MI Governor Rick Snyder wants to meddle in Benton Harbor, but has no plan to fix the city
The debate in the emerging “emergency financial manager” syndrome under new Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has been about the right to autonomy over failing cities vs. the loss of democracy. But the unasked question is what happens if this works and how will we determine when this doesn’t work.
I will stand up now and declare that perhaps I am too close to Benton Harbor, Michigan to be considered a unbiased expert. I grew up in the area and have written about the area several times over the years. However, because I am as familiar with the city, unlike most outside people, I bring inside knowledge to the debate.
And I will toss Gov. Snyder a bone and assume that Joseph Harris has what it takes to save Benton Harbor. Harris will get manufacturers to settle within the city limits and get the jobs flowing toward the northern banks of the St. Joseph River. Oh, and Harris will improve test scores in the schools, cut down on dropouts, and of course, reduce drug use and dealing in the streets.
Abandoned houses will be bulldozed, grass will be cut, and parks will be rehabilitated.
What? Joseph Harris will do none of these things? Then how will he save Benton Harbor?
Benton Harbor has had the short end of the stick, even in a state such as Michigan, for 2-3 generations. The idea that one person can come in and save this city would be Superman-ish. The problem isn’t that Joseph Harris is brought in to “save” BH; the problem is that the goal isn’t to save BH.
Harris isn’t there to improve the long-term economic growth of the city. He may do some flashy things, and probably screw over the city on a controversial golf course involving a swap for city land. But when Snyder gets tired or bored about being tough, Harris will leave and the city will still need help.
As Stephen Colbert has noted, Harris has talked about combining the police and fire departments. Yes, this is what has been wrong with a city where the official unemployment rate for African-American men in the city has hovered around 40%.
What does Gov. Snyder want Harris to do with Benton Harbor? How much would Harris need to do before Snyder proclaims, “Mission Accomplished”?
Whatever miracles Harris will do won’t take long. Harris said he could be finished with his job in the city as early as next year.
The governor was the grand marshal at the Blossomtime Parade last Saturday. This parade is the harmonious meeting of the mostly white St. Joseph and the mostly black Benton Harbor. Not surprisingly, the governor was met with boos and protesters.
The people of Benton Harbor would like to live in a better city. Even if the people in the surrounding area often make fun of Benton Harbor’s plight, they would like Benton Harbor to be in better shape.
Unfortunately, the two people who don’t want the city to be in better shape are Rick Snyder and Joseph Harris.
Snyder would be considered a genius, both in Michigan and nationally, if he could fix Benton Harbor. Harris could be king of Benton Harbor, well, okay, right now, he is king, but this time, king in a good way.
But Gov. Snyder’s plan to fix Benton Harbor is…. Oh, yeah, there is no plan. And Harris doesn’t have a plan, either.
State officials of both major parties haven’t done a whole lot to help Benton Harbor. National politicians haven’t done a whole lot to help. Benton Harbor has suffered enough over the years to be a pawn in a political chess game. For all the audacity of risking democracy, you better have a serious plan. And Snyder’s plan is as much empty as it is outrageous.
Curing desperate situations requires well-thought out plans that happen over a period. Putting down a “king” into a desperate situation and having him stay less than a year — the people of Benton Harbor, the Twin Cities, and all of Michigan deserve a lot better.
And if this is a ruse to bust unions, as one might suspect from a Midwestern governor, Benton Harbor (nor anyone else) can be “fixed” that way. Hopefully, Snyder and Harris will be judged by what they do in Benton Harbor once the people again have the right to vote.