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In Michigan, the price of autocracy

Benton Harbor, Michigan, is getting some new outdoor sculpture. It's part of the Krasl Arts Center's 2012 Biennial Sculpture Invitational, and the guy in charge of Benton Harbor says it's OK for the sculpture to come on in.

The manager's approval matters, because he stripped the local elected officials of their power last year. Now, when the city commission needs a new mayor pro tem, he has to sign an order to make that happen. When the city commission proclaims Constitution Week, he cancels it, because the city commission hasn't got even that level of ceremonial power anymore. And when the local arts organizations want to hold a sculpture exhibit, he has to sign the order (pdf) saying yes, citing the "financial emergency" that gives him complete control.

There's a price to pay for this kind of governance. Back in October, when it looked like Benton Harbor might be getting its democracy back soon -- it's not -- Chris Savage of Eclectablog wrote:

Nothing has been done to reduce poverty. Nothing has been done to help Benton Harbor citizens to become more politically-engaged, educated or prepared to lead or even select good leaders. The systemic problems of poverty and education will continue to plague this community and there’s no reason to believe that the city won’t be right back in the same place several years from now.

And you could say that's just a Democratic activist and liberal blogger talking, but today he posts word that the former emergency manager of Pontiac, Michigan, is making essentially the same argument.

Michael Stampfler says:

"I do not believe EMs can be successful -- they abrogate the civic structure of the community for a period of years then return it virtually dismantled for the community to attempt to somehow make a go of it. The program provides no structure for long term recovery, and that is why most communities slide back into trouble, if they experience any relief at all -- a vicious cycle. The Public Act is not sufficient and the state bureaucracy isn't up to a performance offering any significant success -- as can be noted from the communities repeating."

We've been wrestling with the question of what's going on in Michigan, from how the legislature is passing laws to conflicts of interest at a key elections board (Republican and Democratic.) Whatever's going on in Michigan, it does seem like the usual way is not working so great anymore.

(Image: New Territory Arts)