Conyers and Peters )
Washington — Two members of Congress who represent Detroit want the Government Accountability Office to investigate the emergency managers in Michigan as the state prepares to take over the city's finances.
U.S. Reps. John Conyers Jr., D-Detroit, and Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, sent a letter asking the accountability office to investigate how emergency managers throughout the state have managed federal money in the school districts and municipalities they have taken over. Bankruptcy attorney Kevyn Orr starts Monday as emergency manager in Detroit.
The letter asks the government's auditor to probe federally funded programs, including education, transportation, Medicaid and public safety. Three school districts, including Detroit, and six communities including Pontiac, Highland Park and Flint have emergency managers.
A new law that takes effect Thursday gives emergency managers more powers to manage financially distressed municipalities and school districts.
"We recognize that many Michigan jurisdictions face severe financial distress from a variety of interrelated budget and legal issues — including reductions in state-revenue sharing and limitations on city taxing authority — and that difficult financial choices must be made in difficult times," the letter said.
"It is difficult to identify a single instance where an emergency manager has succeeded in turning around the financial fortunes of a city or jurisdiction. The history of the emergency manager law in Michigan is replete with fiscal mismanagement and conflicts of interest," Conyers said. "In the absence of any sort of checks or balances at the state level, it is vital that the GAO examine the law and its impact, particularly the impact on federal funding."
The Snyder administration defended emergency managers, saying they are experts who help city leaders deal with financial crises under a 1990 law signed by Gov. James Blanchard, a Democrat.
"While there is no fear or opposition to having GAO involved, the financial managers are experts in this area, and there should be no doubt that they will ensure the appropriate management of federal funds," Snyder spokesman Kurt Weiss said in a Thursday email.
"There are numerous examples of how emergency managers can bring positive results, both under this administration and prior administrations. Schools in Detroit, Muskegon Heights and Highland Park have seen the benefit.We have seen very positive results in Ecorse and in Pontiac, and Flint is now moving in the right direction in getting their finances in order."
But Peters argued that emergency managers have failed.
"By focusing only on short-term budgetary patches, emergency managers have failed to address the long-term systemic issues confronting older urban areas," he said. "The consistent record of poor results we've seen from emergency managers is why I'm joining with Congressman John Conyers in calling for a GAO review."