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If Michigan takes over Detroit, does that save the city?

Waiting to vote in Detroit, November 2012.
Waiting to vote in Detroit, November 2012.American Federation of Teachers/Flickr

The perpetually broke city of Detroit is on the verge of a state takeover. Today, the Detroit Free Press calls for Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to go ahead and appoint an emergency manager:

[T]he prospect of an emergency manager carries its own set of fears. No one is quite sure what Detroit, post-EM, would look like. Will already-inadequate city services be further cut? What would it mean for quality of life, for public safety, for blight enforcement or garbage pickup?

Detroiters who support the idea of an emergency manager do it because they believe, or want to believe, that life after an EM would be better. That the city's problems are fixable, and that this process could lead to a better Detroit and a better life.

So, do it.

It's not for me to say whether an emergency manager would save Detroit. It seems worth noting that with one exception, having the Michigan state government take over your town or school district and sideline the local elected officials has not yet led to halcyon outcomes. Ask Muskegon Heights, where an emergency manager took over the school district and now they're dealing with uncertified teachers. Ask Pontiac, where a judge the other day said the emergency manager's decision-making "looks like a dictatorship." Ask the Detroit school district, where they've had an emergency manager since 2009 and the schools are still a mess.

In Flint, the mayor said yesterday that it's time for the emergency manager to go, and the emergency manager says he's not so sure the city is financially ready for that. The future of Flint "must be decided in a democratic fashion," the mayor said. "It really only matters what the governor thinks," said the emergency manager.

If you look at the list of places that Michigan has taken over, you'll notice a couple of patterns. First, they tend to be heavily minority. Second, they're places that have been failing for a long, long time. The situation in any given failed town or school district is bad; the situation is bad in many, many Michigan towns, as it is throughout the Rust Belt. So far, installing an emergency manager with unilateral control has not been the fix.

(Image: Lining up last year in Detroit to take part in democracy. Photo: American Federation of Teachers/Flickr.)