Q: Can you talk about yourself, your background, and how Michigan Forward got started?
A: Well Evan, I’m 30 years old, I am an entrepreneur, and I’ve always been politically active. Since college I’ve been very involved in the NAACP, student government, -you know, the stuff people who like politics do. I think you can cut me from that cloth. I graduated from Eastern in 2005 with my degree in Computer Information Systems and Labor Studies, which is an understudy of economics, labor economics. So when I was at Eastern, we engaged in a lot of fights, we engaged in a lot of policy discussions around education reform and retention, building better access for students to get engaged with their school’s administration, and really to have more soluble resolutions to the problems that every college that we saw was facing. African American males, retention at the time was like 25%. And I entered one of the largest incoming freshman classes across the country in the Class of 1999-2000. So you had an influx of people of color, working class people, coming to these universities, but they didn’t necessarily have the economic standing behind them to carry all the way through. And you see the economy starting to slip in early 2000s to 2004, and then you saw the immediate impact on students: “if my mom doesn’t have the money and my dad doesn’t have the money, then I got to work two, three, four jobs” You add that to the classes, maybe sixteen or eighteen credit hours -well shoot, where does school fit? We saw a lot of guys dropping out of school because of that, they couldn’t afford college, not because they didn’t have the mental capacity, just became too much of an expenditure and an economic liability. So we fought for that, but then clearly, the keystone part of that may have been the battle around affirmative action and diversity in the state, which really began to start for me in traveling down to city circuit court in Cincinnati, testifying and organizing students to speak up for access in the educational arena. I know you’re familiar with the court cases Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, and those court cases that ultimately led to the Supreme Court decision in 2003 that said that race needed to used as a very minutely, minimally or narrowly tailored focus regarding admissions and undergraduate and graduate administrations. So coming out of school and helping to organize a lot of students around those issues, I joined the One United Michigan Campaign [For defeating Proposal 2, an anti-affirmative action initiative] in 2005 as a community organizer. I worked there for eleven months, and it was a great campaign, but you kind of start to see that race is a factor, but it’s not the issue. It’s the economic impact on people of color when you close off access to economic opportunity, when you close off access to education overall. You get this very strange conversation when people say, “well, community college isn’t that bad” And that’s true, community college isn’t that bad, but if I have aspirations to go to the University of Michigan, I shouldn’t feel that I can’t apply because they only want ‘x’ amount of people of color. And one of the things that we wanted to continue to say with our campaign, was that, you open up the doors and let all of us compete, ok, but yes you have to take into account that race is a factor when you look at economic disparity, when you look at access to equitable education, when you look at the possibility of coming from a community that may not have all of the social safety nets and underpinnings that other communities may have. And I say that in reference to a story about two families, and this is referencing to a book called Whitewashing Race. -They say you got two families, both first time home buyers, one child, adults are married, both make a median income of around $50,000 together. One White, one Black. Now, more often than not, because of past discrimination and things of that nature, that African American family may be renting out the house that they’re living in and their income is going toward sustaining life, so 70% of their income, going toward house, gas, water, traveling back and forth to work, is being spent as soon as they make it. So they’re a paycheck away from being in economic turmoil. But the Caucasian family, more often than not, that home may have been gifted to them or passed on to them from a past generation. And it’s not about penalizing that Caucasian family, this about saying hold on, wait, we need to recognize that we have disenfranchised a whole community of Americans, a whole section of America for generations and centuries and because of that, their wealth, their assets that they can pass on to the next generation, is deficient. So how do we bridge that gap? It takes time to bridge that gap and that’s where I think our generation needs to spend some time to talk about that. Race isn’t an issue for myself, it’s not like I’m a big Black Panther dude, no, well my parents were because the times were different, you know, they were fighting for jobs, they were people who, if they didn’t come up north, they would be sharecropping. And if you are in any way familiar with what sharecropping looked like back in the 1930, 40s, 50s, even deep into the 60s, you know, you gave away 90% of what you made. The person who owned the land was the guy that dictated what the price was and how much you owed. So it was a total dictatorship even there, and that was an economic dictatorship. So you know, coming from that background, it helped me to really understand that working people in America deserve a fair share. Period. And as I’ve traveled across the state, especially with the issue of affirmative action, I can understand where a working class family Downriver shares the same concerns that a working class family in Detroit has, because we all work in the same economy. Unfortunately we lost that campaign in 2006, but we were able to galvanize 2.1 million voters just down here in the area, to say that yes, diversity does matter, yes, equality is important to us, and we can make strides to be better. Secondly, looking forward from 2006, I did quite a bit of contract work, doing data systems, you know this what I went to school to do, so I practiced my trade. I worked with a lot of small businesses, getting them up to speed. Then I landed a contract with the City of Detroit and the Detroit Workforce Development Department, with their pilot program to train displaced workers to enter into the healthcare field, you know, as LPNs, nurse’s assistants, all those types of things. Also, in 2008, I worked with the Advancement Project as their local advocate. In that position, we conducted research on voting practices in the state. We got in contact with a lot of election administrators and local clerks in the state about funding for elections and how elections were being funded. And we’ve seen over the last ten years, that the state of Michigan has continuously cut the budget for local clerks and their offices, and also for the administration of elections. Now it’s funny how technology encourages us to do more, but we’ve cut the budget to really build a better election system, one that encourages early voting so to say. Early voting ends that backlog and increases participation in local communities across the board- It doesn’t matter whether you’re from Detroit or you’re from Brighton- early voting helps, and same day registration helps too. So these were things we were pushing for, but at the time, we found that Michigan’s provisional balloting process actually encouraged people not to vote. We also found that over 7,000 voters that were purged from the Michigan voting rolls would end up being on the provisional ballot status, because they weren’t in the qualified voter file. So then you got 7,000 plus ballots that probably should’ve been cast, because people were illegally removed from the voter rolls. So after a lengthy lawsuit in 2010, we were able to win and get those names put back on the voter rolls, and they’ll be here until 2014. So that’s good and we can let the system kind of correct itself. Also in 2008 is when we chartered Michigan Forward as an organization, May 16th 2008, and Michigan Forward is to answer the call for urban communities to confront a gap as far as political and civic engagement here in the community. We elect guys and they go off to Lansing, from wherever the urban community may be, and they go there, and it’s like, “I’ll see you in two years.” I long for the day when I can have a job where I can be held accountable two years later. And we all know in our daily jobs, you’ve got to report to somebody when you leave from here, and that accountability really isn’t there. So our organization is to foster a better relationship between the state government and local communities, and local government and their communities, and to build civic engagement through consistent participation in the electoral process. So if it’s through a repeal like we’re doing now, or if it’s through town halls, you know where we actually hold discussions and conversations. We have a few programs to help us flesh out community concerns, one is Forward Conversations, that’s our town hall component, you can see we’ve had Forward Conversations events from 2009 and 2010, some of these posters here detail the content of those- [Posters are displayed in the office advertising discussion forums concerning issues such as, “Can Petroleum Go Green? August 2009” and “Breaking Barriers: The U.S. – Israel Relationship. October 2009”] And then late in 2010 we began a monthly policy meeting called “Building Debates,” -
Q: Ok, so when did Michigan Forward get involved in Emergency Manager issues, and Act 4?
A: Well, I served in the Detroit Public Schools transition team last year in 2010, and we did an analysis of the academics and the resources that the DPS had and what the district was doing. Unfortunately, because the committee was under emergency management, none of those suggestions were heard and we actually didn’t really complete a total package of what should’ve been done because our powers had pretty much been stripped. So through various court battles, we’ve been involved in this since last year. But when House Bill 4214 came about and that whole package of laws that were introduced in Lansing in February, we testified against those bills, we didn’t support those bills from the beginning and we felt that strengthening the Emergency Manager Law was a step in the wrong direction. “Reinventing Michigan” did not mean that we would insert dictators into local communities, that’s not reinventing Michigan, that’s taking away democracy away from the [26th] state in this union. And that’s the way we looked at it. After the bill passed on March 26th, on May [12th] we had a town hall in Pontiac, in conjunction with the Pontiac City Council, and we introduced two resolutions to them. One was a resolution asking them to support the repeal of Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law, Public Act 4, and the second was a resolution encouraging the City of Pontiac to redraw the vending lines for the City of Pontiac. The second resolution, the one that actually gave the City Council the power to bring in more small business vendors for events and encouraged the City Council to generate local revenue by having engagement with small businesses, that resolution still hasn’t been brought to the table- Why? Because they have an Emergency Manager with his thumb on the economic pulse of the city. But why would you not want to deregulate vending or at least turn vending over to the city council? You know, that still hasn’t been heard. So we’ve entered into this issue trying to bring solutions for local communities to generate revenue. We knew that after the state had decided to cut revenue sharing by a third –it wasn’t that the fact that money wasn’t there- it was the fact that the state that didn’t want to pay into local economies, and into those communities that actually power our state economy. So we saw this as not just being a power grab, but being an economic grab, a grab for dollars. Here at Michigan Forward, we feel that the State of Michigan really just needs to have a zero balance. What purpose does it serve for the state to operate in surplus if we wanted a smaller government? So I’m just asking for the logic of these people in Lansing, who say that everything they’re doing is logical, but they’re not looking at the impact economically, they’re not looking at the fact that city councils are the way that small businesses actually get engaged in bidding on projects. That’s how we fight for public dollars, that’s how we generate an economy that really is self-sustaining. If governments that take in tax dollars have the power to bid out projects, whether it’s for toilet paper or to build a new prison, they have power to handle those types of things. And when you remove a council as we saw in Pontiac- cause we really got engaged after the Pontiac Emergency Manager had locked out the city council, taken their pay, and cut the pay of the Mayor of Pontiac – we ask the question, “What does saving 100,000 some odd dollars do for the City of Pontiac facing a financial crisis in the millions?” It doesn’t do anything and it’s really a political tool. And we don’t see any emergency manager finding ways to generate revenues outside of cutting. As a younger generation looking for more reasonable solutions, we saw it as being egregious and unconstitutional. So we began to build our coalition: we held a press conference – May 16th – We had a press conference at the United Methodist Church here, with a coalition of grassroots organizations: Rainbow Push Michigan, Reject Emergency Managers of Traverse City, Ann Arbor Education Association, United Methodist, and a few other organizations. We decided we were going to stand up and work to repeal Public Act 4. Soon after we received the support of AFSCME Council 25, they said they were definitely looking at it from a collective bargaining standpoint, but they agreed with all the other caveats that we were bringing forth, the economic impact, the impact on public contracts overall, and the violation of due process and democracy –were all very valid points. That’s how we got going –June 18th we began the signature collection campaign. So we’re here now, six months later, with over 162,000 signatures in already, and we’re pushing toward our goal of a quarter million.
Q: So this started out with the Detroit Public Schools which was taken over , Pontiac which was taken over , can you discuss the differences between Act 4 and Act 72 that made Act 4 ‘over the line’?
A: Yeah, they made a lot of major changes from 72. Act 72 did not give an emergency manager power over the academics of school districts. And Public Act 72 was the “Emergency Financial Manager Law” and we had financial managers, and their role was to handle the finances of municipalities in fiscal distress. Public Act 4 is the “Emergency Manager Law”, there’s no more “financial” in it, so you got guys that receive a two hour training, that pay $150, they don’t necessarily have to have any kind of expertise in financial managers, maintaining school districts, education, urban planning, none of those things. They just need basic degree and then they can become an emergency manager. Well, hold on, wait- where is the expertise in finance that we really need for these situations and issues? Secondly, the triggers for emergency management became a lot more loose, they were deregulated so to say. There was a piece in the law that said that if Governor Snyder, the Treasurer, or the State Superintendent decides that there is a fiscal emergency, they can initiate the process without any person from the community weighing in. Public Act 72, you pretty much have to have a person from the community that’s being impacted speak up and say, “Hey, we want an emergency review.” But now you don’t need any of that. The Governor can just do it on his own whim. So that’s what makes it more of a takeover law than anything else. Thirdly, the emergency manager under Public Act 72 did not have the power to eliminate the pay of elected officials. They had to work with elected officials. Elected officials were the people that kept emergency managers accountable. So a lot of the brouhaha that we heard about DPS and Robert Bobb was because we had seven people on the school board who at least wanted to see some transparency and accountability in the process. That doesn’t have to happen anymore under Public Act 4. The first step that emergency managers have taken, you can look at Flint, you can look at Pontiac, you can look at Benton Harbor, you can look at Ecorse, the first step they have taken, especially under the new act, is to remove elected officials from office. They cut their pay; they strip all of their powers and leave them with the empty title –Why? Why remove all your barriers to open process and accountability to the community that you are appointed to serve? You know if you are doing such a great job, if you are doing this for the community, why would you cut their elected officials first? There is no answer to that. I long for the day when our state treasurer will really tell us why they’ve given so many powers to one person, but I don’t think we’ll get that conversation until after November, 2012.
Q: So you’re saying that emergency financial managers had more experience, --and worked with the locally elected officials-?
A: They had more accountability, a little more transparency. And Public Act 72 was not a perfect law at all, because once again you saw the fight between public dollars, between school board dollars and academics, and did how those things work together. We never really got a conversation about how do you help academics and school districts and the financial part come together under a situation of financial distress. And Public Act 4 doesn’t solve that at all, it just says, “Well, I don’t want any other input or any other conversation. No checks and balances! - I just want a check.”
Q: So you’re not saying that the State should get out completely of these communities in fiscal distress. Like you said last week on an interview you did on PBS [“Off the Record” WKAR-East Lansing, December 9, 2011] “Public Act 72 you actually had court battles, a lot of public interest and public input,” Then you said, “We would rather see a stronger treasurer to come in with specialists and to help our communities work through the financial problems that they have” So if you want a stronger treasurer on the state level, what powers should that state treasurer have over local communities?
A: I think the powers that the State Treasurer should have is, well first of all, the State Treasurer should open up a bureau to handle these types of instances. The treasurer should open up some type of other means and mechanisms out of his office to handle these types of things. Right now the person that’s in charge of righting the ship in these local communities created a half a billion dollar structural deficit in the City of Ann Arbor. His name is Mr. Fraser, the deputy treasurer, who’s in charge of appointing emergency managers and overseeing that entire process, created a deficit in Ann Arbor himself. What I would like to see is a Treasurers’ office that actually could really suit up with the proper employees with the capacity to oversee some of the purchasing agreements of these communities, to look at where some of these can be restructured, to look at the long-standing debt of these local communities – like the City of Detroit has a 10 billion dollar long term debt that we have to handle. We can’t do that by cutting jobs, we have to do that by generating revenue. And the Treasurer’s office is really hands off in all of this. They don’t have the staff to administer the oversight or accountability of the contracts being passed in the State of Michigan, not even the State of Michigan - but the City of Detroit by itself. And if we’re talking about leadership that may not have the background experience to look at some of these long standing contracts or larger sides of the debt, well, bring more people to the table that do, that can educate these local communities and elected officials on what the real situation is, and have a long term agreement and commitment to getting us out of these financial problems. We can’t do this in two years. This may take ten, fifteen years for Detroit to really handle this long term debt and these short term cash flow problems, so that’s a real commitment. What you normally get from the Treasurer’s office is a Deficit Elimination Plan, and if you don’t do the Deficit Elimination Plan, then the city’s in emergency management.
Q: Ok and is the consent agreement part?
A: No the consent agreement part is actually, from what’s been floated around, is a few different things, and I really try not to guess much about it, but there’s an option where, under Public Act 4, that the state can agree to let one person that’s already an elected official have the powers of an emergency manager. That’s still violating due process and violating democracy, you know, just to give somebody the superpowers over a city is not the way to go. Public Act 4 gives one person the powers of both the legislative and executive branches of government. That’s the problem. You can’t give one person both powers of government. We have to have checks and balances. We elect the city council to pass the budget, to make sure they don’t contract – and go over that budget, and it’s up to the mayor to help to execute that budget. Now, I agree, we’ve had leadership in a lot of these communities that’s made bad decisions. They’ve made bad decisions. But there’s process called democracy, and if we elect less than better officials, you can get them out through recall, or you can wait for the election process- let that happen. But in the meantime, you do need a more engaged community in the decisions that are being made on a day to day level and that’s what this organization is here for.
Q: So – a city is heading toward bankruptcy, it’s going to happen soon, what powers can the state have over that community? Can the state tell local elected officials what to do, besides a more long term agreement, can the state, you know invalidate contracts, tell the city what to do to get out of the crisis if the city’s not doing it?
A: You know, that’s a very interesting question, and one thing we want to make sure is that we maintain is the agreement set by the Headlee Amendment, which really bars the state from creating any additional burden on taxpayers, that you can’t double tax the taxpayers –yeah, unfunded mandates, correct-So I don’t think the state can come in, the state shouldn’t have absolute authority over local communities. I do think that what we’re looking for is the state to say ok, for one they’re anticipating a revenue surplus this year from incoming taxes, the state should put together some type of give-back program to those communities they got those tax dollars from, because the state does nothing on its own. You know, it’s kind of like a backwards conversation to say, “Hey, I want you to work for me, but I don’t want to give you any of the spoils of the work that you’ve done.” The state should first immediately look at how they will restore some of the cuts in revenue sharing. Right now the state is looking at over eighty municipalities that are approaching the red. Eighty municipalities! Last year the House Fiscal Agency and the Senate Fiscal Agency reported that over 150 school districts will be looking at a financial emergency in the next two years. We don’t have the capacity to insert over 230 dictators across the state. And also we won’t be able to pay. These guys can make up to $400,000 a year. That’s more than any of these elected officials that they replace, that’s more than half of the teachers that they are going to lay off… These guys make ten times more than a mechanic that’s facing layoffs in the city of Detroit. That’s ten times more! Roy Roberts makes $300,000 plus to manage DPS, but the teachers that he’s laying off make $36,000. There’s no equality in the process, so what we want to see done- we encourage some type of independent agency that works for the treasurer, works with the state, that works with local communities in identifying a road map to financial stability, that combines help from the state,- the fiscal and the intelligence from the state- and the expertise that we need to fix all of the communities across the state. Now Michigan Forward, we’re working on building a municipal reinvestment plan, a policy initiative that we think will solve the short term cash flow problems in a lot of these communities, and also help to sure up the needs for fire safety and other public services that these communities can’t pay. We realize that, like in the city of Detroit, you have roughly 35% of the people are trying to manage 100% of the city’s costs. That’s not going to work. We definitely encourage the corporate community to come back home, so to say, and just to pay the local taxes. We have some corporate entities in the city of Detroit that don’t pay their taxes annually. They use the city of Detroit as a tax write-off. That’s not fair when we look at our city lights being off, our city buses pretty much breaking down, and you leave that to what, 30% of the community, that’s facing more pay cuts from whomever they may work for? We’ve seen over the past two years wages have steadily declined, but since last October, the Consumer Price Index rose over two tenths of a percent. When are we going to fill the gap between decent wages to just live a decent life, live the American way of life? And it’s not only on the State to fix the crisis; it’s on the State to put Michigan back to work. Our problem is that we have too many hands idle in this state; we lost 867,000 jobs over a ten year period. So no matter what you do, the State can’t intervene, the State has to create jobs, they have to get people back to work.
Q What do you see for the future of Detroit if an emergency manager was appointed over the city?
A: I see 40% of the state’s water rates increase in the double digits. I see that happening. 40% of the state’s water rates going up in the double digits! I see the privatization of public transportation in the city of Detroit, I see the privatization of our lighting system, which, you know, it’s funny, we’ve actually invested millions of dollars for people in this state to build solar panels, but we can’t put those guys to work to figure out how to make our lighting system work for itself. I don’t foresee an emergency manager coming to Detroit. It would break my heart to see an emergency manager to come to Detroit. And if an emergency manager does come to Detroit I see the rest of the brain drain in this state, leave: the economic power and the future of Detroit, leave. If I have no vote, I have no self-determination. What’s keeping a guy like myself- an entrepreneur- you know, I have to create my own job because I was laid off too, so I had to create my own job to sustain my own life. It’s tough being here in the state of Michigan as an entrepreneur, as a small business owner, with a product and service that a lot of people don’t think they can pay for, -being an IT major, or a person who specializes in technology. In the state of Michigan there are thirteen people for every one job, we’ve got to create more jobs. We got to get people back to work.
Q: Mayor Bing has strongly voiced his opinion that State should keep out of Detroit. Do you approve of the way the Mayor has handled the situation? What would you like to see him do at this point?
A: I appreciate the mayor supporting democracy and supporting self-determination. I think that’s the first step he could of done, and probably the most important step. In other cities we haven’t seen that. We’ve seen a lot of mayors just wave the white flag of submission. I would like to see more cooperation from the mayor, the city council, labor, faith communities, to bring in the corporate community as well. I think the mayor has not done enough, he hasn’t called all parties to the table, he’s only called a few to the table. And that’s where I would be critical, you know, this is a citywide issue, this is a regional issue, and as the anchor of the region, he is the elected leadership, he is the CEO, and I would definitely like to see him do more to cast a wider net, and have an open discussion, an open frank discussion about the city’s financial problems, or just the city’s finances period. We can infight as long as we want, but I think now this issue has become far too politicized for us to really be reasonable, and to make any decent steps towards a sustainable city. Once again, I think there are nine out of ten people between the mayor and the city council, that don’t want to see an emergency manager, but you’ve got to have 100% cooperation. And the mayor’s cooperating, but there are some people in city council that want to see an emergency manager come in, and why else? As I said earlier this is a political tool. Why else would you want to see somebody come in and disenfranchise another 550,000 people? Why? Is this a ploy for 2012? You know in Pontiac we saw Louis Schimmel fire the city clerk a week before the election. Why? Why? That has nothing to do with the financial climate of the City of Pontiac. It doesn’t!
Q: Do you think that this is becoming a Detroit versus the State issue?
A: No. No, the entire state is standing up for democracy and the entire state believes in due process. And hundreds of thousands of voters have already voiced their opinion that we need to find a better course regarding our communities and our financial situation. The State is in debt, all of our communities are in debt, the nation is in debt, so if anything, we need to get our priorities set. And taking away democracy, and throwing out the principles on which our nation was founded upon, should be the last thing we’re looking at, but unfortunately it’s the first!
Q: Do you think Detroit should be treated differently than other cities in Michigan?
A: No because we’re all going through the same problem, the exact same problem. Our problem is magnified because we’re the largest voting population in the state. You know, you have the largest bloc of people in the state here in the city of Detroit, but it’s not a Detroit issue, it’s is a regional issue. And it saddens me so much to hear maybe like Politico say “Detroit’s got to pay up, Detroit’s got to own up to the situation” Well, listen, you know, this is a statewide problem. Like I said, eighty plus communities in the state are facing fiscal crisis, 150 school districts will be in the red by the end of 2012. In late 2009-early 2010, we rushed legislation through to apply a Race to the Top grant that was not fulfilled. That’s an unfunded mandate put on our school districts over two years ago, we haven’t looked a repealing any of those at all. Why not? That’s what’s really draining our school districts’ finances. But yet we raise the limit on charter schools? That does nothing to improve education standards in this state. Our state is backwards, you know?
Q: So you’ve collected 162,000 plus signatures. What are people saying that you’ve talked to, like on the street? Are people engaged in this? Are they angry, frustrated with the whole thing? What are they saying?
A: A lot of people say thank you first. They thank our volunteers for having the petitions, for asking them to sign. And there’s really not a lot of conversation. The message is that at the end of the day, democracy still matters, and no one should lose their vote because of an economic situation. Yes, we do have some people that say, “Well, it’s bad leadership in Detroit. We got to get rid of those leaders in Detroit!” Ok! But let the voters of Detroit do that. If you want to have a say on Detroit politics well come on and move down, we have plenty of houses. We have the housing! That’s not the problem! So I mean I think a lot of people would rather defer to appointed figures than own up to the solution, but that’s a very small minority, the majority of people that I encounter are happy to sign the petition, and they are going to take the petition back home with them.
Q: The amount of petitions you’ve collected, 162,000, that’s over the minimum [requirement] right now. That’s had a lot of impact and demonstrated power from this group in getting the attention of the state. Have you talked to the Governor or any state officials? Treasurer Dillon?
A: I don’t know how much attention we’ve really got, I have yet to speak with the Governor. No, actually last Tuesday, the Detroit branch of the NAACP, they have a monthly meeting called “Issues and Allies” where they bring community partners together to discuss political issues. Last Tuesday, the Deputy Treasurer, Mr. Roger Fraser, me and him, we were both to state our case about the issue. Unfortunately, the Deputy Treasurer canceled the day before and did not appear. So have we had any conversation with any state official, treasurer, state superintendant, or the Governor? No. But we do have a letter ready for the Governor to sit down and meet sometime soon. Then hopefully we can talk about solutions as well as repealing Public Act 4.
Q: So you would say to him-
A: Yeah, so I would say to the Governor- I would ask him to sign an executive order to repeal Public Act 4, at least freeze it before we have to use the ballot process. Secondly I would ask the Governor to provide $300 million in emergency funds in support of communities in financial distress. And we can discuss how communities can access those monies, we can discuss accountability measures over those funds, but that’s what we need. That’s what’s needed, not just for Detroit, but that’s what Flint needs, that’s what Traverse City needs, that’s what Benton Harbor will need, that’s what Grand Rapids will need, that’s what we all will need in the next ten months. I’m trying to be as progressive and proactive as possible in this situation.
Q: Have you had contact with local officials or Mayor Bing-?
A: Yeah, quite a bit. Many of those we’ve contacted with on the local level have come from the legislative branch. We’ve had contact with city council members in Flint, Pontiac, Detroit-clearly. We haven’t had a direct conversation with Mayor Bing, no, hopefully we can free up his schedule sometime to talk about next steps, and we definitely will welcome and enjoy that meeting.
Q: What do the next few weeks and months ahead look like for Michigan Forward as the State is expected to pass early next year a temporary Emergency Manager Law [In case Act 4 is frozen in the petition process], SB 865, what then?
A: Well, you know, Senate Bill 865 doesn’t solve the problem. I’d like to see that not passed. We actually encourage the Governor to veto that legislation. The next few months are very busy. We will continue to verify [signatures] and push to put Public Act 4 on the ballot for Michigan to decide. We’re glad the Governor Snyder made remarks yesterday down here in Detroit on Channel 4’s “Flash Point” with Devin Scillian [WDIV – Detroit, December 18, 2011] that he would like to see Michigan decide on Public Act 4. So with that, we don’t want to see any more changes, with stopgap legislation, or anything like that, coming from our State Legislature. We will continue to fight those things until the community has a change to decide on it. We will continue to introduce legislation to encourage regional transit and regional cooperation. We will continue to write our urban economic report, which is somewhat of our urban agenda, the things we think can work in Michigan’s core communities across the state and we’ll also more than likely be introducing our plan for sustaining Michigan communities through emergency funds of some nature, -and building up to legislation we will be researching a few things, I can’t say too much about it, but we’ll continue to push for a solution to our financial crisis, and ways to push Michigan forward.
Q: How are people outside of the Detroit area getting involved in this issue? What interest should communities like, you know, Auburn Hills, Bloomfield Hills, Grosse Pointe have in this? Why should they care?
A: If they care about their tax dollars, they care about what happens in Detroit. As I said earlier, the emergency manager spells an increase in all city services, all public services and, you know, the City of Rochester doesn’t have enough money to build their own water treatment facility. That’s the reason we have a $3.1 billion facility here to service 40% of the state’s water and sewage needs. We encourage people in communities all across the state to organize. It’s just that simple: get a petition, you can canvass a block, canvass your local community and educate them about this legislation and what it really means for the economic vitality of the state. It cripples it! It dissolves our economic power. That’s not what we need to do. We’ve been last [in the country] in economic generation, job creation for the last seven years. This doesn’t help us with that. So you know, they can follow the steps that Washtenaw has done, they can follow the steps that northern Oakland County has done, and they can follow the steps that western Wayne County –communities like Novi, Canton, Northfield, have already taken, that’s saying that we’re going to stand up and hold our elected officials accountable, we’re going to ask them the tough questions about why did you pass this legislation, and we’re going to get a petition to repeal the legislation. That’s what we encourage them to do.
Q: Overall what have you learned in the process - what do you see as your role, or Michigan Forward’s- in Detroit’s future?A: What I’ve learned in this process is that there are a lot of people you’ve got to get engaged, you’ve got to get a lot of people engaged. I’ve learned that democracy works and that we’re making democracy work right now. I anticipate that Michigan Forward will lead this process all the way through to the end, which would be the ballot vote in 2012. We will continue to remain proactive, as far as safeguarding our core communities from acts like this, but also to try to lead our communities toward more ways to generate revenue, to rebuild our populations, and to build a stronger economy. We felt the pinch from job loss, not just from being young people, but from our parents, you know, possibly being laid off, three, four, five years before they were due to retire. So we understand it from both levels and our role will continue to be to charter a course for a better Michigan, and we want to make sure our core communities are part of that conversation. We don’t have time to rebuild. Detroit works. Pontiac works. Grand Rapids works. Lansing works. And we want to see them work better and smarter.