Thursday, April 22, 2010

"I work for Lansing," Harris said in a voicemail. "I don't dictate what happens."

State financial CPA and Granholm's man in Benton Harbor apparently cannot act without her say-so. Joseph Harris, in BH for about 3 weeks, has little control over the job he's being paid (by BH) $11K per month to do - maybe it takes $11K to have complete control over an employee. The following Herald Palladium article on Harris, journalistic integrity intact, is a breath of fresh air. Comments at end.

Stood up?

Financial manager's absence at Tuesday meeting viewed as snub; Harris says Lansing wouldn't allow him to attend

By Evan Goodenow, Herald Palladium, April 21, 2010

Benton Harbor - When appointed by the state in the financial takeover of Benton Harbor, Emergency Financial Manager Joseph L. Harris promised transparency, not invisibility.
So some of the Benton Harbor residents paying Harris' $11,000-per-month salary wondered why he didn't show up for a Tuesday public meeting at City Hall.
"No one was looking for him to be a messiah, but at least someone to say, 'I'm coming here to help you,'" said meeting moderator Dr. Donald C. Tynes, a member of the NAACP Benton Harbor/Twin Cities chapter. "When you had your chance to say hello, you let it go."
NAACP member and meeting organizer George Moon said he never spoke to Harris directly, but was told by Ivy Gill, City Manager Ronald Carter Jr.'s secretary, that Harris would meet with residents. Gill refused to comment, but Harris on Monday denied agreeing to meet and said organizers needed to get approval from his bosses in the state Department of Treasury.
Harris said it was irresponsible for organizers to announce a meeting was being held when it hadn't been approved by the state, but said he would attend. But on Tuesday Harris said his bosses vetoed the meeting.
"I work for Lansing," Harris said in a voicemail. "I don't dictate what happens."
Those who do made a bad call, said some of the 40 people who attended the approximately two-hour meeting. Treasury officials said on April 1 when they appointed Harris he would have a public meeting several weeks into his tenure. That would allow him time to develop drafts of budget balancing and financial recovery plans, which he has until July 1 to complete for Treasury officials.
However, Harris met with about 100 bigwigs at an April 8 invitation-only gathering in which he announced that city employee layoffs would be necessary to deal with a $300,000 projected shortfall in this fiscal year and a $1.4 million shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year.
Residents on Tuesday expressed frustration that Harris could make time for the private gathering but not for them.
"He's just a free agent collecting $11,000 a month," said resident Catherine Barnaby. "He's for us, supposedly, and he won't meet us."
Barnaby questioned who Harris was accountable to as residents read copies handed out at the meeting of a Sunday Detroit Free Press article story about Arthur Blackwell II, the Highland Park emergency financial manager accused of embezzlement.
The article detailed how Treasury officials allowed Blackwell to keep his job despite learning he had written himself checks from the financially hurting city's coffers without state approval. Blackwell wasn't fired until the Free Press began investigating.
Treasury officials and Harris weren't the only ones criticized at the meeting.
Berrien County Commissioner Marletta Seats said Gregory G. Roberts, Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm's special adviser and Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships director, has been acting as a gatekeeper for Harris in violation of the separation of church and state.
Roberts was assigned by Granholm to help oversee state efforts to improve conditions in Benton Harbor after the 2003 riots.
Seats, the mother of takeover critic and Benton Harbor Commissioner Duane L. Seats, said she has been steered to Roberts when calling the state about Benton Harbor issues.
"I'm elected by the people and I've got to go through the church? Not me," she said. "I'm an evangelist too, but there is a separation."
Roberts said while he regularly confers with Harris, Deputy Commissioner for Local Government Services Valdemar Washington and State Treasurer Robert J. Kleine are Harris' bosses.
"My role is a dual role. Not just working with faith-based leaders, but with community leaders like in Benton Harbor," said Roberts, when reached by phone after the meeting.
"She clearly does not have all of the facts. She's looking at Greg Roberts through a portion of the lens."
Roberts said most residents will eventually appreciate Harris - Detroit's auditor general from 1995 to 2005 - due to Harris' financial acumen.
For now, residents like Willie Lark, owner of Lark & Sons Barbecue, remain skeptical. Lark said he resents that while the state appointed Harris, residents of the nearly broke city have to pay him.
"If I send somebody to work at Lark's, I'm paying them," he said. "If you send somebody to Lark's, you need to pay them."

COMMENTS: Harris says he works for Lansing -- why isn't Lansing paying him? He's losing the peoples' trust and will have to work to attain it (if he cares). He met with Whirlpool bigwigs, but not residents - that says it all. Harris is a pawn in "corporate fascism" (total merging of government and business interests). Detroit tried to get rid of Harris - Mayor Dave Bing finally did. Goodenow reports the Free Press investigated another financial manager; how about the HP investigating? Start with Whirlpool. Granholm adviser Greg Roberts was assigned to look out for Whirlpool's best interests and their takeover of BH. (The faith-based part of his job has absolutely no place in government.) Ms. Seats has the facts on Roberts - she went to high school with him.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The city of Benton Harbor is being forced to pay state
financial manager Joseph Harris $11K PER MONTH

Please call Gov. Granholm and demand Joseph Harris be taken out of Benton Harbor immediately: 517-335-7858. Fax: 517-335-6863

Ron Carter, excellent city manager of Benton Harbor, is waiting to see if his salary will be cut by 50%. It's already happened to the mayor and all commissioners. He'll find out today, and if it's so, BH may lose a city manager who's already taking the city out of the red.

It doesn't take a Mensa member to see this as part of a much larger Whirlpool plan to ruin BH at any cost - human or environmental.

It should be noted that Granholm's Joseph Harris is only an accountant; Ron Carter has an MBA.

Is the inequity in this situation jumping out at you? How destructive
and unjust can a governor be? Does Whirlpool mean that much to her?

The people elect a city commission to help in their struggle with Whirlpool, and the state takes over the city.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The people of Benton Harbor elected a government that supported them in their struggle with Whirlpool so the State took over the city government

State financial manager Joe Harris, appointed by Gov. Granholm, has been in Benton Harbor for about a week. The enormous monthly salary of $11,000.00 must be paid by Benton Harbor. The mayor and city commissioners are required to take %50 pay cuts. An outside accounting firm will get up to $25,000.00. Somebody's trying to ruin BH. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to guess who.

The NAACP is holding protests regarding these issues. Ron Carter, city manager, should be permitted to do the job he was recently hired for. He's smart, has an MBA, and was on the way to making BH solvent.

Auto Zone and Dawson Manufacturing are firing all black employees with 10+ years of experience. A mngr. at Auto Zone was heard telling a white employee to act black so he could fire him. These actions leave the remaining black employees intimidated and fearful.

Protests: Wed. 4/14, Auto Zone, 4pm. Corner M139 & Napier, Benton Township.
Thurs. 4/15, Dawson Manufacturing, 11am. Fri.-same as Wed. Every Monday at 1pm, Benton Harbor City Hall. Protests of Auto Zone and Dawson Man. will occur Mon. thru Fri., alternating days. Call NAACP Pres. Rev. Pinkney for up-to-date info.

The following is a WSJM (St. Joseph) report (today):

BH NAACP Holds Protest Over Arrival Of State Manager

Andrew Green Reporting
The local chapter of the NAACP held a small demonstration on Monday to protest the appointment of a state emergency financial manager to run the city of Benton Harbor. Joseph Harris came to town last week, and held a few invitation-only meetings with various community leaders on some of the challenges facing Benton Harbor as it moves forward. Local NAACP President Rev. Edward Pinkney tells us that he organized a march from city hall to a nearby federal building to convey concerns that the EFM is not being transparent enough.

Pinkney says he want to make sure that this is all not just a land grab on behalf of elements other than city residents.

Pinkney said he wants to influence Harris to cooperate with Benton Harbor City Manager Ronald Carter based off his turnaround plan. Between a dozen and 15 protesters gathered at city hall, and then marched to a nearby office building where Pinkney said a meeting of city leaders was taking place.

Pinkney said that the local NAACP plans to organize more events in the coming months, not only about the Benton Harbor EFM, but about other issues, like allegations of racism at a local auto parts store.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Non-violent Protest Monday April 19, 1pm Benton Harbor City Hall

--Granholm and Harris work for Whirlpool--
--City Manager Ron Carter works for the people--

Since the newly-elected city commission in BH for the first time will not comply with Whirlpool's demands for more lakefront land and other items for their Harbor Shores development, the governor has stepped in.

She ordered a state financial manager, Joseph L. Harris, to takevover on Tuesday April 6, despite the new city manager, Ron Carter, doing a more than competent job. Harris can hire and fire, sell land, renegotiate labor contracts, and recommend to the gov. removal of elected officials. That's a lot of power, especially for a newcomer, who may or may not have cooperation with officials on his mind.

The length of his stay, with an $11,000.00 per month salary, is determined by the state. Harris brings a Southfield accounting firm with him who will receive up to $25,000.00. Mayor Cooke and all commissioners are required to take a 50% pay cut.

On his fourth day in Benton Harbor, Harris told an invitation-only audience that lay-offs of city workers are needed. He was quoted on the subject of selling land in two different recent Herald Palladium articles. In the first (4/2) he stated, "...there would be no fire sale of properties." In the second (4/9) he "didn't rule out more sales of city owned properties."

Harris has been talking about transparency, but spends a lot of time in private meetings. He recently met with an invitation-only group of ministers. Who sent the invitations? Whirlpool's own Marcus Robinson. WP likely organized the audience mentioned above as well.

Mayor Wilce Cooke received a strange phone call recently. It was state treasurer Kleine whose purpose was to accuse him of threatening Harris in the Herald Palladium. Something about Benton Harbor not treating newcomers with bad intentions well. Very interesting that Kleine is reading the Palladium (or being told what it prints...) and doing what some might call "interfering" in Benton Harbor official affairs.

Along with Harris came at least five jurisdictions of police, sheriff deputies, etc. As I write, the city is under siege in the same way it was after what is being called the 2003 uprising. Cruisers sighted so far include those from St. Joseph, Berrien County Sheriff dept., Michigan State Police, Benton Township, and Benton Harbor. Does Harris need this kind of protection in a city where many have moved out due to various forms of harassment, many have been imprisoned, and many are already afraid to leave home?

Let's all watch very carefully as Harris goes to work for the most mistreated population in Michigan.

A friend visited Berrien County last summer and wondered if anyone lived in the Benton Harbor. It's like a ghost town, except there really are people behind the doors.

More than 80% of the BHPD is now white. Of approximately 36 officers, 4 are black.

The provocative influx of cruisers increases fear and anger. Are the powers-that-be hoping for another "uprising?"

Other financial managers from the state have wreaked havoc on cities they were assigned to. It wouldn't surprise Benton Harbor residents if Harris sold more BH land to Whirlpool - it is within his power. That happening and the constant parade of law enforcement could stoke the fires of discontent, and the corporation could have their wish: (many) more African-Americans arrested and jailed, or worse.

Law enforcement theatrics all over the city prevent people from living normally. Residents who venture out are being pulled over for little or nothing with greater frequency than before. Military-style equipment was purchased by the BHPD in 2003, but never used...

Several residents believe the biggest fear in Benton Harbor is drug-planting by law
enforcement. Two BHPD officers have been imprisoned for said activity which destroyed an untold number of lives.

One of the biggest losses is that of cohesive neighborhoods. It's difficult to talk with neighbors when residents are reluctant to go into their own yards.

To add to the repression of Benton Harbor, two companies in Benton Township, Dawson Manufacturing and Auto Zone, just fired their black employees. They did this in the same week. 8 or 9 employees were fired in both companies, and both firings occurred in the same week. This is unbelievably outrageous.

As for the children and teenagers of Benton Harbor, very little is done for them. The new police chief, Roger Lange, talks about zero tolerance, but this means little to teenagers with no hope for their lives or futures.

Both Mayor Cooke and city manager Carter have suggested people not read the Herald Palladium, because of the biased reporting. Media has become the main disease of a rotting democracy.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Prosecutor authorizes charges in BH brawls

[The Herald Palladium has all the "right" language to describe BH activities; in this headline it's
"brawls." The more inflammatory, the better, to foster racist bigotry towards BH.]

By Julie Swidwa - H-P (excerpts & commentary)
April 2, 2010

ST. JOSEPH - Berrien County Prosecutor Art Cotter has authorized charges against several people in connection with a disturbance Tuesday in Benton Harbor.

Cotter said seven people were charged in connection with a large fight that happened between 6:30 and 7 p.m., and two more people were arrested in connection with a second, smaller disturbance...

COMMENT: BH history tells us that police instigate fights, and it could be true in this case.

State police and the Berrien County Sheriff's Department were called to help Benton Harbor police break up a large crowd in the neighborhood bounded by Lavette and May streets and Broadway and Empire Avenue. The later incident happened in the McAllister Street area, Cotter said.

COMMENT: Cotter has waited for months for something to happen since there has been a recent drop in BH residents being arrested. Crime in BH is down.

Initial reports from Benton Harbor Police Chief Roger Lange said all the people arrested were ages 14-19. But the arrest list provided by Cotter Thursday indicated some of the people were much older.
_______, 36, and ________, 38, are among those charged with resisting and obstructing police, Cotter said. __________, 19, and _________, 18, face that same charge, a two-year-felony.

COMMENT: Does the punishment fit the crime? Is a courthouse goal to give all BH residents a record (a life-ruining stigma)?

Also arrested in connection with the early incident were: ____________, 17, charged with assault and battery; and ______________, 18, charged with disturbing the peace. Those are misdemeanors carrying a maximum penalty of 93 and 30 days in jail, respectively.

COMMENT: This is a waste of taxpayers' money. The hidden hand of Whirlpool is evident to those who have paid attention. How can Harbor Shores development be completed with all these BH residents in the way?

Cotter said police were called again later Tuesday night to a disturbance on McAllister Street in Benton Harbor. Arrested there were ______________, 22, and ___________, 44. They both are charged with disturbing the peace, Cotter said.

COMMENT: Police were called by who? other police?

Lange said that, to his knowledge, there were no serious injuries related to Tuesday night's events.

The chief said state police and the Berrien County Sheriff's Department will continue to assist Benton Harbor police in patrolling the neighborhoods. He said the first warm days typically bring large crowds into the streets.

COMMENT: Warm weather brings people outside all over the world. The state police and the sheriff have lazer beams pointed at Benton Harbor. As residents know too well, there are cops in other nearby jurisdictions who have also used BH as a racist's "playground." People in BH have been arrested after being told they couldn't walk down a certain street at a certain time. And, of course there's the infamous drug planting...Hopefully the new BH police chief can put a stop to gratuitous and juvenile arrests.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Michigan's recent history of state financial takeovers is more than discouraging. Under Gov. Granholm, Hamtramck, Highland Park, and Pontiac all experienced takeovers where the financial managers harbored hidden agendas involving embezzlement. In Highland Park, for example, the city eventually got the gov. to remove two of these people; the replacement, Mr. Blackwell is currently on trial for stealing $300,000.00; Blackwell's replacement, Mr. Cooper was recently caught having written a $13,000.00 check to himself. A cynic might wonder why the gov. continues to appoint people with criminal intentions to conduct her takeovers.

The following article includes commentary clarifying some important points reported by the Herald Palladium in "Whirlpool fashion." It's not an exaggeration to say there exists a "Berrien County state of mind," instilled through many decades by the corporation. Exceptions, of course, can be found, but the Herald Palladium is not one of them. In fact, the HP might be Whirlpool's most important propaganda tool.

TAKEOVER (with commentary)

Governor approves state manager to take control of Benton Harbor's finances

By Evan Goodenow, H-P
March 26

BENTON HARBOR - Years of money mismanagement and last week's inability to make payroll led Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm on Thursday to reject Benton Harbor's appeal of a takeover by a state emergency financial manager.

COMMENT: More than enough money was available for payroll. This is just one excuse the gov. is using to justify a takeover.

"A local government financial emergency exists in the city of Benton Harbor because no satisfactory plan exists to resolve a serious financial problem," Granholm wrote in a letter to Mayor Wilce L. Cooke. "The fact that Benton Harbor city officials were confronted by the imminent risk of payless paydays a mere two days after the city's (appeal) hearing is the latest indication of a financial emergency in the city which city officials do not appear to have the ability to address without outside assistance."

COMMENT: City mngr. Ron Carter and a majority of city commissioners have made it clear they have the ability to address all financial issues, and that the state need only provide a 5 million dollar loan. (A drop in the bucket to aid a municipality.)

The rejection comes after Granholm's Feb. 26 declaration of a financial emergency in Benton Harbor. The declaration was in response to a Jan. 27 report to Granholm by a state financial review team.

Granholm outlined the team's findings in her letter:
-- A 13.1 percent increase in the city's general fund deficit for the 2008-2009 fiscal year.
-- Eight years of tardy audit reports to the state Department of Treasury.
-- A steep decline in the city's money on hand from $1.7 million in 2006 to $315,000 last year.
-- An inability to make minimum contributions to city worker pension funds.
-- Annual bank overdraft charges of $80,000 to $100,000.

City Manager Ronald Carter Jr., appointed Dec. 28 after about two months as a consultant, contends a takeover is unnecessary due to his financial recovery plan and reforms made in response to the team's findings. However, Carter never challenged the majority of the findings at the March 17 appeal hearing. Granholm noted Carter's comments in her letter.

COMMENT: At the appeal hearing Carter may not have challenged findings, but he explained that he works daily on a 62 point plan to make the city solvent. What's important is that the takeover is unnecessary, that Carter's plan is being implemented, and that the governor's not-so-hidden agenda is to help Whirlpool take even more BH lakefront land for the massive Harbor Shores development.

"I find them to be an honest assessment of what has transpired," Carter said at the hearing. "I do believe that a financial manager is a prudent next step for the city of Benton Harbor."

The emergency manager will be appointed by the Local Emergency Financial Assistance Loan Board, which consists of State Treasurer Robert J. Kleine, State Budget Director Bob Emerson and Department of Energy Labor & Economic Growth Director Stanley "Skip" Pruss. The board is expected to meet next week, and an emergency manager is likely to be on board in mid-April, according to Terry Stanton, a treasury department spokesman.

COMMENT: We can all say goodbye to Benton Harbor High School, the Water Dept., lakefront property, the beach, downtown, and goodbye Benton Harbor.

The emergency manager will have sweeping powers, including the right to hire and fire, renegotiate labor contracts and sell properties. But until the manager takes over, Carter, Mayor Cooke and city commissioners have full autonomy, Stanton said.

"I'm not saying (Carter has) tacit approval to do whatever he wants, but there's no requirements beyond what an individual in his position normally does," Stanton said.

Carter, Cooke and Commissioners Juanita Henry, Dennis Knowles and Marcus Muhammad didn't return calls for comment Thursday, and Commissioner Eddie Marshall refused to comment. Commissioner Duane L. Seats II, who took office in January along with Knowles and Muhammad, expressed frustration that the new commissioners and Carter weren't given more time to reform Benton Harbor.

The city has a $4.1 million overall deficit and has had decades of high poverty, unemployment and political turmoil.

COMMENT: Small deficit for a municipality which the gov. could easily grant a loan for. Whirlpool and the state owe at least that much to Benton Harbor for many years of
many injustices.

Seats said he hopes the emergency manager takes the ideas of Carter and commissioners seriously "with the goal of a clean, safe, stable city."

COMMENT: Good point. However, if the state took Carter/commissioners seriously, there would be no takeover.

Noting Michigan's projected $1.5 billion shortfall for the next fiscal year, Seats accused state officials of hypocrisy.

"It's like a cocaine addict telling someone smoking cigarettes they're in bad shape," he said. "How can they tell us we're in bad shape when they're in financial chaos?"

However, unlike the federal government and Benton Harbor, states are legally forbidden from running deficits, meaning Michigan has been forced in recent years to cut services and workers. If those difficult decisions need to be made in Benton Harbor, city commissioners need to support them, said Commissioner Bryan Joseph, a takeover supporter.

COMMENT: Joseph is aligned with Whirlpool.

"It's obvious we need help, and we can't afford to fight this," said Joseph, who blames the city's financial woes on Cooke and some current and previous commissioners. "The sooner we embrace the emergency manager the sooner we can get on the road to recovery."

COMMENT: Joseph knows BH residents will never support a takeover.

Joseph and Commissioner James Hightower both urged Carter and the commissioners not to make any major moves until the emergency manager takes over. Both said the city can't afford to pay both an emergency manager and Carter, who earns $95,000 annually.

COMMENT: Outrageous. A competent city manager may get fired? For a financial mngr. who, if Michigan's takeover history tells us anything, may move in to write huge checks to her(him)self and/or take lakefront land for Whirlpool.

"I don't feel we'll need a city manager," Hightower said.

Commissioner David Shaw said he supports the takeover but wonders what the emergency manager's deficit elimination plan will be.

"Is he (or she) going to bring in new ways to bring in revenue or is the plan to sell off the assets of the city?" Shaw asked. "How long will it take, and will they include the commission in decision-making?"