Scorsone and MSU Extension Center recognized by USDA

posted on December 1, 2016 1:23pm

by Marie Orttenburger

Director Eric Scorsone and his team members at the MSU Extension Center for Local Government Finance and Policy have been recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for their work in the midst of the financial crisis in Flint, Michigan.


The team received the USDA Abraham Lincoln Honor Award, the most prestigious award presented by the secretary of agriculture, to recognize “exceptional leadership, contributions or public service by groups who support the mission and goals of USDA.”


In 2011, Michigan declared a financial emergency in Flint, and Gov. Rick Snyder appointed an emergency manager to address the city’s problems. In the interim, Flint officials switched the city’s water source from Detroit to the Flint River. That water corroded the city’s antiquated lead pipes and poisoned residents’ drinking water.


Through workshops, training and public events, the Extension center worked directly with the Flint city council, the mayor and the mayor’s team to help them navigate the crisis and make better decisions in financial management. The city now has a strategic plan for moving forward that Scorsone and his team helped create.


“I feel like the city council has gotten a good handle on how they need to manage their finances to be responsible, keep a balanced budget and follow a set of principles on how they’re going to do things,” Scorsone said.


Scorsone and his team have worked on Flint since the beginning of the financial emergency, investigating the city’s financial situation, the subsequent state intervention and the troubles that have followed.


“We’ve essentially aspired to really tell the Flint story and use the Flint story to talk about the other Midwest cities and other cities in the U.S. in general that are really struggling,” Scorsone said.


With sponsorship from the Mott Foundation, the team has published two reports on the city. One in 2011 documented the financial crisis and how the city had arrived at it, and one in 2015 reflected on the years that Flint operated under a state-appointed emergency manager. A third report focusing on the city’s future is to come.


Much of the work in Flint contributes to an investigation on how states can work better with cities to ensure their mutual success. Critically looking at how the state-appointed emergency manager solution has played out was instrumental.


“Flint has lost half its population, half its tax base, probably more than two-thirds of its businesses and jobs,” Scorsone said. “I think Flint is a city where the emergency manager solution is at best a half solution … It’s a Band-aid. And sometimes you need a Band-aid; sometimes you need to stop the bleeding. But, you know, that doesn’t mean the patient’s healthy.


“State and local governments are one and the same. They’re part of one system. They really need to cooperate a lot more, and they need to be partners,” Scorsone said.


Scorsone sees the center, which was established in 2015, as building on a body of work created by MSU colleagues going back to the 1960s.


“There’s a long legacy of work in this department, and what I’m trying to do is build on that legacy and hopefully let it continue for another 50 years,” Scorsone said. “The center is a key part of that. It’s an important investment for this time.”


Scorsone will take a short-term leave of absence while he serves in a temporary role for the State of Michigan as Deputy Treasurer.


By Marie Orttenburger