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Rally in Benton Harbor against Emergency Manager's takeover

About 200 people attended a rally in Benton Harbor against Joe Harris, the city’s emergency financial manager. Joe Harris was appointed to take over the city’s troubled finances last year by Governor Jennifer Granholm.

Harris is the first Emergency Manager in Michigan to exercise broad new powers Governor Rick Snyder signed into law last month. The law gives emergency managers more power to fix financial problems in school districts, cities and villages. Three cities (Benton Harbor Ecorse and Pontiac) and Detroit Public Schools are run by emergency managers.

Harris issued an order "prohibiting all action by all city boards, commissions and authorities, except as authorized by the emergency manager."

Benton Harbor Mayor Wilce Cook says Harris’ order is unconstitutional. Cook says he’ll work to recall the state officials who passed the amended emergency financial manager law.

“We have an obligation; we have a duty to protect the citizens in this state from tyranny. The constitution grants us that. And we must follow the constitution even if they don’t.”

The City of Detroit’s Pension Boards have filed a lawsuit against Governor Snyder in federal court. They allege certain provisions, like those that would allow an emergency manager to break collective bargaining agreements, are unconstitutional.

“We are the people. We are the government. We elect representatives and send them to Lansing and to Washington to represent us. And if they do not represent us as we feel they should then we have a right to interfere and intervene and to take them out of office.”

Cook says he’ll help the campaign to recall Governor Snyder. He also vowed to recall State Senator Al Pscholka and other lawmakers who drafted the changes to the emergency manager law.

Bryan Joseph is one city commissioner who was not rallying against the power shift. He says city officials who were elected to run the city, haven’t been able to prove they can do it.

“They hate change you know, because they’re used to doing things a certain way. What you’re doing is not working. We need help.”

Benton Harbor’s Emergency Manager plans to unveil his plan to turn around the city to the community Thursday night.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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