Austerity, Michigan Cities, and the Future

Claire McClinton

Claire McClinton is a United Automobile Workers retiree born and raised in Flint, Michigan, who has been a leading community activist throughout the Flint water crisis.

Lindsey Smith 

Lindsey Smith is Michigan Radio's West Michigan reporter, having worked in both West and Southeast Michigan, and has covered stories of emergency management in cities and school districts extensively.

Karen Majewski

Karen Majewski is the mayor of Hamtramck, a diverse city neighboring Detroit, and the vice president of the Michigan Municipal League. She has extensive experience in emergency management.

Yunji Kim 

Yunji Kim (Ph.D. CRP '17) is an assistant professor in the Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture at University of Wisconsin–Madison (UW) and an extension specialist in the Local Government Center at UW–Extension.


Five years ago, the state of Michigan passed Public Act 436 to address fiscal stress in local government. The emergency managers appointed through this law assume most of the powers of locally elected officials to rebalance the checkbooks of struggling cities, counties, and school districts. But do these emergency managers really solve fiscal crises? The Michigan experiment in fiscal austerity is nowhere better demonstrated than in Flint, where the egregious missteps of public authorities contaminated the drinking water of thousands with lead and copper. This panel examines the implications of Michigan’s emergency manager law — for Michigan cities and for cities across the U.S. Panelists will discuss the impact of emergency management on local governance and the democratic process and consider the future of austerity on cities in Michigan and across the U.S. Planners and local officials are encouraged to engage in this discussion to reflect on strategies to best address fiscal crisis in American cities, keeping in mind the civic, economic, and social equity issues that lie just underneath the balance sheet.

Cosponsored by Engaged Cornell, the Fiscal Policy Institute, and the Russell Van Nest Black Lectureship Fund