Numerous Michigan Municipal League members and mayors from the Macomb County area attended news conference in Roseville Thursday against the “gag order” provision in the newly enacted Public Act 269.
The highly successful, well-attended event at the Roseville Fire Department was organized and led by U.S. Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Royal Oak. More than 75 people attended and participants included current League board members Ed Klobucher, Hazel Park city manager, and Mark Vanderpool, Sterling Heights city manager, as well as past board member and Eastpointe Mayor Suzanne Pixley. Other communities represented included Roseville, Royal Oak, Ferndale, Center Line, Mount Clemens, Pleasant Ridge, Berkley, Huntington Woods, St. Clair Shores, Fraser, and Warren. View a list of other attendees here.
“Repeal the gag rule, there’s no other alternative. We don’t want a modification, we want repeal of that provision,” Levin stated at the start of the news conference. “Under the new law – passed under the cloak of darkness – within 60 days of an election, a school district or local government cannot tell people whether a millage question appearing on their ballot is a new tax or a renewal of a previous millage, or even tell residents what their tax dollars would be spent on should a millage be approved. The large gathering today of local leaders from various walks of life vowed to turn up the heat until this misguided provision is repealed.”
Many of the speakers were not just critical of PA 269 (formerly SB 571), but they were angry about it.
A provision in PA 269 places a gag order on ways local officials can communicate with their residents about local ballot questions within 60 days of an election. This gag order is currently in effect for those of with ballot items in the March 8 election and in all subsequent elections. There are more than 100 entities with ballot questions heading to voters March 8, including several in Macomb and Oakland counties.
Specifically, the law prohibits local governments from communicating with voters by giving them factual information about a ballot measure through radio, television, mass mailing or prerecorded telephone messages within 60 days of an election.
“I want this to be perfectly clear,” Klobucher said, “Public Act 269 is nothing less than an attack on the free speech rights of local officials in the state of Michigan to provide information to their constituents. I can’t say that strongly enough.”
Klobucher talked about the need to inform voters about a public safety funding consolidation effort involving the city of Hazel Park and the city of Eastpointe a year ago. Voters in both cities overwhelming approved in February of 2015 the creation of the public safety authority that included a 14-mill tax increase. The plan was essential in keeping the two communities financially afloat and out of potential emergency management, he said.
“I cannot believe that I’m standing here in 2016 in the State of Michigan and we are actually debating the issue in which the Michigan Legislature has curtailed our right to educate. Sorry I’m going to continue to open my mouth no matter what, come and arrest me. This is the United States of America and my voice will be heard and I hope all of your voices will be heard as well.”
Jessica Keyser, director of the Ferndale Public Library, spoke on behalf of her colleagues in Macomb and Oakland counties. Keyser, as quoted in the Macomb Daily, said the law violates the most-important responsibility of any librarian: to provide information to the public.
“If they want to throw us in jail, they’ll need to make more room in the cells,” she told the gathering.
Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor said there are already laws in place to prevent local governments from advocating on local ballot issues and a system .
“Last year, the Governor asked Mayors from across the state to share information with our residents about Proposal 1, which was a very complicated ballot measure,” Taylor said. “A few weeks ago, he signed a bill into law that would make me a criminal for doing what he asked me to do less than one year ago. This law needs to be repealed to allow us as public officials to give our residents unbiased, factual information about what we are placing on the ballot for their consideration.”
Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel was also very direct explaining he is “absolutely appalled that this legislature took away the basic Constitutional right of freedom of speech. … This needs to be repealed.”
The League and a coalition of organizations have supported bipartisan efforts to repeal the gag order provision in Section 57 of PA 269 and lift the limitations on local officials trying to give voters important, basic and factual information on local ballot issues.
View an article about the Thursday’s news conference by Detroit News reporter Christine Ferretti and another by the Macomb Daily’s Frank DeFrank. View a press release about the event from U.S. Rep. Levin’s office.
Please contact your lawmakers today and ask them to support bills that would repeal Section 57 of PA 269. Read the League’s issue summary, view sample resolutions from Michigan communities seeking repeal, and check out the joint statement calling for repeal, and Chris Hackbarth’s blog detailing League concerns. More.
Matt Bach is director of media relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at (810) 874-1073 and [email protected].