Organizers of a drive to repeal Michigan's emergency manager law said Tuesday they have nearly half of their 250,000-signature goal.
They need 161,304 valid signatures to put the issue before voters. Organizers say they have 120,000 signatures, but want to get a cushion to account for invalid ones.
"The law is a power grab by Lansing," said Herb Sanders, an attorney and administrative director for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25. "To strip elected officials of their power is a slap in the face of democracy."
The law that set up procedures for emergency financial managers was passed 21 years ago and revamped in March to give emergency managers broad authority to help fiscally distressed communities and school districts revamp their finances. The managers can cancel union contracts and strip elected officials of decision-making authority to make that happen.
Emergency managers were in place in the cities of Benton Harbor, Pontiac and Ecorse and the Detroit Public Schools before the revamped law was enacted and now have expanded powers.
The managers have laid off employees, privatized services, cut wages and increased health care costs for employees.
The Oakland County Sheriff's Office now provides policing in Pontiac; the City of Ecorse cut its fire department by more than half and is privatizing EMS. Benton Harbor police and firefighters now cross-train to do each other's jobs, and a 10% wage cut has been proposed for DPS employees.
The state also is reviewing Highland Park schools to see whether an emergency manager should be named; requests for emergency managers from the cities of Allen Park and Jackson have been turned down by the state.
The deadline to turn in the petitions is in March. If the State Board of Canvassers certifies that the group -- the Stand Up for Democracy committee -- collected sufficient signatures, the law would be suspended until voters decide its fate on the ballot in November 2012.
Less clear is whether the former emergency financial manager law would go back into effect or both laws would be suspended.
"A lot of people are looking at this because of the potential mayhem," said Ari Adler, spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall.
The law also is being challenged in state courts.
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