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 Detroit'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 have financially managed 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 the operation of 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.
The letter said Conyers and Peters recognize difficult financial choices must be made by cities and school districts with limited taxing authority and reduced state revenue sharing.
"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 said it has "no fear or opposition" to a GAO study. It defended emergency managers as experts who help in financial crises and properly manage federal money.
"There are numerous examples of how emergency managers can bring positive results, both under this administration and prior administrations," Snyder spokesman Kurt Weiss said in an email Thursday. "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 said emergency managers have a troubled record.
"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."