Pontiac has an emergency manager, so how's that been going?
There's no democracy. Almost no employees. Everything has been privatized and sold off.
Fun question: Has every city in Michigan that's been subjected to an Emergency Manager under the new governor been a majority black city? Have all the EMs been white guys? Or does it just seem like it?
Unfettered by normal checks, balances and the pressures of getting re-elected, emergency managers here have overhauled labor contracts, sold off city assets and privatized nearly every service Pontiac once provided to citizens. Its police force has been outsourced to the county. Its Fire Department belongs to a nearby township. The city’s payroll, once numbering more than 600 workers, now amounts to about 50 public employees. Even parking meters have been sold. All this, and more cuts may be coming, all on the way to balancing the books.
“It’s not really a city anymore,” said Steve Swift, a Pontiac resident. “There’s nothing left now.”
Some say Pontiac’s sprint toward solvency is attracting new businesses, improving services, saving the city. But while supporters believe emergency managers, unencumbered by political infighting, are freed to make the tough decisions that local governments cannot make on their own, critics consider the entire notion of an outside manager anti-democratic, handing all-encompassing authority over the fate of a place to someone whose sole goal is to cut costs.
If anything, Pontiac’s path — a long, swerving course, of which the final results are not yet fully known — has shown that the effectiveness of an emergency manager may hinge most of all on the individual appointed.
“An emergency manager is like a man coming into your house,” said Donald Watkins, a city councilman. “He takes your checkbook, he takes your credit cards, he lives in your house and he sleeps in your bed with your wife.” Mr. Watkins added, “He tells you it’s still your house, but he doesn’t clean up, sells off everything and then he packs his bag and leaves.”
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An early deal that sold the Silverdome, once valued at $22 million, for only $583,000 helped forge a deep distrust of the outside managers. The city’s first two emergency managers each resigned after little more than a year.
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