UPDATE: Tempers flare at Benton Harbor commissioners meeting

By: Kevin Lewis Email
By: Kevin Lewis Email

The opinions and accusations were in full swing at Monday night’s Benton Harbor City Commissioner’s meeting.

They came following a new state law that allowed Emergency Financial Manager Joseph Harris to revoke all power from every city employee and leader.

Although the law was passed on Mar. 16, it wasn't until Friday when commissioners really understood its severity.

The Benton Harbor Commission met both on Mar. 21 and Apr. 4 and both times continued to act as if nothing changed. Harris says all items passed at those meetings are now void and for the time being, so is the commission's power.

There was a two-minute timer at Monday’s meeting. However, opinions over Joseph Harris out-shadowed any time limit.

"Somebody is about to go and it about to be Joe,” one Benton Harbor resident vocalized to commissioners.

"He’s not even an elected official and he's going to fire the mayor? How are you going to fire a mayor,” another resident questioned over Joe Harris’ newly established power.

“Adolf Hitler was a dictator. Now we have a dictator in Joseph Harris. We have allowed this man to be too comfortable in our home, in our city,” one man screamed out loud.

To offset a 16 million dollar debt, Harris recently outlined a comprehensive plan to increase the city’s cash flow. To the Strong Rider biking group's dismay, it now means paying 250 dollars to use Hull Park for an annual event that use to be free.

"I wish Joseph Harris was here because I would tell him Strong Riders motorcycle club is not going to give him a dime to use a public park,” a member who goes by “Rocket” exclaimed. "Nobody is going to take my voice because the U.S. Constitution still does stand. I have a voice and no piece of paper is going to take that from me,” “Rocket” added.

However, that paper is now state law and unlike the bell, this is a rule that must be followed.

A couple of commissioners support Harris, but others are up in arms. Forth Ward Commissioner Dennis Knowles said, "It's really an insult. You're talking about piracy, the government has done it in the state of Michigan. The people have been extracted by way of not having a voice, and so now has the government."

Residents went so far as to accuse Joseph Harris of being bi-polar. Others compared Benton Harbor to a third world country. Commissioner Knowles even refused to salute the flag during the pledge because he felt wronged by this country.

Moving forward, commission can only call meetings into order, approve meeting minutes and adjourn meetings.


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