Benton Harbor contemplates battle for the books

Last week, Michigan’s governor recommended that a state appointed financial manager take over Benton Harbor’s books.

Now, the Benton Harbor City Manager has a recommendation of his own.

At Monday night’s meeting of the Benton Harbor City Commissioners, City Manager Ron Carter, Jr. will recommend that the city appeal the state’s finding that a financial emergency exits.

“I don’t think the commission speaks with one voice,” Carter said. “I think there’s a very diverse opinion on this commission about this whole situation.”

Arguably, Benton Harbor might not be sitting where it is today if elected leaders hadn’t severed ties with former City Manager Richard Marsh last August.

“He (Marsh) perceives himself as a whistle blower in that in some ways he believes that he’s a victim,” said Carter. “Much of the problems that occurred, occurred under his (Marsh’s) watch.”

It was Marsh who requested that the state take a closer look at Benton Harbor’s books. Now the city is a possible takeover target.

“So I see it more as a tool as opposed to a penalty,” said Wendy Dant Chesser with the Cornerstone Alliance. “In the City of Benton Harbor there are some things that need to be addressed that the state emergency financial manager will be able to address without the political ramifications.”

Benton harbor has already taken some steps to put its own financial house in order. One of those steps involved asking the state for help in the form of a fiscal stabilization bond.

Should the state instead appoint en emergency financial manager now--balancing the budget may turn out to be quite a balancing act.

“If we can put together the right mix and right-size our government, then this will be a good thing, but if there’s a hidden agenda or a political motivation to do some kind of Draconian sell of a city asset, or a some kind of cut that would be hurtful to the residents to the staff, then it could be problematic,” said Carter.

Carter does remain optimistic that something positive will happen. He is pleased that the analysis of the city’s budget did not point to any alleged criminal wrong doing, as was the case in Stevensville.

If the Benton Harbor City Commissioners do support an appeal—a hearing would be held on March 17th in Lansing.

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