House Democrats seek Judiciary hearing on EMs

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — House Democrats are requesting that the Judiciary Committee hold a hearing to examine the role of emergency managers in financially distressed cities in Michigan such as Flint and Detroit.

All 16 Democrats on the House Judiciary panel, led by Ranking Member John Conyers Jr. of Detroit, signed a letter to Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, asking for hearings “concerning the operation of the Michigan Emergency Manager Law and its role in the tragedies concerning the poisoning of Flint’s water and the dangerous deterioration of the Detroit Public Schools.”

The members referred to the decision to switch Flint from Lake Huron water to the Flint River in April 2014 under the direction of then-emergency manager Darnell Earley, appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder.

Prior to the switch, officials failed to ensure the river water would be properly treated to keep the service lines from leaching lead into the drinking water supply.

Earley was later assigned as emergency manager in charge of the Detroit school district, whose debt has since grown from $216 million to an anticipated $335 million by year’s end. Critics have also accused Earley of failing to address deteriorating buildings and school conditions.

“Given the broad powers they are afforded and the lack of oversight, it is no surprise that the emergency financial managers appointed by Gov. Snyder have so egregiously failed the citizens of Flint and Detroit,” the members wrote to Goodlatte, saying that under the Michigan law, residents can be denied a voice in decisions that affect their communities with potentially “dire consequences.”

“The Committee on the Judiciary has a long history of holding hearings on matters of grave legal and constitutional significance,” they continued. “Given the tragic consequences of Michigan’s emergency manager law for the citizens of Flint and Detroit, and the legal and constitutional questions such laws raise, we believe it is not only appropriate but necessary for the committee to review these issues.”

In addition to Conyers, the letter was signed by Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas; Jerrold Nadler and Hakeem Jeffries of New York; Zoe Lofgren, Judy Chu, Scott Peters and Karen Bass of California; Steven Cohen of Tennessee; Hank Johnson of Georgia; Pedro Pierluisi of Puerto Rico; Ted Deutch of Florida; Luis Gutierrez of Illinois; Cedric Richmond of Louisiana; Suzan DelBene of Washington; and David Cicilline of Rhode Island.

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