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Benton Harbor, MI–Rev. Jesse Jackson Weighs In

June 8, 2011
Aerial picture of Benton Harbor, Michigan

Image via Wikipedia

I took offense to the Old White Men’s Club takeover of Benton Harbor‘s valuable waterfront rights when I heard statements like: “It’s being done[financial hijacking of Benton Harbor by Rick Snyder’s appointed leaders] for their [the African American community] own good.”  But, I have to say that Rev. Jesse Jackson makes a very eloquent point when he states that this is a concept of cronyism at its worst, and that the poor black community will be forced out of their park by the white developers that have been brought in under Rick Snyder’s governance.  At issue is the Jean Kloc park, a spot the beleaguered Whirlpool Corporation has been wanting to develop but unable to orchestrate due to its public status.  All that has changed since Repbulicans’ appointment of a Whirlpool heir to the position of leadership in Benton Harbor.  Suddenly the valuable waterfront property bequeathed to the now poor and minority population is up for grabs as Rick Snyder’s lackey has blocked all governmental process and hand-picked his cronies to oversee development of the the once-public park:

But Benton Harbor may become to economic justice what the small town of Selma was to civil rights. For in Benton Harbor, the powers that be now are wreaking the final indignities on the town’s beleaguered residents — stripping them not only of their schools, but of their democracy, taking away not only their jobs, but their public parks.

Benton Harbor’s finances are a mess. How could they not be in a town stripped of jobs and hope? So, the state has stripped its residents of their democracy. In what is accurately termed “fiscal martial law,” the state has named a czar to run the city. That appointee, Joseph Harris, has issued an order essentially stripping the elected city council of all powers. No money can be spent, no taxes raised or lowered, no bonds issued, no regulations changed without his approval. Benton Harbor’s residents now live in a dictatorship imposed by a Republican governor famous for his belief that the poor should be punished and the rich rewarded.

This appointed dictator claims breathtaking powers. He can sell public assets, dismiss pension boards and take control of public pension funds and revoke labor contracts. What triggers this takeover? The law is remarkably vague. The governor may act if a payroll is missed, if there are complaints of late bill payment, if pensions are underfunded, if there is a significant budget deficit, a term that goes undefined.

This takeover is a recipe for the worst abuses of oppression, cronyism and corruption. And here, too, Benton Harbor is the example. One of the few citizen treasures in Benton Harbor is the Jean Klock Park, a half-mile of sandy dunes on the edge of Lake Michigan. It was bequeathed to the children of Benton Harbor by the Klock family in 1917 in memory of their daughter.

But developers backed by Whirlpool now want to appropriate a large portion of the park to turn it into a Harbor Shores golf resort with a 350-room hotel, two marinas, a 60,000-foot indoor water park (for members only), and a fancy golf course open to all who can afford a $5,000 entry fee and be approved by the club. The town’s citizens have resisted this development, which is under litigation.

But the new czar’s first act was to take over the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, most likely as a way to proceed with the development and sidestep the lawsuits. Why be suspicious? Because the law that the new czar is operating under was introduced by Republican state Rep. Al Pscholka, former staff aide to U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, an heir to the Whirlpool fortune.

I don’t call these types of takeovers “czar” leadership–I call them overseers.  Others may not, but they call Joseph Harris, the Benton Harbor EMF, Adolf Hitler:

“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.

And, while news organizations may trumpet the peoples’ voices to sell news, what is really needed is a good lawsuit.  The only way to change a law is to challenge it, in a court of law.  Rev. Jesse Jackson, if you want to help, please organize a legal challenge to this civil rights’ issue.

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