Many of the 2012 voters who decided to back the proposal repealing Public Act 4, Michigan’s emergency manager law, probably didn’t know that P.A. 4 wasn’t Michigan’s first effort to create a mechanism for rescuing a financially distressed local unit of government.

Passed in 2011, P.A. 4 replaced the old P.A. 72, which allowed the governor to send in an emergency manager but denied that manager any real powers to reverse the poor decisions that had led the city or school district into trouble in the first place. The new manager might have greater skill than the local officials — one would certainly hope so — but that wouldn’t do much good if local officials resisted the changes the manager proposed, which they usually did.

Critics of P.A. 4 understandably winced at the idea that locally elected officials could have their power yanked away by an outside manager sent by Lansing to change their spending priorities, tear up the contracts they had negotiated and otherwise change the entire fiscal trajectory of their cities. That was the conundrum for Gov. Rick Snyder, who needed a law with enough teeth to solve the problem, but couldn’t be going around sidelining local officials lightly.

P.A. 4 was harsh but necessary, given the complete inability and/or unwillingness of certain elected officials to make their city’s fiscal situation right. The campaign to repeal it via 2012’s Proposal 1 was dishonest and foolish. But it was successful, and P.A. 4 was gone.

Once it was gone, a lot of people accused the Legislature of “subverting the will of the people” by passing a new emergency law that restored many of P.A. 4’s old provisions, but added a new provision that would allow local officials the option of removing the emergency manager after 18 months, whether the governor liked it or not.

These were the conditions under which Kevyn Orr was appointed as Detroit’s emergency manager, and the 18-month provision came into play for the first time last week.

What we saw as a result is that the new law works.

During Orr’s first 18 months, he led Detroit into the bankruptcy that no one wanted, and that the City Council would surely have never pursued (nor allowed, if it had the power to stop it) but was absolutely necessary to resolve Detroit’s crushing debt, restructure its finances and give the city a fighting chance to not only survive but prosper in the future.

I figured when Orr was first appointed that he would have 18 months and not one day longer because a defiant City Council would boot him out at the earliest opportunity.

But that is not exactly what happened. Instead, the council took back its day-to-day responsibilities, but left Orr in place to finishing steering the city through what’s left of the bankruptcy process. However much they may not like it — and you know they don’t — they recognize Orr is a lot more qualified than they are to do this, and there’s no sense ousting him now and letting everything that’s been achieved thus far be put at risk.

The governor (who was also elected, you might recall) was able to intervene on behalf of the citizens of Detroit and send in a guy who could solve the problem, and the City Council was able to decide after 18 months whether — and if so, to what degree — to allow the situation to continue.

The system worked. Just as it needed to. Nice job, everyone.

Now we just have to pray that Detroit, once full autonomy is restored, doesn’t screw it up again.

Dan Calabrese writes for The Politics Blog.

Read more of his work at

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