May 4, 2012
The partisan battle over Michigan’s year-old law that empowers the Governor to appoint emergency “czars” with sweeping authority to overrule elected officials in financially troubled cities or school districts, including the ability to overturn local laws and nullify collective bargaining agreements, will land in the state’s courts soon, thanks to a tie vote last week by the Board of State Canvassers. The issue before the Board was the validity of a citizen petition, signed by more than 200,000 Michiganders, to put a measure repealing Public Act 4 of 2011 (PA 4) on the November ballot.
No one doubted that the group Stand Up for Democracy had collected enough petition signatures, as only 161,000 were needed, but the group Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility challenged the form of the petitions, saying the font size on the heading was smaller than 14-point type, which it argued is required by state law.
Although Bureau of Elections Director Chris Thomas told the Board that their task was to determine whether the petition format was in “substantial compliance” with state law, John Pirich, an attorney for Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, contended that strict conformity was required. After hours of testimony, including by expert printers on both sides, Democrats Julie Matuzak and James Waters voted to approve the petitions, while Republicans Norm Shinkle and Jeffrey Timmer voted against, and failing to get a majority, the petitions were invalidated.
Herb Sanders, a Detroit lawyer who testified in favor of the substantial compliance standard on behalf of Stand Up for Democracy, said the decision will be appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals. “I’m confident that the law is favorable for us,” he said. Republican Shinkle, however, blamed Stand Up for Democracy for not getting pre-approval of the document: “The petition was defective.”