Monday, June 13, 2011

The Taking of Benton Harbor

It's been six months now since Rick Snyder tied himself to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy's purse strings, letting the largest right-wing think tank in the country aid him in becoming the puppet-governor of Michigan, my Michigan.  If my beautiful state has any claim to fame these days, it's in the streaming melodrama of a calculated, very public disintegration of the rights and liberties of its people.

  Michigan is under attack more relentlessly, more viciously than at any other time in our history and, hard as it is to imagine, the enemy invaders are all government officials.  It might well be called a dictatorship, but for the disturbing fact that the government leaders carrying out this coup were duly elected by a majority of voters last November.

These Republican "small government" devotees took office on January 1 and immediately began dismantling governmental policies and protections, many of which had been put in place long before the parents of these hoo-haws were even born.  As public officials, their not-so-hidden goal is to turn the power of the state over to private interests, and Big Bucks says now is the time.  They can and they will do it, or their name isn't Vast Right Wing Conspiracy.

Just last week Eclectablog's Chris Savage wrote about another Emergency Financial Manager takeover, this time in Pontiac, in order to privatize the water-treatment services and hand them over to a company already in trouble with the DOJ for violations of the Clean Water Act.

Michael Stampfler is Pontiac, Michigan's EFM. He has the dubious distinction of being the first Michigan EFM to use new powers granted by Michigan Republicans to cancel a union contract. What went nearly unnoticed was that last week, he dissolved the Pontiac Planning Commission and replaced it with a smaller number of his own hand-picked, unelected members. But he also did another thing. He made a contract for water treatment services with United Water Services permanent, outsourcing the water treatment to them and laying off city water treatment officials.

Much has been written and broadcast nationwide about the plight of Michigan.   Big Right Wing money is behind it with resources not yet tapped.  They're a part of an entire astro-turf movement to control state government in order to bypass or weaken Federal constitutional authority.  There are movements across the state wholly dedicated to stopping the take-over before it gets completely out of hand, but the passion for justice is no match for the power of money.  (Thanks to early reporting by Rachel Maddow, the beleaguered city of Benton Harbor has become the focal point for watchdogs.)

Early Benton Harbor 

To Benton Harbor, this attack, while more ferocious and having sharper teeth, is nothing new.  The town has been a target for decades.  It's ripe for the taking.  It is a desperately poor black town that would probably have gone unnoticed except for its one valuable asset:  Frontage on Lake Michigan, complete with gorgeous sandy beaches and the crown jewel, Jean Klock Park, donated to the city in 1917 "for the children", in perpetuity and now under threat of takeover by the Snyder gang.   The revised Emergency Financial Manager Act might have been written with Benton Harbor in mind.  It now has the power to disband elected governments in poor cities and replace them with an absolute ruler --which happened there almost before the ink was dry.

Two weeks ago they latched onto another way to take over those precious assets. They've fired the current Brownfield Redevelopment Authority members and replaced them with their own people.  (The Brownfield Authority looks at former plant properties and makes recommendations for usage based on things like...oh...environmental concerns.  In Benton Harbor's case that would include former Whirlpool properties in the planned luxury resort and golf course area.  Everything will work out okay.  Count on it.)

But if that's not bad enough, in that same Eclectablog piece linked above there's this from local radio station WSJM:

Benton Harbor Emergency Manager Joseph Harris has issued a couple of orders, apparently designed to reign in actions by the city commission not permitted by Michigan's EFM legislation. First, an order from Harris on Friday states that  "no City official, employee or agent shall appear, in an official capacity for or on behalf of the City, at any meeting or hearing of the City Commission or any of [the city commission's] committees without the express written approval of the Emergency Manager, except the City Clerk [who] shall be permitted to attend any City Commission meeting....for the sole purpose of keeping the meeting minutes."  It appears as though this new rule is intended to prevent any department heads or others from reporting to the city commission in an official way, which effectively shuts the elected leadership out of any informational discussions regarding city operations. Additionally, the order from Harris goes on to state that the city clerk must attach language to the minutes of all Benton Harbor Commission meetings stating that any resolution passed by the body has no legal effect.

  Notice the language in these proclamations.  No explanations, no excuses, no wiggle room.  It will be done!  This is something new in our state, in our country.  I'm expecting brown shirts and jackboots any day now.  What I never expected was that I would be writing a piece like this without a chance in hell of calling it fiction.

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