow the law as we have all along."

Stanton said Snyder’s staff also believes emergency managers appointed for cities including Pontiac and Flint and school districts in Detroit, Highland Park and Muskegon Heights also would stay in place without Public Act 4.

Greg Bowens, a spokesman for Stand Up for Democracy, the group that coordinated the signature gathering, said that, even before a formal decision is made on challenges to the petition, the group’s success at gathering more than 40,000 signatures above the minimum needed was a significant win.

“There were people who didn’t believe we would get enough signatures to begin with,” Bowens said. “It was an all-volunteer effort.”

Bowens said the group believes challenges to the petition, including wording and font size, will not lead to it being rejected Thursday. He said the group believes it is in substantial compliance with state requirements for petitions to be considered valid.

Bowens said Stand Up for Democracy, backed by groups including Michigan Forward, the NAACP, the Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice and labor unions, disagrees with the Snyder administration on what should happen if the issue wins approval by the state Board of Canvassers on Thursday.

“Once they vote to certify, the law is suspended, and emergency managers can no longer operate,” Bowens said. “For all intents and purpose they should cease and desist until the people have the right to vote on the law” in November.
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