Letter: The costs of suspended democracy

The recent crimes against public health in Flint, where people were forced to drink contaminated water so Gov. Rick Snyder’s emergency managers could save money, should prompt a serious reassessment of the costs of suspending local democracy and a system of checks and balances in the name of austerity.

The state uses emergency managers to take over local governments, to direct both Detroit’s municipal bankruptcy and the ill-fated decision to draw chemically fouled water from the Flint River. In response to the Flint Water Crisis, Eric Scorsone, a popular emergency management expert at Michigan State University, admitted “there’s greater risk under an emergency manager that decisions could be taken that sacrifice other important considerations to the bottom line.”

But in virtually the next breath he said, “I think it’s more about government leaders in general have to be careful when we’re in a cost-cutting mode …you have to pay the bills, but you also have to ask yourself how far can you go before you start to endanger public health.”

When officials routinely make decisions by asking, “how far can you go before you start to endanger public health,” they admit their own moral bankruptcy.

Protecting people and our environment should begin with the question of how do we improve the lives of our people, how do we ensure our natural resources for the future? The standard of how much can we cut before we destroy is obscene. Protecting the Great Lakes and the people who depend on them begins with the precautionary principle to avoid harm. Snyder and his EMs have substituted a recklessness principle: serve the bottom line even if it harms those they are elected to serve.

Moreover, in the case of former Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley, doing harm has done no harm to his work record as far as Snyder is concerned. Earley, after refusing to acknowledge what everyone could see floating in Flint drinking water, is now the EM for the Detroit Public Schools.

Earley, who had sole, unchecked power in Flint, said the water poisoning was not his fault. In a truly remarkable statement, Earley denied that he as EM had ultimate authority and final say over all city operations. In reality, Snyder appoints EMs to usurp all elected officials in a given jurisdiction. Appointing an emergency manager is an extreme expression of bad faith in voters and the democratic process, an expression that Snyder has used primarily on African-American and Latino voters and communities across Michigan.

The fact that Earley is still in charge of DPS is all anyone needs to know about the state of Michigan’s racist abuses. Blaming “staff,” “Mayor Walling,” “the media,” “rhetoric” and anyone and everyone else is merely a ploy so that Earley doesn’t have to take responsibility for the evil policy he implemented and Snyder supported. If the latest attempts to salvage DPS after two decades of destructive state takeovers are to have any credibility whatsoever, the first step is clear — Earley must go.

Maureen Taylor

Michigan Welfare Rights Organization