Farley proposes long-term fix to MI’s flawed emergency management system

February 8, 2016

In a February 5 guest column for Bridge Magazine, a publication of The Center for Michigan, Reynolds Farley discusses Michigan’s controversial emergency management system and proposes solutions to help underfunded localities.

Farley's commentary, "EM law had unintended racial consequences in Flint and Detroit," points out the racial disparities in Michigan cities under emergency management and revisits the economic conditions facing cities with substantial African-American populations after the decline of the manufacturing sector and the advent of the Great Recession.

“The emergency manager law may have been a racially neutral way to address crucial problems of municipal and school district insolvency, but its consequences were foreseeable and certainly not neutral with regard to race,” says Farley. "Policies are needed that will prevent municipalities and school districts from needing emergency managers in the first place." 

Farley suggests that Michigan should consider enacting a millage on all property, and allocate the funds to local governments based on population and other criteria. He also says that the state legislature should reduce the number of local governments and districts; Michigan, with 900 school districts, has the third-largest system in the nation.

“Implementing such a system would reduce the likelihood that places with a concentration of low-income individuals run out of funds and need emergency managers,” he says. “Certainly we have the wisdom to develop a more equitable system for supporting local governments so as to prevent the fiscal catastrophes that disproportionately compromised the quality of life in Flint, Detroit and other communities with numerous minority residents.”

Reynolds Farley, the Otis Dudley Duncan Professor Emeritus of Sociology, teaches "The History and Future of Detroit" at the Ford School. Farley's research interests concern population trends in the United States focusing on racial differences, ethnicity, and urban structure. His current work focuses on the revitalization of Rust Belt metropolises.