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Board keeps Mich. emergency manager law off ballot

By Kathy Barks Hoffman
Associated Press / April 26, 2012
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LANSING, Mich.—A push to ask Michigan voters to decide the fate of the state's sweeping emergency managers law failed Thursday, as an elections board split along party lines when deciding whether to put the measure on November's ballot.

The State Board of Canvassers 2-2 vote means the measure doesn't get on the ballot and the seven managers already appointed to three public school districts and four cities will keep so-called "superpowers" that allow them to dismiss elected leaders and rip up union contracts to help balance budgets.

Elections Director Chris Thomas said the group supporting a repeal effort had submitted enough signatures to get the issue before the voters. But the board couldn't agree on the validity of a challenge to the measure from a group that said the petitions weren't legal because the heading was printed in a smaller type size than required.

Repeal supporters still may go to court to try to get the measure on the ballot this fall.

About 100 supporters of the measure stood and repeatedly shouted, "Shame!" at the board, pointing angry fingers after the vote. Several people went up to where the board was sitting and pointed fingers at Republican members Norm Shinkle and Jeff Timmer.

"We're tied by the letter of the law her, and that's how we have to vote," Timmer said.

In an effort aimed at getting the law repealed, the group Stand Up for Democracy turned in petitions in late February containing 225,885 signatures calling for the law to go before Michigan voters. At least 161,305 valid voter signatures were needed to make the ballot.

The group's attorney, Herb Sanders, said Thursday he plans to immediately file a lawsuit to get the issue before voters. Sanders said he's prepared to take the issue to federal court if Michigan courts keep it off the ballot.

The ballot push was highly supported by municipal unions in Detroit and other school systems and communities with emergency managers. Under the law, emergency managers have the power to bypass collective bargaining and restructure union contracts as an avenue to civic cost-cutting.

Emergency managers are in place in Detroit, Highland Park and Muskegon Heights public schools, and the cities of Benton Harbor, Flint, Pontiac and Ecorse.

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