BENTON HARBOR – Some Benton Harbor leaders say they've been fed up with the leadership of the city's state-appointed emergency financial manager. Now, the group is planning to do something about it.
"The jig is up and we're demanding all emergency managers in Michigan are removed," said Commissioner Marcus Muhammad.
They want Joseph Harris, their state-appointed emergency financial manager, gone.
"We're organizing to show the rest of Michigan and the country that our government doesn't believe in democracy," said Rev. Charles Williams with the National Action Network, Michigan.
While Harris is cleaning things up – helping the city out of a $4 million deficit, Muhammad said Harris has gone too far.
"There's been a lot of skullduggery," he said.
Harris took away their power and authority. Now, Muhammad said Harris silenced the airwaves.
96.5 FM, the city-owned low-powered radio station is off the air. Was it to save costs? Muhammad says it's political.
"For him not to like the content and censor and cut off legitimate voices – it's another feather in his cap that he is an enemy of democracy," said Muhammad.
Harris said that's not the case.
"A decision was made to discontinue operations December 31, 2011. I have not done anything considered political. I could not justify paying for a radio station."
Harris also said if we want to talk politics, we should ask Muhammad about his decision to not show up to a commissioner's meeting Tuesday – preventing a quorum.
"It was a personal decision," said Muhammad. "Everyone wants to adopt the Rodney King philosophy – everybody just get along and sweep the injustice under the rug. We're not going to be in cooperation with that."
State Representative Al Pscholka called out some of the commissioner's actions.
"A majority of city commissioners have chosen not to work on a transition plan, or bring a single idea forward to reform city government," he said. "Holding press conferences is easy, governing is more difficult, and it is time for city commissioners to present their plans for fiscal stability, not stomp their feet about the work we're forced to do on their behalf."
Statement from Rep. Al Pscholka
Rep. Al Pscholka released the following statement Wednesday in regards to the Fiscal Accountability Act:
"The Fiscal Accountability Act, or Public Act 4 was passed in March of 2011. Dozens of press conferences, rallies, and protests have been held, but Michigan residents need to look at the results. Budgets are being balanced, debt is being managed, shared services agreements are in place, local units have been restructured to deliver services. By any objective measure, the law is working. Waste and inefficiency are being rooted out, and local residents are being served, not special interests that helped create suffocating deficits and debt.
"Since the passage of the Act, our own Benton Harbor's outlook has gone from millions in the debt to a possible surplus. The measures we put in place helped the Gov. Granholm-appointed EM create solutions he wasn't previously able to, and implement real change.
"Locally, a majority of city commissioners have chosen not to work on a transition plan, or bring a single idea forward to reform city government. Many city residents have contacted my office asking how to prevent a “return to business as usual.” It is an appropriate question to ask of local commissioners – “Where is your plan?” “Is bankruptcy a better option?” “How will the city transition back to local control?” These are questions that need answers, and those that have decried the Act have failed to provide them.
"The Fiscal Accountability Act has proven to be an effective tool to restore financial responsibility and give local communities a chance at a brighter future. Some special interest groups don’t like it, and that’s unfortunate because personal responsibility, savings, and hard work are all values we all can agree on. Holding press conferences is easy, governing is more difficult, and it is time for city commissioners to present their plans for fiscal stability, not stomp their feet about the work we're forced to do on their behalf.
"Benton Harbor deserves better, Michigan taxpayers deserve better, and we're never going to turn things around for either until the rhetoric gives way to discussions about responsibility and results."