The Flint water crisis is a boondoggle of historic proportions. Multiple levels of our government failed the people of Flint – and the people of Michigan more broadly. Here’s the latest.
Though Flint has not been under a state-appointed emergency manager since April 2015, the state still exerts partial control over the city through a five-member Receivership Transition Advisory Board, whose members are appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder.
The board moved quickly to change the rules under which Flint is governed so that the city cannot file a lawsuit without first getting approval from that state-appointed board.
In other words, Flint cannot sue the state without getting the state to sign off on it first.
One of the things you learn quickly in civics class is that those who control the purse (the money) end up making the rules. You can make all the laws or programs you want, but without money to fund them, they’re not happening.
As part of the process for “returning local control” to a municipality as part of the Emergency Manager process, the Receivership Transition Advisory Board – a financial review board that oversees cities after the tenure of an emergency manager and must approve “major financial and policy decisions” – not only controls all the money, but as evidenced by today’s news, is more than willing to change the rules mid-game as they see fit.
Stacy Erwin Oakes, Flint’s chief legal officer, said to the AP that “the city cannot know” what motivated the board’s decision, but that “the timing of the amendment speaks for itself.”
Yes, Stacy, yes it did.
It’s why good governance – in the form of making sure budgets are balanced and cities in Michigan are self-sufficient – is key to keeping local control, a value that so many Michiganders say time and time again they hold dear.
The issues aren’t going to stop with Flint or Detroit. With cuts across the board for municipal revenue sharing – a move that has a taxpayer advocacy group suing the state for millions – it’s getting harder and harder for independent, self-governing cities to exist. More and more are struggling.
Due to continuing financial pressures, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to see multiple cities consolidate in the near future unless the Detroit region overall starts growing in population. Metro Detroit as a whole is staying roughly the same size population while most of the rest of the nation is growing. And while our population stays the same, costs continue to go up.
Recent service sharing agreements (a smart measure) have been helping ease budgets somewhat. But because the underlying structure of Michigan’s municipal finance system is broken, the effect is just kicking the can down the road. Auburnford? Watertiac? East Hazel Pointe? Oakfield? Southrop? Warren Heights? You don’t know them now, but you might at some point at this pace.
Detroit, Flint, and other cities may not have emergency managers anymore, but the state of Michigan and Governor Rick Snyder still has the de facto final say when it comes to overseeing Michigan’s cities. And this move shows they’re not afraid to use that power.