Best of #StateReads: Michigan Emergency City Managers Wield Great Power

By: - May 2, 2012 12:00 am

This week’s collection of #StateReads covers an emergency manager law in Michigan that leaves elected city officials with little or no power, an examination of hospitals’ clout in North Carolina and the story of an Alabama woman who faces a decade in prison for taking meth while she was pregnant.

These examples of extraordinary journalism about state government were recommended in tweets using the #StateReads hashtag on Twitter and in email submissions to [email protected].

“Emergency Financial Managers: Michigan Municipalities’ Unwelcome Savior” — Governing

To see the new powers Michigan granted to “emergency” city managers, Governing’s Ryan Holeywell (@RyanHoleywell) visits Pontiac, Michigan, a city with an economy in decline and a budget chronically in the red. “Everything,” he writes, “seems upside down. City Council meetings last for hours, but there is nothing on the agenda. The city has a mayor, but he doesn’t have any authority. There are workers inside City Hall, but they aren’t employed by the city.” Virtually all of the power of the city is invested in one man, Lou Schimmel, a Pontiac native and pioneer of the emergency manager system, where a state appointee is charged with bringing beleaguered cities like Pontiac back into the black. The obstacles, even beyond the budget, are formidable: court challenges to his authority, widespread distrust and racial tensions.  

 “Prognosis: Profits” — The (Raleigh) News & Observer and Charlotte Observer

North Carolina hospitals get state tax credits and use their influence in the legislature to further their interests, but routinely refer poor patients’ bills to collections agencies and deny charity care to low income patients, according to a joint investigation between the Charlotte Observer and Raleigh’s The News-Observer. Some of the nonprofit hospitals spend less than 1 percent of their budgets on free care, and the most generous hospital spent 13 percent. The hospitals also wield tremendous political power in the legislature, with the help of a PAC that gave more than million over the last 10 years to state candidates. They used that power to convince the Department of Corrections to open a prison hospital that will significantly reduce the number of inmates in state hospitals. The health care company Carolinas HealthCare System used its influence in the state legislature to bypass county officials who were hesitant to sign off on a new private psychiatric facility in Mecklenberg County.

 “The Criminalization of Bad Mothers” — The New York Times

Amanda Kimbrough faces a 10-year prison sentence for what she says was a single instance of taking methamphetamines while she was pregnant. The punishment, explains Ada Calhoun (@AdaCalhoun) in a Times magazine piece, came because Kimbrough’s son weighed little more than two pounds when he was born and survived only 19 minutes. Kimbrough pleaded guilty to criminal endangerment of a child, a felony that could lead to life imprisonment. Alabama lawmakers created the charge in 2006, and since then, some 60 new mothers have been prosecuted under it. Now, though, national women’s groups and doctors’ groups are rallying to Kimbrough’s side and challenging the law.

 “Arizona’s foster-care system in crisis, in dire need of families” — The Arizona Republic

The number of children in Arizona’s foster care system is at an all-time high, reports Mary K. Reinhart (@MaryKReinhart), but the state is losing foster families faster than it can replace them. The number of children jumped by 20 percent in just the last two years; at the end of February the state was responsible for 12,289 foster children. Caseworkers placed more children in the foster system after the high-profile deaths of children being monitored by Child Protective Services. But resources for foster parents remain a problem. “You can do the most fantastic recruitment campaign … put up billboards with dewy-eyed kids,” explained University of Chicago professor Mark Courtney. “But if word on the street is, ‘Don’t become a foster parent because they’ll treat you like crap,’ you won’t be able to recruit foster parents.”

“New Jersey joins a list of states considering privatizing their lotteries” — The Philadelphia Inquirer

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is exploring the idea of outsourcing the management of its lottery, a move also being considered in neighboring Pennsylvania, reports Matt Katz (@MattKatz00). Christie has also moved toward more private involvement in collecting tolls, maintaining highways, repairing vehicles, processing child support, running racetracks and operating commuter parking lots. Recommended by Harris Kenny (@HarrisKenny)

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