Control freaking

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, or even a newspaper reporter, to figure out why Proposal 2, the Let Local Votes Count initiative, is on the November ballot. The proposition, if enacted, would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature for anything that intervenes, or increases the scope of its intervention, in the municipal concerns, property or government of a city, village, county or township.

City residents, and especially city officials, are pissed about what they call a power grab by the Michigan Legislature.

Nowhere is the anger more evident than in Detroit. In the past year or so the city had to fight off a state attempt to wrest control of the city’s water department. Some Detroiters took to the streets to protest the takeover of one of the largest school districts in the country. There was also a successful attempt to block the city’s ability to sue gun manufacturers for healthcare costs paid as a result of gunshot wounds.

The final blow came last winter when the state abolished requirements that municipal employees to live in the city where they work.

"The state is good for saying to the federal government, ‘Don’t mess with us,’ but they mess with local municipalities," says Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer’s spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski.

Though Zdrodowski denies that Archer is spearheading the Proposal 2 effort, Bill Ballenger, editor of "Inside Michigan Politics," is among those who see Archer’s hand prominently in the effort.

"The thing that really got him angry was the residency rule," says Ballenger.

Don Stypula, spokesperson for Let Local Votes Count, a coalition mostly made up of southeastern mayors, says city leaders are also up in arms over statewide building codes and the Right to Farm Act. Whether in Houghton or Hazel Park, which have drastically different winters, builders must follow the same guidelines, says Stypula. And the Right to Farm Act barred rural townships from preventing corporate hog farmers — and their stench — from moving next to family farms and residential areas.

Here are some of the other questions raised by the ballot proposal:

Residency: If passed, Proposal 2 is to take retroactive effect March 1, 2000. If the residency rule — passed in February and effective March 10 can be repealed by Proposal 2 is unclear. Stypula insists that the ballot language was crafted so that the residency rule could not be reinstated.

"I’m emphatic about that," he says. "Residency is gone. We are not going to repeal that."

"We strongly disagree with that conclusion," says Richard Studley, treasurer for Citizens for Common Sense Government which opposes Proposal 2. (Studley is also the Michigan Chamber of Commerce senior vice president of government relations, which also opposes the ballot initiative.) He contends the March 1 date was included so the residency rule could be reinstated.

Both Robert Sedler, constitutional law professor at Wayne State University, and Roderick Hills, a University of Michigan professor of constitutional and local government law, agree that the March 1 date may overturn residency.

Flurry of suits: The two legal scholars are doubtful of another contention of Proposal 2 opponents: that it will result in, hundreds of lawsuits alleging that state government is "intervening" in local affairs.

The opponents of Proposal 2 say the very definition of the word "intervene" in the proposed law would generate court conflicts.

Sedler and Hills both say that lawsuits are filed every day against the state — and cities — by citizens challenging the authority of government bodies. Proposal 2 won’t affect that either way.

Winners and losers: What Sedler and Hills don’t agree on is if Proposal 2 should become law.

Sedler argues that the state Constitution has evolved to allow cities broad self-governing authority. But special interest groups, particularly in recent years, have persuaded the Legislature to meddle, as in the case with the residency rule which was long an issue with police unions. Sedler says Proposal 2, by requiring two-thirds vote, would better insulate local governments from this meddling. "It would stop businesses and special interests from going to the Legislature and saying Detroit did something we didn’t like and we want you to reverse it," he says.

Hills has a different take: "I am entirely in favor of home rule and I believe that home rule makes sense, but this (proposal) language is uniquely insane."

According to Hill, cities and villages are primarily self-governed through charters which citizens can amend.

But legislative acts grant counties and townships the ability to function. And counties and townships — individually and collectively — routinely turn to the Legislature to amend or expand their powers.

Counties and townships tend to see the need for two-thirds votes as an imposition where cities see it as protection. Regardless of hog farm stench, the Michigan Townships Association opposes Proposal 2 along with the Michigan Association of Counties.

"When we’re talking about two-thirds vote on anything that intervenes on local authority, for us it cuts both ways in giving us authority and taking it away," says Patricia McAvoy, Michigan Townships Associations legislative affairs director.

Revenge: And if Proposal 2 passes (though polls so far suggest it won’t), you can bet the battle for local control won’t be over.

For one thing, there’s House Bill 6043 that state representative Robert Gosselin, R-Troy, intends to push if Proposal 2 passes. It would require a two-thirds vote by city councils across the state on any ordinances or charter amendments or ordinances they wanted to adopt.

"If Prop. 2 passes, we’ll have this waiting," says Gosselin. Ann Mullen is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail [email protected]

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