The Rev. Michael Andrew Owens (David Coates / The Detroit News)
Detroit — The city's most prominent religious group weighed in Tuesday against an emergency manager in Detroit as support mounted for a potential lawsuit against the state.
The Council of Baptist Pastors called the appointment of an emergency manager "anti-democratic" and blasted Mayor Dave Bing for not fighting harder against the state takeover.
Standing in front of more than 50 of the group's members, the Rev. Michael Andrew Owens said Snyder's move robs city residents of the opportunity to participate in the political process.
"We can ill afford to have Detroit be a success story for those hell-bent on our disenfranchisement through a disregard of home rule and the abolishment of voting rights," Owens said during the news conference at Bethel Baptist Church, East.
The group said it plans to join the Detroit Branch NAACP, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25, the UAW and others considering filing lawsuits in state and federal courts to block the emergency manager appointment in Detroit. The filing could come within a week, said John Philo, an attorney with the Sugar Law Center, a nonprofit group in Detroit that works for economic and social justice.
Philo said the group will likely challenge the constitutionality of Public Act 436, the state's emergency manager law that takes effect March 28, whichis "every bit as questionable as the prior act voters repealed."
Snyder appointed Kevyn Orr, a prominent restructuring expert and Washington, D.C., attorney, as the city's emergency manager last week. Snyder said he took that step because city leaders did not have a viable plan to turn around a city that has $14.9 billion in long-term liabilities and a $327 million budget deficit.
Orr is set to start his new position on Monday.
Owens said the group doesn't deny there's a financial emergency in Detroit and welcomes assistance from federal and state leaders. But he said the city should have been given more time to fulfill its consent agreement with the state.
"There is undeniably a state of emergency in the city of Detroit," said Owens, whose group includes about 100 pastors. "That (consent agreement) should have been given more time and sincere effort to prove itself a worthy compromise. We will not support a hostile takeover of Detroit by the state."
Greg Bowens, an AFSCME spokesman, said the union is supportive of a potential lawsuit, but he didn't have any specifics on when a filing could occur.
"AFSCME remains committed to the rights of workers in the workplace and the rights of citizens with the emergency manager law," Bowens said.
Wendell Anthony, Detroit branch president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, reiterated his opposition to any state involvement in city affairs in a statement released this weekend.
"Our right to elect public officials to represent our community should not be traded on the bargaining table of economic distress. For many this is a new poll tax," Anthony said.
Staff Writer Christine Ferretti contributed