Ashley Nickels’s case study of Flint’s experience under emergency management from 2011 to 2015 is one of the only full-length treatments of Michigan’s emergency manager (EM) law. The law gives near-total control over a whole city to a single state-appointed official, who is tasked with balancing the city budget. Bulked up in 2011, Michigan’s EM law invalidated the elected local representation of half the state’s Black residents by 2014. Flint’s experience is especially important to understand, as an emergency manager, not elected officials, made the fateful choice for Flint to draw drinking water from the Flint River. In Power, Participation, and Protest in Flint, Michigan, Nickels tracks policy outcomes and differences in opinion over the law’s effectiveness, focusing on “both instrumental and symbolic policy effects” (p. 160) of emergency management.
Nickels argues that despite its ostensible short-term orientation, EM law shapes policy outcomes far beyond the emergency manager’s tenure. While fiscal decisions were billed by supporters as necessary to “right the ship,” the law incentivizes cost-cutting behaviors at long-term cost. Nickels labels this as an example of Deborah Stone’s “policy paradox.”<
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