State Supreme Court orders EM question on ballot

August 3, 2012
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In a ruling that is admittedly complicated, the bottom line is clear: The Michigan Supreme Court has decided that a proposed referendum on the state’s controversial emergency manager law should be placed before voters on the November ballot.

It is a ruling filled with split decisions on various aspects of the case involving the size of  letters on petitions backing the referendum. In the end, though, four of the seven justices —Mary Beth Kelly, Michael F. Cavanagh, Marilyn Kelly and Diane M. Hathaway — issued an order directing the state Board of Canvassers to place the controversial measure on the ballot.

The decision effectively opens up a couple of new cans of legal worms.

The union-backed Stand Up for Democracy coalition, which collected the signatures necessary to get the referendum before voters, has contended that once it did qualify for the ballot, what’s officially known as Public Act 4 would be put on hold at least until Election Day.

What does that mean for cities such as Flint, Benton Harbor and Pontiac, where emergency managers are in place? The same question applies to Detroit Public Schools, where emergency manager Roy Roberts is currently calling all the shots.

Even more complicated, says Detroit City Councilman Kenneth V. Cockrel Jr., is the question of how the court’s decision affects the status of the fiscal stability agreement with the state that the city is currently operating under.

One view, says Cockrel, is that what is essentially a consent agreement entered into by the mayor and approved by a majority of the City Council, will remain in effect. But it also could be argued that the agreement is actually the result of PA 4, and would not have been signed if the threat of having an emergency manager installed hadn’t been hanging over them.

So, does the consent agreement remain in effect?

Cockrel says he doesn’t have an answer to that question.

In all likelihood, the court fights surrounding these issues are far from over.