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First legal challenges to emergency manager law

Photo of Robert Bobb, Former Emergency Manager at DPS
Sarah Hulett
Michigan Radio
Robert Bobb, Detroit Public Schools emergency financial manager, says the new emergency manager law has already helped him in his role.

The controversial emergency financial manager law gives broad powers to state-appointed officials who are brought in to help struggling cities and school districts.

It was signed into law last month by Governor Rick Snyder, now, as MPRN's Rick Pluta reports, two Detroit pension fund boards have filed a lawsuit challenging the state's emergency financial manager law. They say the law "illegally threatens contracts and collective bargaining agreements."

Under the law, emergency managers can strip power from locally elected officials and dissolve union contracts.

Pluta spoke with the emergency manager in charge of the Detroit Public Schools, Robert Bobb. He says these legal challenges won't help: 

"Because the legislation as it is is to kind of help escalate the resolution of problems and issues in localities and in school districts and any type of prolonged litigation does not really help advance what needs to be advanced to right the ship," says Bobb.

The Detroit News reports that the lawsuit was filed by Detroit's General Retirement System and the Police and Fire Retirement System:

The law "represents an imminent threat to the constitutional rights of plaintiffs and other members of the Detroit Retirement Systems," the funds' lawyer Ronald A. King wrote in the lawsuit.

Rick Pluta spoke with Howard Gordon, an attorney with the Michigan Public Employees union.

Gordon expects there will be more legal challenges, "I think certainly abrogating the right of the voters and all the voting rights laws that are around that, the right to contract – those are going to be looked at," says Gordon. "But it’s in such preliminary stages as to how we would focus any litigation even if it came up."

Sara Wurfel, a spokeswoman for Governor Rick Snyder, told the Detroit News that she believes the law will withstand the legal challenges:

"(We) fully believe in the constitutionality of the law, otherwise the governor wouldn't have signed it," Wurfel said. "The primary focus was on updating the law to help raise key, early warning indicators and ensure local units have the mechanisms and tools to better address locally and hopefully avoid an emergency manager altogether."

Mark Brush was the station's Digital Media Director. He succumbed to a year-long battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, in March 2018. He was 49 years old.
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