BENTON HARBOR — In another attempt to take back control of their city, some Benton Harbor City Commissioners have declared an administrative state of emergency. They passed a resolution Monday giving full administrative authority to the mayor. But, it may never take effect.
If some Benton Harbor City Commissioners had it their way, Joseph Harris, the state-appointed emergency financial manager, would be gone.
"It is just Joseph Harris has some kind of complex that he is more ready to dismantle the entire city than balance the budget," says Commissioner Duane Seats.
Harris was sent to Benton Harbor to balance the city's $1.8 million budget deficit. According to Michigan's Public Act 72, the state can intervene in units of local government because of serious financial problems or financial emergencies.
But some commissioners and the mayor have been outspoken about their disapproval of his decisions. Monday, in a 5-to-4 vote, they passed a resolution declaring an administrative state of emergency.
"The main problem is, he is overstepping his boundaries," says Seats.
The five-page resolution "conveys full administrative authority" to the mayor and lists ways the commission members feel Harris has wronged them. They call him "arrogant," "insensitive" and "a dictator." The resolution accuses Harris of not providing reports or information to the commission. It even goes as far as saying, Harris "refuses to meet with duly elected black elected officials in Benton Harbor."
"Some (of the allegations) are mean and untrue," says Harris. "Does it anger me? No. Does it surprise me? No. I know that they are willing, or certain commissioners are willing, to do whatever it takes to get Joe Harris out of town."
Harris says this resolution doesn't change his plans.
"The EFM (Emergency Financial Manager) has the power to hire, fire, promote, demote and I have got the check book. The mayor doesn't have the check book. I don't know how he is going to pull this off," says Harris.
And, Commissioner Bryan Joseph, who did not vote in favor of the resolution, says it is a complete waste of time.
"From my perspective it is grandstanding, posturing, and one-ups-manship by the commission versus us all coming together working and supporting Mr. Harris to remedy the financial problems in Benton Harbor," says Joseph.
Joseph says the claim that Harris doesn't "work with the commission" is incorrect. Joseph says he has been at every meeting Harris has held.
"The commissioners come to the meeting. They bash him. They verbally abuse the guy and then they get up and they leave because they don't want to hear what he has to say," says Joseph.
Mayor Wilce Cooke and Commissioners Seats, Marcus Muhammad, David Shaw and Eddie Marshall voted in favor of the resolution. Commissioners Joseph, Juanita Henry, James Hightower and Dennis Knowles voted against it.
A Michigan Department of Treasury spokesman says this resolution has "no impact on Mr. Harris' status as EFM" in Benton Harbor.
According to the state's website, an EFM has the authority do nearly everything it takes to run a city except impose new taxes and change existing labor contracts without negotiation. And, according to the website, the EFM must "consult" with the local unit of government but the EFM does not need its approval.