Emergency Financial Managers In My Neighborhood

Boy, oh boy, I should have been discussing this all over my website, but I’ve been a very busy worker the past three weeks. As some of you are aware, particularly if you a) have a passing interest in politics, and b) are located in my neighborhood, quite a bit of excitement has been taking place in my neck of the woods. Namely the recently enacted emergency financial manager law.

If you’re not aware of what this is, I’ll give you a quick run down. The city of Benton Harbor has had it’s share of financial woes of late due to mismanagement, corruption, closing businesses, decreased tax receipts, etc. The problem goes deep, needless to say. If left to its devices, the city would likely have sought bankruptcy protection. In the past, to stave off such happenings, the state could appoint a financial manager to help steer the local government towards a sound fiscal future.

A recently enacted law gave that financial manager a great deal of power; the law also strips power from local officials, though this has been widely reported as the removal of elected officials. The governor’s office, in a document that originates from the ether: “Despite the misinformation being spread by the media and on the Internet, the legislation does not give
the governor the ability to remove elected officials at will. Claims that it does are simply not true. 1

And this last bit is what set off a nationwide storm of misinformed rhetoric, overblown generalizations, and many videos posted from Rachel Maddow, the Glenn Beck of the left.

I wholly support this law; from what I can tell the state has every right under its laws and constitution to do what it is doing. Cities are chartered or incorporated through the state government, and as a result are subservient to it. This philosophy was codified quite a long time ago and is essential to municipal law–it is known as Dillon’s Rule. Simply put, the rule gives local governments only the powers specifically granted to it, powers that are necessary to execute those that were granted, and those that are deemed essential.2 While this may sound a lot like Federalism under the American arrangement–with a federal government, and state governments subservient to it–it is not. Theoretically, the Federal government was given power by the states that ratified the constitution. State governments were not created by an act of any cities.

I’ve been told a number of things about my position on this issue, as has my wife. Namely that we’re crazy for holding such views. “How can you give up your rights and civil liberties?” I’m not giving up anything when my local officials have power because of a state act and the state takes that power away. One particularly onerous anarchist-libertarian seems to believe that I am supporting tyrannical acts of government to gain a little financial security. I’ll claim to be libertarian–of at least one flavor–but this individual goes beyond a decreased state role to seeing all acts as illegitimate.

There was a time when I could have written a much longer diatribe, but I’m burned out on this one. Less emotion wrapped up in defending myself when it looks like the law is on my side; I participated in a city government simulation when I was in High School, called Operation Bentley. The one fact I remember hearing was what I described above, that cities are chartered through the state. That one little fact has been the basis of my thinking here. So, there.

  1. EMF Fact Sheet. Accessed 4/26/2011. http://www.michigan.gov/documents/snyder/EMF_Fact_Sheet2_347889_7.pdf
  2. Dillon’s Rule. Accessed 4/26/2011. http://definitions.uslegal.com/d/dillons-rule/