Detroit Residents Must be Allowed to Hold the Emergency Manager Accountable, ACLU Tells Governor Snyder

April 24, 2014

DETROIT– In a letter today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan urged Governor Rick Snyder to ensure transparency and implement methods for the public to hold emergency managers accountable for their decisions.

The ACLU of Michigan specifically cites the hazards of a contract signed by Detroit’s Emergency Manager with The Manhattan Institute (TMI), the principal architect of New York’s unconstitutional stop and frisk program. The contract was vetted and signed by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr apparently without public input or oversight.

According to the ACLU of Michigan’s letter, TMI proposed action that would stoke racial tensions between black residents and Chaldean store owners in Detroit as a means to prevent crime in the city’s gas stations. While the $600,000 contract has since expired, the ACLU of Michigan learned – following months of interviews with residents, TMI personnel and FOIA requests -- of the details of the work proposed in Detroit over the course of the contract.

“Detroit can’t legally and financially afford The Manhattan Institute’s discredited advice. This situation perfectly illustrates the way in which our state’s brand of emergency management stifles the healthy public debates and disagreement that flow from democracy,” said Mark P. Fancher, ACLU of Michigan. ”An open process could have helped the city save more than half a million dollars wasted on divisive proposals from TMI. Since the public can’t hold the emergency manager accountable, the Governor must intervene and act to ensure they have a voice.”

Last spring, as the City was on the verge of financial collapse, Emergency Manager Orr entered into an agreement with TMI to assist the Detroit Police Department for six months -- June 1, 2013 until October 31, 2013 – on the development of projects concerning community policing, traffic control, command accountability and other matters.

In the name of improving law enforcement and quality of life, TMI Vice-President Michael Allegretti and his colleague George Kelling suggested to residents of certain neighborhoods that the root of much of the crime in the community was dirty gas stations and they recommended putting gas station owners on notice to clean up their businesses or else their homes and/or communities would become the sites of pickets and demonstrations.

Allegretti, during a conversation with the ACLU, confirmed the recommendation and characterized this as the “stick” approach. Allegretti also confirmed that the recommendation did not resonate with community members and it was ultimately not implemented.

According to the ACLU’s letter, “The TMI recommendation was imprudent and potentially dangerous because there are, and have been, widely acknowledged long-standing tensions between African American and Chaldean American communities in Detroit.

It is possible that TMI had the best of intentions, but its suggestion that residents of predominantly black neighborhoods travel to other municipalities to stage confrontational pickets near the homes of Chaldean gas station owners demonstrates ignorance, extremely bad judgment, or both.”

Furthermore, the ACLU wrote that additional oversight of the contract through the democratic process could have allowed the public to ask necessary questions and raise concerns regarding how their tax dollars would be used. In addition to asking Governor Snyder to ensure transparency and implement avenues for the public to hold emergency managers accountable, the ACLU of Michigan urged the police department to consult with residents of neighborhoods that received TMI services.

In August 2013, the ACLU of Michigan wrote to Detroit Police Chief James E. Craig warning him of TMI’s connection to the New York stop and frisk program and seeking clarification regarding the parameters of the agreement with TMI.

Key News and Documents

Read today’s letter

Read the ACLU of Michigan’s letter regarding stop and frisk

ACLU Issues: Racial Justice