DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed 13 Freedom of Information Act requests today seeking records regarding the emergency financial manager law passed last month. The requests were sent to the state superintendent, treasury department, bill sponsors, Detroit Public Schools and several cities that currently employ emergency financial managers.

“According to news reports, an estimated 40 school districts or charter schools are in deficit and another 150 are in danger of going into deficit. Over 100 local governments are potentially in a state of 'fiscal watch' or 'fiscal stress,'” observed Kary L. Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director. “This legislation was passed with little public discussion, yet the implications for the state are potentially enormous. Our elected officials have painted the issue with broad brush strokes and these FOIA requests seek the details.” 

On March 16, Governor Rick Snyder signed the legislation into law giving broad new powers to emergency financial managers appointed by the state of Michigan to run struggling cities and schools, including the ability to terminate union contracts and strip power from locally elected officials.

Today’s FOIA requests seek to understand the intent of the law, the scope of authority and oversight, the implications for cities and school districts that currently employ financial managers and the involvement of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in drafting the legislation.

Specifically, the ACLU of Michigan requested the following information:

The Michigan Department of Treasury was asked to provide detailed information on the list of current emergency financial managers, including the basis for selection and their professional experience.

In addition, the Department of Treasury was asked for materials related to their supervision and trainings, including a schedule of past and future training sessions. The Department of Treasury was also asked for information related to contracts and compensation and any correspondence between emergency financial managers and the department since September 2010.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael Flanagan was asked for similar information and was additionally asked to produce materials that discuss the level of financial stress experienced by any school district in Michigan.

State appointed emergency financial managers in 3 cities – Ecorse, Pontiac and Benton Harbor – were asked for materials related to their scope of work and authority. Although they were appointed long before the law passed, the sweeping changes will apply retroactively.

In addition, the ACLU requested information from the Detroit Board of Education and the Michigan Department of Education regarding Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb’s plan to close schools and increase class sizes in Detroit, which will have a detrimental effect on the quality of education.

Legislators who sponsored the bills were asked for materials regarding the drafting of the legislation, influence of lobbyists and private entities and contacts with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Each FOIA request also sought information about communications with any member of the Executive Branch, including with Governor Snyder’s office.